Friday, June 17, 2011

Flying Practice with the Wrens

Having lost the opportunity to observe a robin's nest, I was able to closely observe the wren's nest. They built their nest under our deck stairs.

wren's nest under deck stairs

The opening of the nest is on the left.

This is the second year we have observed this nest. Last year, there was only one fledgling.

wren's nest fledgling 2010

From the coloring and size, I don't think that fledgling was a wren. I believe it was a cowbird.

adult wren feeding cowbird fledgling 2010

When I noticed that it had fledged, I tried to find it in the yard. I found it about 40 feet from the nest on a low limb of a small tree.

fledgling not far from nest 2010

The foster parents continued to feed it all day long. It moved very slowly. I caught a glimpse of it the next day about 20 feet from the last perch.

foster wren parent feeding cowbird fledgling

The next day it had left the yard, but I could here the parents off in the woods.

Back to this year...

The wren's nest under the deck stairs is a bit tricky to get to for the wrens. They manage but it seems like they struggle somewhat. So, I set up a thick long branch near the entrance to make it easier. I had placed the short trellis under the stairs temporarily because I had moved a vining plant elsewhere, however the wrens began to use it as they found food on the ground and hopped up the trellis to the makeshift branch.

branch in front of wren's nest

The wrens learn to use the branch almost right away. It seems a lot easier to get to the nest.

wren on twig in front of nest entrance

wren preparing to fly over to nest

Besides trying to be helpful to the wren parents, I also wanted to protect them from my cats who go outside in the yard with me in the early morning. They hear the nestlings when the parents arrive for a feeding. The branch by the wren entrance seemed to help with that as well, making it easier for them to navigate their arrival and departure from the nest. I always kept my eye on the nest to be sure neither of the cats bothered it. Mostly, the cats roam around the yard finding other things of interest. Simba is 16 and is not as interested in the hunt as he used to be. Sasha, six years old, would hover around the nest from time to time. Whichever wren parent happened upon her was very cautious. He or she would loudly let her know she was not welcome.

Sasha and Simba eyeing the wren's nest on the right

It was a bit chilly this particular morning, so they cuddled close.

This year, there were five wren nestlings.

wren nestlings with open mouths for feeding

wren nestlings

I apologize for the blurry photos as it was a bit challenging to take a photo from the side of the nest.

At first, I thought there were only four nestlings from the photo, but I soon learned there were a total of five. Mother and Father wren continued feeding the nestlings every few minutes.

wren entering the nest to feed nestlings

adult wren leaving nest after feeding young

A few days later, one of the nestlings crawled out of the nest. He continued crawling around the area in front of the nest. He would not respond to the parents when they arrived with food. I feared the worst. And then, I came down later to check on them and saw him laying upside down on the outside of the nest. He was still breathing and moving.

sick wren nestling

Although my heart wanted to reach out and help in some way, there was really nothing I could do. I also feel it is not a good idea to interfere. This is nature's way, I suppose. The next day he was gone. Four nestlings left.

nestlings wait to be fed

getting bigger and bigger everyday

They are getting large enough to hop around the outside of the nest.

wren nestlings becoming more active

As they became more active, I knew they were getting ready to fledge. Because there is a concrete patio below the nest, I put towels down to cushion the blow somewhat should a nestling fall out of the nest.

bare concrete beneath the wren's nest

being overprotective...

The day before they fledged, there was an awful smell...that 'something's dead' smell coming from the nest. Flies were also congregating. I called some experts to find out if it would be acceptable to remove the dead bird. After getting the okay, I wondered how I was going to get the dead bird out without disturbing the other three. Luckily, when I went down to the nest, all three nestlings were sitting outside the entrance to the nest. I slowly and gently reached in and found the dead nestling. He was, indeed, dead. Three nestlings left.

three wren nestlings

This year, the nestlings were definitely wrens. I could see the telltale markings on the head and wings.

This is the last photo I have of them. They fledged that afternoon. After I discovered that they had fledged, I looked around the yard to see if I could find them. I found them at the edge of the yard about 50 to 60 feet from the nest. When I look for the fledglings, I look and listen for the parents because they bring food to them. I followed the parents call and two feet from my feet on the leaves in the woods were three very small fledglings sitting about six or seven inches from one another. They were very still and quiet--probably because of me--and were very well camouflaged. I wish I could have captured that photo, but when I returned they had already begun testing their wings in the woods beyond the property. They were mainly on the ground flying from low branch to tree log to low branch to the ground and all around. Sometimes they were slightly awkward in their flying was adorable. I knew this would probably be the last time I would see them as they flew further and further away, although I hoped I would see them stop by the yard from time to time. And so, I wished them well...

From time to time, I hear the parents calling the little ones or singing. They are not far from the yard...somewhere close in the nearby woods beyond our property. After watching them so closely, I feel like a godparent, always hoping they are safe as they learn to live on their own.
©Michelle A. Potter


  1. What a delightful and heartwrenching tale--watching nestlings grow is such a magical experience, but death is always part of it, too.

    I had wrens nest in a potted tuberous begonia one year, and the parents were so irritated with me when I watered it--but if I didn't water it, the begonia would die, and their nest would be exposed. The line between helping and interfering is such a fine one--I enjoyed reading about how you negotiated the balance.

  2. What a fine mother bird you are!

  3. Both my cats would be interested too. One is 19 and the other 6. Only the 6 year old could do anything about it though.

  4. @Stacy I am so glad you could take the journey with me. It is a magical experience, and I feel honored to have been part of it. You seem to have had your own experience with them...tough situation with the begonia.

  5. My eldest could probably do something, but he doesn't seem very interested in that sort of thing these days. 19...that is great. The oldest cat I have ever had made to 18.

  6. Having had very little experience with birds, your post was a delightful (yet realistic) read. Thank you for it!


  7. What a great experience to be able to watch these little birds as they grow up. I liked that you put down towels in case they fell :)

  8. I laugh at Katie's comment; Fine mother bird. I was once a grand mother bird as my daughter took car of a baby bird.

    I enjoy your story.

    Did you hear one of them says, "I thought I taw a pussy cat!"

  9. @aseaaranion I am not that experienced, but I enjoy it when I get the chance to be a part of it. Thank you for visiting.

  10. @Marguerite It was, indeed, a great experience. It makes me feel closer to nature, in a way. I was being a bit overprotective with the towels, but better safe than sorry.

  11. @One I laughed at your comment...I do believe I heard them say that once. :)

  12. There's wrens hopping around in our vegetable garden and in the trees behind. If I can't see them I can certainly hear them. I think one may not long fledged fledged as it flew into the garden shed by mistake.
    You must have been very patient to get all these beautiful photographs.

  13. What a cute story. It would make a great children's book.

  14. That is a great story. Great post.

  15. Great photos. There is something so special about monitoring a bird'snest. I got to watch Mother Nature's miracle this year with a robin's nest in one of crabapples. I missed fledging day but did manage to get some good photos before the four babies flew away. I'm hoping to get them up on my blog next week.

  16. What a wonderful post! We had a house sparrow with a broken wing built a nest in our cranesbill last summer, and just as the babes were about to fledge, the neighbor's cat destroyed the nest. We were so very sad -- even though we understand that that is the circle of life, we had so looked forward to watching this little family take to the trees.

  17. Dear Michelle, I loved reading this saga of your wrens! The photographs are wonderful! I had never seen a wren's nest before, as the many wrens who live in my garden, all nest in the birdhouses that my husband provides. P. x

  18. Michelle how wonderful and I just love that you put the towels down, thank you for sharing this magical story, Frances

  19. Such a fabulous post! So sad in parts but just beautiful to see the egglets growing up

  20. You must feel very privileged to have witnessed it all - a terrible responsibility though.

  21. I lobe wrens. Wonderful that you managed to follow the nest events. Did they come back to the same nest this year or did you remove the old nest material? I usually empty out the old nest but maybe I shouldn't do that. We had wrens in the potting shed this year. At last they were safe in there, although I don't know how they managed to get in and out under the sliding door. Judging by all the poop it took some time for the babies to find their way out.

  22. @Janet That is one of the things I love about them. Out of that tiny body comes this very audible song. I believe I was able to get those photos because they became somewhat accustomed to my presence.

  23. @Carolyn @ Carolyn's Shade Gardens Thanks for the nice compliment, and thanks for stopping by.

  24. @Ellada Thank you...I am glad I was able to share it.

  25. @Debbie Amazing! I bet that was a very pleasant experience. I look forward to seeing them.

  26. @Cathy and Steve Doesn't that just break your heart? I also realize it is the circle of life, but I get a bit attached. It is a constant struggle for me to let go, let nature...

  27. @Pam's English Garden We have nest boxes as well, but inevitably some birds nest the arborvitaes, shrubs, small trees, and under the stairs.

  28. @Island Threads It was me being overprotective. I did not see them fledge, so I don't know how it went...but I guess they did fine.

  29. @Mrs Bok - The Bok Flock For me, I need to flow with the natural cycle and not worry so much about them or become disappointed when one is lost to the nature of things.

  30. @elaine rickett Indeed, I feel very privileged to have witnessed it and been a small part of it. ...makes me feel as if I am working with nature instead of against it.

  31. @Lancashire rose We had left the nest. We left it for a while just in case they returned for another round, and then we forgot about it. We will have to remove it this year because we need to powerwash and all of that stuff. I am still pondering where I should move it...

  32. How fun to be able to watch them from beginning to going out on theri own. We had a nest of finch near a often used fence gate. I missed thier fledge and now miss thier sounds.

  33. What a wonderful post!!! I have wrens in two of my bird houses but had a dead baby in one of the houses. I removed the baby but I'm not sure what happened to the rest of the babies. I love your wren story!!

  34. It's always a privilege to be able to observe nature so closely.

  35. What a wonderful story. How special to share the journey with these nesting birds.

  36. When I was little, I remember tiny starlings used to build nests on my grandmother's porch. This post brought back memories.

  37. Last night we discovered a black snake in the porch plant where we'd been watching baby wrens hatch and grow. I yelled to my husband, "A snake has the babies! A snake has the babies!" I've never seen him jump so fast!

    He removed the snake -- one baby was dead and two others hopped out of the plant's pot and onto the porch the moment he removed the snake. Then we were faced with getting them back in the nest as they hopped around the porch, testing their wings. My husband placed some construction netting around the pot's exterior to build it up some and keep the babies from jumping out again, then put them back. We were careful not to touch them, but were fearful Mama would not come back -- we don't know if she was there when the snake arrived.

    This morning when I checked on the babies, they were jumping around in the plant and crying. I was ready to find out what to do with orphan wrens when I heard a lot of squawking and discovered Mama had returned!

    We both are at work today and can only hope all will be OK when we return! What an experience!!

  38. @Suzy Barile Oh my goodness! You were such good bird godparents to help and protect them so carefully. I probably would have done the same. I have touched nestlings and never had the parents reject them. I wonder if that is a myth that they reject them after being touched by humans.

    I appreciate the snakes when they control the moles, voles, and insects. However, I can't say I appreciate when they go after eggs or nestlings. I suppose we can't really dictate to them what they must eat or not eat.

    I hope all goes well...good luck!

  39. @Tracy Isn't it interesting to watch how they feed them and remove the fecal sac? I am always amazed...

  40. @Bridget I feel very privileged indeed. I always learn things I never knew before.


'I see trees of green, red roses, too
I see 'em bloom for me and for you
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world'
--What a Wonderful World

Thank you for visiting The Sage Butterfly blog. I enjoy reading your charming reflections very much. Have a great day!

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