Join us on         

My Backyard Laboratory: A Wren Village

Two yard panthers and a little good wolf patrol the edge of the Dawnwood forest that is our backyard. We never know what is going to turn up out there so every day is apt to be a learning experience in my backyard laboratory.  

It amazes me how and where some critters choose to raise their young. Two little Carolina wrens (thryohorus ludovicianus) built a nest in a precariously perched bird barn on our back porch. This despite the whisker licking yard panthers periodically circling below. The wren parents work incredibly hard to keep their babies fed. Every ten minutes or so, one of them brings an insect or a worm to the bird barn for the tiny chicks, whose beaks look bigger than their bodies.

Communication is very important to wrens.
The male wren is an accomplished member of the Dawnwood forest chorus, performing each day at daybreak. He has a loud song almost like he is singing “teakettle, teakettle, teakettle.” He uses a loud warning squawk which almost sounds like “cat, cat, cat,” whenever yard panthers come too close. When he lands on the porch railing, ready to fly up to the nest with a snack in his beak, he sings “I’m here, I’m here.” The female wren does not sing but, she gives a little “chirp, chirp” when she brings food. The babies in the barn chirp away in response to Mom and Dad, and sometimes two little beaks poke out of the hole.

One beautifully breezy morning I heard Dad just singing and singing away. I noticed that he visited the barn a few times with an empty beak and that the winds outside were just playful enough to safely carry little birds aloft. Dad had come to coax the hungry babies out of the nest. A few other birds seemed to be helping him, like they were all saying “come on out, you can do it -- it’s beautiful out here and there are more bugs than you can imagine!” Even a female cardinal, on the ground below the barn, looked as though she was scanning the grass for predators. The whole back yard bird village appeared to be engaged in helping the wren couple with their fledglings.

From my little garden below the porch I heard “cat, cat, cat” and looked up to see our smallest yard panther slinking along the fence line. Rushing over, I snatched her up and whisked her inside. When I came back out I heard Mom and Dad chirping and calling as if to say “over here, we’re over here, come over here” and little chirps coming back from the tall grass on the fence line. Thanks to a well-coordinated cooperative bird village effort, the little wrens seem to have made it to the safety of the Dawnwood forest underbrush where Mom and Dad were directing them. 

Today, I saw two Carolina wrens on the back porch preening and fluffing their newly acquired adult feathers until our little good wolf inspired them to seek shelter in the trees. 

There is never a dull moment in the backyard laboratory – every inch can teach us something.

What did you discover in your back yard today? 

If you’d like to learn more about birds here are some excellent Bird Watcher websites: Virginia Society of OrnithologyRichmond Audubon SocietyThe Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Excellent local sites for bird watching: Rockwood Nature CenterPocahontas State ParkMaymont Park Nature CenterJames River National Wildlife RefugeCoastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory

Want to do some bird related activities at home? Check out -National Audubon Society -- Home Bird feedersPocahontas State Park Junior Ranger Activity Book, and The Great Big Bird Count

To build a better birdhouse go to  Birdhouse Villages and Corner Hardware

Article by LuAnn Jones, parent, journalist and radio host with a special interest in animal social behavior.

Discover more stories like this at Science Matters and LIKE us on Facebook.