Summer Pleasures: Wren Houses

Bird-watching is a pleasure any time of the year, but for me there is a special happiness in the late spring and early summer when we hang the wren houses and hope. Usually, though not always, our efforts are rewarded.

Wrens are migratory song birds in our area. In our garden, we hear fewer songs than we do shrieks of alarm if we happen to move too close to their nests with our lawn mowers and intentions of weeding. When I say, “Your house is our gift; we mean you no harm,” they shriek all the louder and more frantically.

I think of these tiny vigorous balls of brown feathers as vociferous scolders and introverts, the nonpareil of protective parents. The first wren house we had is now in sad repair after many seasons of use, so it serves now as inside sculpture. Julia and a neighborhood friend painted it many years ago. For some years, there was a square of lilac acrylic paint on the grey concrete of the front steps to remind us, winter and summer, of that painting party. Here is a photo of it in its glory days, hanging in Julia’s gingko tree.

First Wren House

And here it is today.

Original Wren House Dilapidated

Wrens create cup-shaped nests cooperatively. The male supplies a quantity of sticks and arranges them into their basic shape. The female inspects, accepts or rejects, and then weaves in a soft lining of various materials. In this abandoned nest, I can see small feathers, tiny white flowers still on their stems, dried grasses, and bits of shiny cellophane.

Inside Original Wren House

As the original wren house was retired from service, a talented painter and birdhouse builder of our acquaintance, Gary Horrisberger, built a much sturdier version and painted it according to our specifications. Notice the iconic version of his birdhouse design on his business card!

Gary Business Card

This year, Julia and her friend each put together paper bird houses from kits.

Paper Bird House Kit

Then they hung them outside.

Hanging Paper Wren House in Gingko Tree

A few weeks later, after hearing the familiar scoldings, we snuck up for a peek: Yes! Success! Both houses are occupied.

Paper Wren House Inhabited

Wren House by Gary Horrisberger

My birthday this year brought a painting from Tim and Julia. This father-daughter collaboration was inspired by the original wren house. It hangs in my office so I can imagine spring and full summer any time of the year.

Wren House Painting

This spring also brought a wrennish mystery to our door. We established a hearty kiwi vine on a pyramidal trellis at the north end of our front porch. It reliably produces vines festooned with thick green leaves, but its flowers—lovely, pendant, white, fragrant—are so shy and hidden that we don’t always get to see them. This year, as Tim and I were sitting near the porch railing, we caught a fragrant scent. I reached over and lifted the vine and found a double treasure: great quantities of blossoms and an abandoned nest that looked to our untutored eyes like it had been made by wrens. Was it made by an especially brave, trusting, or mute couple? Will they return?

Nest on Trellis Under Kiwi Vine

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