Farewell to a Favorite Summer Bird…’til next year

Ethan with Recorder

Ethan Duke with his recording equipment, provided by the Audubon Society of Missouri, that has allowed him to record the songs of numerous wrens.

The House Wren (Troglodytes aedon), delights observers from coast to coast along the northern two thirds of the United States and portions of Canada. This tiny, loquacious visitor arrives each spring from its wintering grounds the southern US and Mexico. We look forward to its return in the spring and feel its absence as it slowly withdraws from our songscape on its way to warmer winter climes.

Upon deciding what to write about this amazing bird, I immediately headed to my go-to bird information source: The Birds of North America Online (BNA; bna.birds.cornell.edu) hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This amazing resource provides well-sourced species account descriptions. Best of all, it has a complete and comprehensive bibliography section. This section is particularly large for the accessible, well-studied House Wren.

Interestingly, BNA mentions W.W. Cooke’s 1884 notes on the Chippewa (Ojibwe) Native Americans and their bird nomenclature at the time. The Ojibwe people that Cooke met with called House Wrens “O-du-na’-mis-sug-ud-da-we’-shi”, meaning “making a big noise for its size”. It is amazing that the culture was still able to translate species names given they had been forced out of their lands in what is now northern Michigan and Wisconsin by colonialist greed and the resulting enclave of lumber barons in the 1840’s and 1850’s. Cooke mentions that they did not distinguish the House Wren from the Winter Wren. I’d wager that the tribe had known the difference before colonial disruption.

HOWR 9-4-12 SY PCs

A House Wren showing a Hatch-year feather pattern. Hatch-year birds tend to practice their songs before leaving on fall migration, often sounding garbled and short.

The Winter Wren is indeed a similar species. They have a shorter tail, more defined markings (especially in the flanks), and of coarse have a different song. Other Wrens of Missouri include Carolina, Sedge and Marsh Wrens. All of these wrens are quite vocal and active, with complex songs and calls.

It is amazing to think such a small bird as the House Wren can produce such a loud and song and so often. After skimming the “sounds” section of the BNA account, I learned that an unpaired male can sing up to 600 songs per hour in the morning hours! There song is primarily made of three parts, of which they can vary to the extent of producing over 200 different songs. Adding to these findings, females can also sing! Wow. I’ve recorded several House Wrens here in Missouri and for your listening pleasure have posted them on xeno-canto.org at http://www.xeno-canto.org/233124. This particular individual nested in a Pileated Woodpecker-shaped birdhouse. This is one male of approximately 6 in the area. In the sound spectrogram can see the isolated song parts in his exceptional song. Just think, this one male sings hundreds of different songs.HOWR_20130725_055600_songRight now, this mighty songster is chirping and hopping actively on its southbound path, leaving a void of unmatched activity and sound in our backyard… Alas, but we are glad that the Slate-colored Juncos and White-throated Sparrows have arrived!

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