Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Wren Days of Summer

There comes a time when you have to acknowledge spring migration is over.

No more blackpoll warbler, whose squeaky-brake call was heard for two weeks in the backyard. No more large flocks of goldfinches jockeying for position at the thistle feeder.

Far fewer birds are singing at dawn. The other day as I was hiking in the neighborhood I heard a strange song, then spotted a goldfinch. He wasn't singing but the male indigo bunting at the top of the spruce was.

But that's the exception. At this time of year birders leave the woods and head to the shore to look at the peeps and waders. The birds sit in the open and, if you can put up with the biting flies and mosquitoes, you don't have to work as hard at seeing something.

This is the season of the breeders. In my brother-in-law's New Hampshire woods, the black-throated green and blackburnian warblers still call to protect their nesting territory, the wood thrush and veery sing all day and the yellow-bellied sapsucker drums loudly on branches.

In my area, we have cardinals, catbirds, chipping and song sparrows and loads of robins. The chickadees, titmice and nuthatches sing every so often but they are more concerned with feeding young behind the thick tree canopy. If I didn't have suet out I might not be seeing downy, hairy or redbelly woodpecker.

Thankfully, there are wrens.

The carolina wren, such as this one from last winter, has a very loud song for such a little bird. If fed during the worst of winter, it will hang around all year. In the last week I have heard a carolina wren singing from the next street. One of the reasons why I love carolina wren is it sings all the time - in winter's cold, in summer, in breeding season. So this one is singing and is likely proclaiming his territory.

The other breeding wren is the house wren, which comes up in spring after wintering far to the south. (This year's current singer is at the top.) Years ago a friend gave me a small decorative bird house and for the hell of it I hung it in one of my apple trees. To my delight a house wren and mate raised a family in it. It was not meant to be a real birdhouse so it was not a surprise that it broke apart after a few years.

At that point I went to the local Audubon office and bought this wren house.

I wait for "house wren" to show up on area birding lists and then put the house up. Usually within a few days there is activity and later a brood or two. (The opening is too small for the carolina wren.)

This year, as with everything else during a cold and wet spring, things were different. It seemed to take a long time for a house wren to discover the box and then after a few days it was silent. A week would go by and then there would be early morning wren song.

If you look at the house above you'll see a bit of stuff coming out the bottom - nesting material. I see a pair of wrens going in and out of the box but I don't hear any cheeping. At this point I am just glad to have them at all. It is nice to be awakened by a house wren's bubbly song rather than the alarm clock. It is nicer to hear the house wren nearby and the carolina wren a block or so away.

As I get ready to take the feeders in for the season the wrens will be my summer solace.