Home among the colewort

Wren box and colewort

One of the things I love about waking up at my parents’ house is the sound of the birds singing in the morning. Specifically, the House Wren, who has settled in just under the guest bedroom’s window. For the last half a dozen years he’s sung from the garden, adding some very bubbly life to the backyard. Although my mom had always put out seed for the birds, we only put up some birdhouses when I got into birding myself, in university. It didn’t take long for the wren to discover them; I think he moved in the next summer, and he, or his offspring, has been there since.

There are now six nestboxes set up at various spots on the property (one of which has two compartments). In any given year most get used. In previous years there have been Tree Swallows in one, and Eastern Bluebirds in another, but for whatever reason they’re absent this year. However, to make up for that, we have three House Wren pairs that have set up territories at three of the boxes. I occasionally hear them counter-singing at one another, reinforcing their territory boundaries.

The garden wren has three boxes to choose from, but picked the one right next to a large flowering colewort. To put it in perspective, in the photo above the shepherd’s hook the box is hanging from is about as tall as I am. The colewort is a pretty amazing plant, growing to huge proportions, and it completely dominates that section of the garden. When my mom first planted it I don’t think she knew at the time just how big it would get. She had intended to pull it up after the first year because it took up so much space, but ended up leaving it. The wren thinks this is great, as it provides lots of good cover, right near the nest. I’ve seen the little birds foraging in and under the bush frequently.

wren1

When I went out to wander about the garden this week, I noticed the wrens took great exception to my presence. They hopped about first the crabapple tree, then the nearby apple tree, chirring at me and expressing their displeasure. When I located one with my binoculars, I could see it was carrying a mouthful of food. I didn’t leave right away, and it ended up swallowing the food so it could more easily focus its attention on distracting me. Birds only carry food, and get this worked up, when there are young nearby, so I knew they must have a brood in the garden nestbox.

wren2

I hid myself behind the corner of the garden shed, and waited for the adults to calm down enough to return to the box. Eventually the one (I think the male) did, coming to perch on the top of the shepherd’s hook and scout the area. He had a fat mouthful of bugs. It amazes me how much they can cram into their little beaks, you’d think as soon as they opened their mouth to grab another food item the first would fall out, a little like watching a dog try to pick up two tennis balls. Birds have amazingly dexterous bills, considering that they’re not flexible or opposing like our fingers. Can you imagine trying to weave a nest using just a pair of chopsticks?

wren3

I leaned around and propped my camera up on the corner of the shed, hoping to remain out of sight, but the wren spotted me and decided it wasn’t safe yet to duck in to feed the youngsters. He took off for the crabapple tree again, mouth still full of insects. Birds generally won’t approach their nest unless they feel confident that the coast is clear. It’s less their own safety they’re concerned about, and more trying to prevent tipping off a potential predator to the whereabouts of their young. A lot of time, effort and energy goes into raising a brood of young, and by the time they get to the age where they’re needing to be fed a lot, often it’s too late in the season to re-lay. So it behooves the parents to be overly cautious – given the harsh realities of migration, there’s a good chance one or both of the parents may not return to try again next summer.

wren4

Eventually they did both settle down, and came in to the box where the hungry mouths were waiting. I think this is the female, as she was quieter, and appeared a mousier brown than the bolder male, who somewhat resembled a Winter Wren in the darkness of his patterning and barring of the chest. Of course, there’s also two colour morphs of the eastern subspecies of House Wren, a brown and a grey, and it could be the pair is composed of one of each, unrelated to sex.

wren5

Delivering the goods.

wren6

Off for another load. Young birds, like young humans, basically spend all their time eating and sleeping and growing. A newly hatched nestling will need to be fed every 15-20 minutes, which keeps the parents hopping to try to find enough food to fill as many as five or six hungry bellies.

wren7

About 40 meters/yards away, another male sang atop his chosen nestbox. I notice this one’s paler, but is definitely a male, so maybe the colour difference in the first pair is simply a morph after all. There wasn’t any evidence of a female associating with this guy, but she could be inside the house incubating. While she’s on the eggs, the male doesn’t have a lot to keep him busy and will spend most of his time singing and defending the territory.

wren8

He moved to some nearby saplings where the lowering sun’s rays illuminated his pale breast. It’s really a shame that a single photo can’t capture the burble of a House Wren’s song. Their mandibles tremble rapidly like the bird is shivering with joy as the cheerful notes tumble out of its mouth. I might see if I can borrow Blackburnian’s camcorder to get some video clips of the House Wren and other things.

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3 responses to “Home among the colewort

  1. Wrens are such spunky little characters! I always love to find them (Carolina Wrens) in the yard–though don’t really appreciate their loud singing at the crack of dawn outside our bedroom window!
    I’ve come across a nest, too–and may post eggs/babies sometime soon!
    Nice that birdsong welcomes you at your home.
    Enjoy!

  2. A couple years ago, E.g. and I had the good fortune to watch a house wren in the process of nest building. He had a twig longer than himself, and kept missing the little entrance hole with it, and dropping it, and fluttering down and grabbing it again… patient little guy!
    Your fourth picture (wren3) is fantastic!

  3. themarvelousinnature

    I agree, Nina, wrens are real characters, they rival only perhaps chickadees for personality. Will look forward to seeing your photos!

    Thanks, Lavenderbay! I’ve seen that, too – it’s great fun to watch, and you really have to give it to them for being determined.

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