The House Wren has a remarkably energetic and robust song for such a small little bird! It readily nests near people's houses and in birdhouses, likely explaining the origins of its name. While the House Wren has the broadest latitudinal range of any songbird in the Americas, it has only started nesting in Tennessee relatively recently. The first recorded nest in the state was in 1913 in Johnson City, but this species didn't start regularly nesting in northeastern Tennessee until the 1940s. It slowly expanded across the state nesting in Nashville in 1957, in Dyer County north of Memphis in 1976, and in Chattanooga in 1978. Currently it is a common nester only in northeastern Tennessee and around Knoxville and uncommon elsewhere. The House Wren's breeding range extends from Canada to southernmost South America and the West Indies. Northern breeding populations migrate to the southern United States and Mexico during the winter.
Description: The subspecies of House Wren found in our region is overall dull grayish-brown with darker barring on the wings and tail. The eyebrow line is faint, the bill is thin and slightly de-curved, and the tail is longish and often kept cocked.
Weight: 0.39 oz
Voice: The song is an exuberant jumble of bubbling trills and rattles. They sing from early spring into mid-summer.
- Winter Wrens have a very short tail, and are smaller, and darker colored.
- Carolina Wrens are reddish-brown, with a bold white eyebrow line.
Habitat: Nesting birds are most frequently found near homes in urban, suburban, and rural settings where there are shrubs interspersed with clearings. During the non-breeding season, they are more secretive and prefer dense shrubs, tangles, and thickets.
Diet: Small, terrestrial insects.
Nesting and reproduction: Males often return to the territory they occupied the previous year, and start building several nests in natural or human-made cavities. When the female arrives, she selects one of the sites and the two birds finish building the nest together. In Tennessee, egg laying extends from early May into July, and 2 broods may be raised in a season.
Clutch Size: Usually 6 to 8 eggs, with a range of 4 to 10.
Incubation: The female alone incubates the eggs for 13 days.
Fledging: The male and female feed the young, which fledge in 15 to 16 days. They will remain with the adults for another 2 weeks.
Nest: Both adults construct the nest inside a cavity using twigs, and line the cup with feathers, grasses, and other fine material.
Status in Tennessee: The House Wren is a common breeder in northeastern Tennessee, an uncommon but regular breeder elsewhere in East Tennessee and Middle Tennessee, and a rare breeder in West Tennessee. It is fairly common during migration statewide. The House Wren is generally present in the state from mid-April to mid-October.
Dynamic map of House Wren eBird observations in Tennessee
- As with other bird species, blood-sucking nest parasites can infest a nest and be a problem for the developing nestlings. Some House Wrens have been found to put the egg cases of predatory spiders into the nest material. In a recent laboratory study, when the spiders hatched they fed on the nest parasites and likely improved the health of the nestlings.
- The oldest House Wren known in the wild was 9 years old.
Obsolete English Names: Jenny Wren, brown-throated wren
Best places to see in Tennessee: House Wrens are most likely to be found near houses in East and Middle Tennessee, and especially in northeastern Tennessee. They are easiest to locate when they are singing from mid-April into mid-summer.
For more information:
Cornell Lab of Ornithology - All About Birds
National Audubon Society Historical Account
Johnson, L. S. 1998. House Wren (Troglodytes aedon), The Birds of North America (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. Tennessee Press, Knoxville.
Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. Tennessee Press, Knoxville.
Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.
Consider using the online bird checklist program at eBird to help us understand bird populations and distributions in Tennessee. Click here to see how.