Mighty mite

House Wrens are small but feisty.  Every bit as high energy as the busiest warbler, they bustle about the bushes scaring up food, and scaring off potential competitors. Put out a bluebird box, and you are just as likely to wind up with a house wren in there instead.  In fact, these little tyrants will kick out the eggs and even young of other species just to take over the nest box.  Then they stuff the box full of sticks all the way up to the entrance hole to prevent anything else from getting in.

Male and female house wrens look alike, but this bird was paying close attention to a singing male, so perhaps this is Mrs. Wren in the typical wren posture, tail pointed up.

Male and female house wrens look alike, but this bird was paying close attention to a singing male, so perhaps this is Mrs. Wren in the typical wren posture, tail pointed up.

And here he is, singing his lovely warble.  Wrens usually change singing perches frequently, but this male stayed several minutes while I moved closer.

And here he is, singing his lovely warble. Wrens usually change singing perches frequently, but this male stayed several minutes while I moved closer.

Young birds in nest boxes or tree cavities are susceptible to parasitic mites and flies; in fact, heavy parasite infestations can sap baby bird growth so much they fail to mature.  But house wrens have a strategy for dealing with this:  they capture egg sacs of spiders and import them to the nest box to feed on the parasites.  Problem solved.

house wren

Their aggressive behavior and adaptability to a variety of habitats and climates has enabled house wrens to become one of the most widespread species in the western hemisphere. It is a permanent resident throughout South America and can be found breeding from Canada south through the West Indies and Central America. The mighty mite is a big success.

12 thoughts on “Mighty mite

  1. I thought your wren looked different. Ours is Troglodytes troglodytes (one of the few birds I know the Latin name). I had never heard about the spider egg sacs although I heard that birds feed very young nestlings spiders as they actually have a high proportion of arachidonic acid, an essential fatty acid. Perhaps our wrens haven’t learnt the trick. In French they are called troglodyte mignon, which I think is very fitting.

    • Interesting note about the essential fatty acids in spiders! Perhaps the NA wrens also feed spiders to their chicks, but some of the hatched spiders escape into the nest, to feed on the mites? I was actually wondering why the wren got stuck with Troglodyte as a genus because that usually refers to a cave-dweller, which they are not. But the European (Asian) wren must have gotten hit with a double whammy — two troglodyte references.

  2. I really like the photos, especially the last two with the amazingly beautiful background color and some really sharp, crisp details. Thanks to for the cool facts about these little birds.

    • Beautiful background color would be the russet color of my house 😊. Patience rewarded again. After sitting with the Magnolia Warbler for 10 min, I just turned around and there was the wren, also waiting patiently for his lady fair to finish up her foraging.

  3. Another great and informative post, Sue. Thanks for all the interesting info. I’ve only ever seen one house wren. Down here, the common backyard (and everywhere else) wren is the Carolina wren, which is slightly larger, and much rustier in coloration. It’s a pretty little bird with the loudest song in the yard. Carolina wrens will nest anywhere, from bird boxes to hanging planters, to old boots left by the door. I have found their huge, messy stick nests completely filling an unused grill, even. They are such friendly birds, and so much fun to watch. Plus, in addition to eating a ton of insects, they frequently come to my feeder for sunflower chips or seeds.

    I really enjoyed learning more about the house wren. Thanks again.

    • House Wrens are also quite loud for their size, and will go on and on with the song. They are quite common here, as well, but not quite so tame as yours, nesting in old boots. Actually I forgot to mention that their bad habit of ejecting current occupants of a nest box is one of the causes of the decline in Bluebirds.

      • Wow, they really are little tyrants, aren’t they? I’ve never heard of Carolina wrens doing that, but I’m no expert on them. Now the starlings around here are notorious for it, of course. Maybe they just beat the Carolina’s to it. But mostly, I think it’s more likely that they will nest anywhere, and don’t need to squabble for space. I saw a nest once in a clothespin bag that had been left on the line too long! And ours will nest in our staghorn ferns that hang from our trees. I really love having them in my yard all year long.

  4. Where I live, Carolina wrens have taken over the house wrens’ niche (noisy suburban insectivore with cocked tail who will nest anywhere.) They are very, very noisy. If someone complains about getting woken up by a bird, a Carolina wren is usually the culprit.

    • The House Wren is also a noisy little bird, especially considering its small size. The song is rather pretty, until you’ve heard it continuously for several hours.

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