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House Wren

Troglodytes aedon
Members of this diverse group make up more than half of the bird species worldwide. Most are small. However their brains are relatively large and their learning abilities are greater than those of most other birds. Passerine birds are divided into two suborders, the suboscines and the oscines. Oscines are capable of more complex song, and are considered the true songbirds. In Washington, the tyrant flycatchers are the only suboscines; the remaining 27 families are oscines.
The wrens of northern North America are small, brown birds, which make up for their drab colors with their complex songs. Active foragers, they generally search for food low in the understory or on the ground, where they use their narrow bills to probe in crevices for insects and spiders. They are usually solitary or in pairs and do not form flocks. Most species lay eggs in enclosed areas, either in cavities or covered nests. Usually the male begins a number of nests, which typically have coarse foundations upon which the actual nest cups may later be built. The female then selects one nest and completes it. Incubation is usually by the female alone, although both parents feed the young. One odd practice of wrens is their tendency to puncture the eggs of other birds, both of their own and other species. One theory to explain this, as well as the multiple nests, is that wrens strive to increase the number of empty nests in their territory. This may protect them from predators that might abandon an area after finding most of the nests empty. Many wrens hold their tails cocked up over their backs. Since many other birds also do this, the posture is by no means diagnostic of wrens.
Common summer east. Fairly common west.
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General Description

The House Wren is a small, brown bird with few readily apparent field marks. It is slender and gray-brown, lighter in color overall and with a longer tail than the Winter Wren. Its wings and tail are mottled, but its back and belly are fairly clear.


House Wrens inhabit gardens, hedgerows, brushy woods, wetlands, and other edges. They use a variety of habitats, as long as they have a dense shrub layer.


The secretive House Wren hops about on the ground and in the low understory with its short tail held up. It often punctures the eggs of nearby nesting birds, both of its own and other species.


Crawling insects and spiders are the primary prey of House Wrens.


These birds have a tendency to nest around human homes and in birdhouses, thus the name House Wren. The male defends its territory and attracts females by singing. The birds start a number of nests, and the female selects one to finish. They are usually monogamous, but the male may have more than one mate at a time, and the female may raise a second brood with a new mate, leaving her young for the first male to raise. House Wrens build their nests in cavities, both natural and artificial. The nests are usually near the ground, but may be high up in trees as well, especially in the mountains. The nest's foundation is a large pile of twigs, and the nest itself is a cup built of soft plant fibers, hair, and feathers. The female incubates 6 to 7 eggs for 12 to 15 days. Both parents feed the chicks, which leave the nest after 12 to 18 days.

Migration Status

Most House Wrens migrate to the southern United States or north and central Mexico for the winter. Some of Washington's birds move up-slope in late summer after the breeding season, and most have left Washington by late September. There are a few accepted records of House Wrens in southeastern Washington in the winter, but they were living in heated stock sheds. In the spring, males tend to arrive before females.

Conservation Status

House Wrens currently occupy the broadest latitudinal range of any native songbird in the New World. House Wrens have benefited from the fragmentation of forests across the United States, including Washington. This fragmentation increases the shrubby edge habitat that they prefer. They are fairly tolerant of human activity, which makes them well adapted to our increasingly developed landscape. They also seem to benefit from logging, using slash piles and small snags. In some areas in the 19th Century, there was a decline of House Wrens, which is blamed on the introduction of the House Sparrow because they compete for nesting cavities. In Washington and North America as a whole, the House Wren population has been on the rise since 1966, increasing an average of 8.3% per year in Washington and 1.6% per year in North America, based on Breeding Bird Survey data. This increase may be of concern since House Wrens destroy nests of other species, and compete with other, less common cavity-nesters.

When and Where to Find in Washington

House Wrens are common and widespread from mid-May to the end of August at lower elevations in eastern Washington, outside of the hottest parts of the Columbia Basin. In western Washington, they are more scattered, common in the dry prairie habitat in the San Juan Islands (San Juan County), and uncommon in similar dry spots around Sequim (Clallam County) and Ft. Lewis (Pierce County). They are also uncommon in the summer in residential areas in Bellingham (Whatcom County), on Whidbey and Camano Islands (Island County), Everett and Marysville (Snohomish County), north Seattle (King County), and in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (Thurston County). They are abundant breeders in Clark County, especially at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

Click here to visit this species' account and breeding-season distribution map in Sound to Sage, Seattle Audubon's on-line breeding bird atlas of Island, King, Kitsap, and Kittitas Counties.

Abundance Code DefinitionsAbundance

C=Common; F=Fairly Common; U=Uncommon; R=Rare; I=Irregular
Pacific Northwest Coast RRRR
Puget Trough RFFFR
North Cascades
West Cascades UUUU
East Cascades FFFFFU
Okanogan UCCCCU
Canadian Rockies UFFFUU
Blue Mountains RUFFFF
Columbia Plateau FCCCCC

Washington Range Map

North American Range Map

North America map legend

Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List

View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern