House wren
House wren
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For several weeks, a diminutive brown bird has sung energetically from my backyard. Its jumbled notes are interspersed with scolding chatters and, at a rate of 9 to 10 repetitions per minute, his song is forceful and persistent. It’s a male house wren working at peak energy to secure a mate. Females will sing a bit too, mainly to answer their mates shortly after pairing. In keeping with their bold vocal tendencies, these wrens can sometimes be coaxed into view with squeaks and “spishing” sounds. Ranging between parts of Canada into South America, house wrens are the most widely distributed bird in the Americas and also the single most common wren.

House wrens nest in a broad variety of cavity sites, from woodpecker holes to nest boxes. Occasionally these opportunistic little fellows will utilize a flower pot or drainpipe. My yard offers three obvious nesting options — all manmade nest structures. As wrens will commonly do, my yard bird has crammed each box full of small sticks. Wrens are the epitome of over-achievers, creating several “dummy” nests within each locality. Next the twig structures are topped with soft nest materials such as grasses and hair. The female bird will make the final nest selection. Being highly competitive individuals, house wrens are known to pierce the eggs of neighboring wrens and other birds within their territory.

Another wren species that may nest near to people is the Carolina wren. Whereas the house wren’s generally brown and gray plumage lacks true pizazz, the slightly larger Carolina wrens have some standout physical features. Males and females share identical rusty backsides, buffy cinnamon underparts and a prominent white eye-stripe.

While Carolina wrens nest throughout southern and central Maine, the northern edge of the species’ breeding range varies over time, depending on the severity of a given winter season. Their numbers are currently rebounding following an exceedingly harsh winter several years ago. Carolina wrens favor open woods with thickets, brush piles and tangles, as mated pairs remain together throughout the year. Their main diet is insects, but Carolinas will consume fruits and berries during the colder seasons. So if you happen to hear a rhythmic, frolicking “teakettle, teakettle, teakettle” song rising from brushy cover, you are likely in the company of a Carolina wren.

Not all wrens are restricted to dry-land situations. Marsh wrens inhabit wetland areas of cattails, sedges, bulrushes and tall stands of Phragmites. Beyond freshwater habitats, marsh wrens are found in cordgrass-filled saltmarshes such as Weskeag Marsh. Last week that’s where I discovered and photographed the singing wren in my photo. Marsh wrens often hold their tail in a cocked position as they splay between stalks of vegetation. This industrious species is the possible champion of dummy-style nest building, fashioning twenty or more at times! Although these dummy nests are not used for raising young, adults may sleep in them at other seasons.

Hearing his rapid buzzy trills amid the lush green stands of cordgrasses, I edged forward for a closer look. Eventually the male wren popped up to give full-throated song from the grass tops. To our untrained human ear, the wren’s vocal renditions may sound fairly simple and limited. However, this species has an impressive capacity of 50 to 200 song types. Nightfall doesn’t faze these birds either, since they may sing through the night. Neighboring males engage in complex counter-singing duels in their individual bids for success.

And what about that expectant male house wren in my backyard? Apparently he has moved on, unsuccessful in attracting a mate. That’s Nature for you.