About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Do the same House Wrens nest in the same house every year?

We got one of those gourd wren houses years ago, hang it in the same spot at the eaves of the porch roof, clean it out of nest materials every fall, and wrens come back each spring. Are these the same adults, the offspring who were born in that nest or just random adult wrens?

Also, the gourd house came with an entry hole about an inch or more and a small stick under for a perch. This year we got another one, but this had no perch and as I could not see how any bird could get into, especially as the surface had an ultra smooth finish, I drilled it and added a dowel for a perch. The hole is only about 7/8 inch, but they seem to go in and out OK. ~ Averill Park, NY

The House Wren’s bubbly song and habit for eating masses of bugs make it a very popular bird at many homes. As a result the birds range and population in North America has grown with urban sprawl. Like the House Finch, they were named for their preference for nesting near peoples’ houses.

The average lifespan of a House Wren is about 7 years old, but that is difficult to verify because wrens don’t always return to the same area every year. House Wrens are seasonally monogamous. In the spring, the male and female partner and share the responsibilities in raising their young. But pairs often switch partners between the first and second brood during the season.

A male House Wren arrives first in the spring and begins to lay claim to a nesting cavity by filling it with more than 400 small twigs. When the female arrives, she’ll inspect the twig structure and then take over, adding the nest cup and lining it with grass, inner bark, hair, and feathers. Wrens will usually lay 2 broods in the nesting season from May to July.

Because the male Wren builds several starter nests for the female to choose from, the other nests may then be used by the male to raise a second brood with another female or remain in place to discourage other male wrens from nesting in the same territory.

Young wrens in their first year try to settle close to an established male and take their cues from more experienced males about what areas are good nesting sites.

House Wrens are famous for taking advantage of unusual nesting places. Nests have been found in mailboxes, flowerpots, boots, house lights, and of course old woodpecker holes, natural crevices, small birdhouses and gourds.

The hole size for House Wrens should be a minimum of 1” and a maximum of 1-1/4" to prevent sparrows from entering the house. Also experts advise people to avoid adding perches because wrens don't use them but predators can use them to gain access to the nest.


1. All About Birds http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/House_Wren/lifehistory
2. Animal Diversity Web. -Dewey, T. and J. Brown. 2001. "Troglodytes aedon" http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Troglodytes_aedon.html
Enhanced by Zemanta


Anonymous said...

I was wondering the same thing because I can't figure out when to clean out the birdhouse. I know I'm supposed to do it once a year & was told it's best to clean it in the middle of winter. (I live in the Atlanta, GA area, if that helps with climate information.)Last year I waited until the first week of March & I disturbed a house wren nest that had three little eggs it in. I was upset by this, so this year I did it today (January 20) and the nest had an egg in it! AUGH! Do house wrens use the nest year-round? I feel terrible about disturbing an active nest. This never used to happen. Any advice is appreciated.

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

I always clean out my boxes on Labor Day, the first Monday in September. By that time in Michigan my nest box birds have finished nesting. You can ask your local Audubon or Wild Birds Unlimited store for accurate local information.

Usually when birds have been successful in raising their young in a nest box, the babies will fledge and then there is at least a two week break before they might begin to raise another brood. I always call it their family vacation time. You can also clean the nest box at this time while the baby birds are shown the territory and taught how to forage on their own.

If something happens to disrupt the success of the first batch, the birds might begin a new nest within a week. You don’t have to remove the nest in this case but broken eggs or dead nestlings should be removed immediately. If they want to try again in that box, it will give them a head start to have an existing nest. Also try to determine why there was a failure and how to prevent further tragedy.

By cleaning out a nest box you help deter parasite infestation and a predator’s ability disturb a nest that is built on top of old nests making it closer to the entrance hole.

To clean the nest box I usually place a plastic bag over the nest and just sweep it all in and twist the bag shut. You can rinse out the house with a water hose or diluted bleach spray. Make sure the drainage holes are unplugged and leave the house open to dry for a couple days. Finally dispose of the old nest in the trash and wash your hands thoroughly.

Houses can be used in the winter as roosting spots too. It seems too early for nesting to begin even in GA. It might have been a dud egg left over from the late summer. Watch for any bird activity before you clean out a box.

Anonymous said...

The research I have read, imply's there is no preference to clean box's (without nest) or dirty box's (with nest). They may not re-use badley soiled box's though. So cleaning old materail won't hurt, but make a little more work for the male when he returns to find a nesting site.

Anonymous said...

Parasitic infestation is mainly from the blow fly, which does not winter over, and is of no concern. Some assumption is the spyder nest material used in many nest, help take the role of cleaning any active parasites during nesting.

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

Birds can build a nest on top of old nests, but that sometimes becomes a problem. Nests on top of nests make the babies closer to the entrance hole. Now predators can pick out the babies and excited little ones can slip out accidentally while trying to feed.

Old nests can also hold little creepy crawlies that aren't good for the little ones. It is best to clean the nest boxes out at least once a year. I like the to clean the nest at the end of next box nesting season but before winter weather hits. The boxes can be used as a roosting spot for lots of birds and it's best if it's cleared out.

Anonymous said...

None of these replies actually answer the original question, which was "Are these the same adults, the offspring who were born in that nest or just random adult wrens?"

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

"wrens don’t always return to the same area every year."
You may have the same wrens or you may have different wrens. There are a lot of factors wrens' consider when they choosing a nest.

Anonymous said...

do wrens return to the nest when trying to fly.

Anonymous said...

i was wondering,if a female was killed and babies also, will the male return to rebuild for new mate...cause i was observing these lil guys being busy and they were not afraid...built a nest on my patio...unfortantly a stray cat got them....sad..i was looking forward to the lil ones....just curious...hoping to witness it again

Anonymous said...

I disturbed a nest by mistake in one of my potted plants, I tried to replace all the cover over the nest. Will they abandon the eggs, since I touch the outside nesting material?

Jalynnpink said...

We have identified 19 different bird species at our gazebo bird feeder each year, but this year we had a 20th species visit our feeder in a different way. We will put food out year round because we love to see the birds in our front window. However
we also have squirrels visit and this year the squirrels left our feeder with the top cocked open to the side. Before we realized what happened we had a new bird making a NEST IN our feeder. Such a cutie but couldn't identify him alone. Found him on the internet and thought we should discourage this because so many birds come to eat. However, we continued to allow this to happen and pretty soon the eggs were laid. However, they were scattered so we didn't think they would hatch. We finally saw one head and thought that was it. As he grew we saw another head and thought that 2 had made it. I couldn't get good pictures because the feeding tube was clear plastic, but quite foggy. I happened to be home looking out the day the babies flew for the first time! What a beautiful moment that was to witness!!! The two babies, bigger than I thought they would be, came up the cylinder and peaked their heads out, looking around for a while, and then hopped out onto the roof and eventually flew. One hit the ground and one made it to our tree. Then to my surprise, two more babies came and did the same!!! And then two more came out!!! Six babies and we only saw two in a clear tube!!!

Anyway, this was a wonderful experience, but I would love to reclaim my bird feeder. Do they reuse their nests? Can I clean this out and put feed in it?

Anonymous said...

My five babies flew for the first time today and I was lucky enough to witness it. Will clean out nest (hanging basket with fake fern)and hope for another brood.

Anonymous said...

Birds will not abandon the eggs because you touched the nest, that is a myth. They do not detect your scent because they cannot smell. Obviously you shouldn't touch the nest, eggs or babies on purpose and should not bother them. But they will not abandon a baby because you touched it either, and it is ok to place a fallen baby back in the nest if you can or, if you can't, in some safe place where the parents can find it. However in some species it is nature's way for the stronger babies to push out the weaker ones, giving the stronger a better chance to survive.