Male and female House Wrens look alike. They have grayish
brown upperparts, buff or pale-buff underparts, and faint
buff or dusky brown eyebrows. Juveniles have a reddish
brown rump, and their underparts are a darker buff.
Distribution and Breeding Habitat
House Wrens occupy the northern two-thirds of the United
States and parts of Canada. They breed in forest edges,
shrub lands, swamps, fields, farmlands, and suburban
parks. House Wren
Gleaning their food from tree foliage, House Wrens feast
on a variety of invertebrates, including millipedes,
spiders, snails, caterpillars, grasshoppers, ants, and
Pair Formation and Territoriality
The male arrives first on the breeding territory. Once he
establishes a territory, he builds "dummy
nests" in all available cavities on his territory.
When the female arrives, she selects a nest site that may
or may not be one of the nests started by the male.
House Wrens are very territorial. Although they use only
one nest cavity at a time, they vigorously defend all
cavities in their territory. As part of this defense,
House Wrens often pierce and destroy the eggs of other
cavity-nesting species such as Eastern Bluebirds and Tree
Swallows that attempt to nest within their territory.
The House Wren's mating system is complex. A male may
pair with one female for part of the season to raise a
brood. He might then mate with a different female to
raise the second or third brood of the breeding season.
Males may also be mated to two females simultaneously.
Nest Building: The breeding season
begins in late April for birds living in the southern
portion of their range; it begins in early May in the
northern portion. House Wrens nest in natural cavities,
tree stumps, woodpecker holes, building nooks and
crannies, and in nest boxes. They have also been known to
nest in such unique places as cow skulls, flower pots,
tin cans, boots, scarecrows, and the pockets of hanging
Males begin building the nest by filling the nest cavity
with small sticks. Up to 500 sticks have been counted in
a single nest. High behind this pile, the female
constructs a nest cup from various soft materials, like
feathers, hair, wool, spider cocoons, strips of bark,
rootlets, moss, and trash.
Egg Laying: Females lay one egg per day
until the clutch is complete. The average clutch size is
6 to 8 eggs, but up to 12 eggs have been reported. The
eggs are glossy white, sometimes tinted with pink or
buff. They are uniformly and profusely marked with fine
pinkish brown, reddish brown, and brown specks, which
sometimes form a ring near the larger end of the egg.
Incubation: The incubation period lasts
13 to 15 days. Females begin to incubate on the day the
next-to-last, or penultimate, egg is laid. Males
occasionally feed their mates during this period.
Nestling Care: Both adults care for the
young. The young fledge after 12 to 18 days. Although
able to fly, the fledglings continue to be fed by their
parents for approximately two weeks. The female may begin
to renest while young are still dependent; the male then
becomes the primary caretaker of the young.
Pairs usually raise two broods per breeding season. Some
pairs can successfully raise three broods.
Winter Movement and Dispersal
House Wrens migrate to the southern United States and
Mexico for the winter. Males return to the same breeding
territory year after year. There is no information on
site fidelity in females.
There is no information on juvenile dispersal.
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