An undistinguished small, plain, brown bird with a stubby tail, the House Wren during the breeding season is unsurpassed for exuberance of behavior and melodiousness of song. The frenetic activity of a courting and nesting pair quickly gains attention and atlasers had little difficulty in detecting their presence. The species nests over most of the northern three-fourths of the United States and parts of southern Canada. It winters along the Gulf Coast, the lower deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, north and central Mexico and the California coast. In Texas it is a common migrant and uncommon winter resident in nearly all parts of the state, the exception an absence in winter in the north-central region (Lockwood and Freeman 2005).
DISTRIBUTION: In Texas, the TBBA data indicated this bird breeds almost exclusively in the Red Rolling Plains and Staked and Pecos Plains regions of the northwest sector. Twenty-eight of the 37 occupied quadrangles were in those regions. Quads occupied in the remaining regions were isolated and widely scattered. Three confirmations were made in the Edwards Plateau (latilongs 29099-F6; 29101-F3; 30101-D6) and one in the Glaciated Coastal Plain (33096-B5) region. Two probables were in the Tran-Pecos (30104-Fl; 31104-H7) and one in the South Texas Brushlands (26097-B4) regions, and two possibles in the Osage Plains (32097-B7 and G2) region.
SEASONAL OCCURRENCE. A problem encountered by atlasers in confirming House Wren nesting was the habit of male birds of building an array of nests, whether mated or not. Without follow-up to ascertain if a female selected one of them for laying her eggs, the observation of nest-building by itself was not confirmation of actual nesting. Atlasers in the Panhandle found this of particular concern and opted to be conservative in their assessments. More than likely many of those quads classified as probable would have been changed to confirmed with more lengthy coverage, for most involved the observation of nest-building and/or courting birds and the presence of multiple singing males. House Wrens are common to uncommon migrants and common to rare winter residents in Texas (Lockwood and Freeman 2004).
The House Wren is two-brooded over much of its nesting range. Although this was not confirmed by the TBBA, the confirmed dates indicated its probability: a specimen collected with a cloacal protuberence April 26 (33096-B5), and fledglings leaving the nest July 18 (29099-F6). Nest-building itself was observed as early as May 8 (31104-H7). These early and late dates conform to those given by Oberholser (1974) as “late April to late July.”
BREEDING HABITAT: Almost all nests found during the TBBA field work in 1987-1992 were built in cavities in trees in open bottomland woods. The two exceptions were a pair of wrens engaged in courtship behavior in a suburban backyard in Lubbock (33101-E8) , and a nest found in a wooden box attached to a carport near the Frio River at Leakey (29099-F6). Nest cavity heights ranged from a knot hole near the bottom of a burned scrub oak (31104-H7) to an old woodpecker hole located some 9-10 m (30-35 ft) up in a willow (35100-B7).
STATUS: Prior to the TBBA there were few confirmed nestings of the House Wren in Texas. Oberholser (1974) makes reference to only six, and those at widely scattered localities. This prompted the requirement that atlasers support their observations with documentation. The species’ presence in summer in the Panhandle was largely unknown, except to local observers. Oberholser (1974) made a single reference to nesting in the Palo Duro Canyon State Park based on a 1935 observation. Perhaps that event should be questioned, as the observer failed to name the Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii) in his list of birds; Bewick’s Wren commonly nests in the canyon, and a summer residence of the House Wren has not been recorded there since.
Numerous summer visits to the eastern counties of the Panhandle by various observers from mid-1930 through 1960 failed to disclose a single House Wren, and it was not until some time in the early 1970s that the species began to be seen with any regularity. The North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) that began in 1968 also failed to record House Wrens until the late 1970s and early 1980s (Sauer et al. 2005). This southern and westward extension of the species’ known summer range was paralleled by events occurring in nearby Oklahoma. (Baumgartner and Baumgartner 1992). This expansion was part of a broader south and westward expansion summarized by Johnson 1998).
A look at the locations where nesting activity was found in the Panhandle clearly demonstrates that the avenues of ingress for the House Wren are the area’s waterways, from Wolf Creek in the north to the Salt Fork of the Red River in the south. The main avenue is the Canadian River and its drainage, with a confirmation of nesting coming from as far west as Rita Blanca Creek in central Hartley County (35102-O5). Although Oberholser (1974) showed three confirmed nestings of the House Wren in north central Texas, Pulich (1988) discounted them as possible errors in the identification of the common Bewick’s Wren. He also cautioned against accepting a July sighting of a single bird in Collin County as implying nesting. It was in that county that the region’s sole confirmation was made (33096-B5). In other regions, the three confirmations in the Edwards Plateau came as a surprise as not a single summer sighting was shown in that area by Oberholser (1974). Even more surprising was a probable nesting recorded at the southern tip of the state (26097-B4). The single probable nesting in the Guadalupe Mountains (31104-H7) reinforced Oberholser’s nesting reference.
Text by Kenneth D. Seyffert (Posted with updates 2006)
Baumgartner, F. M., and A. M. Baumgartner. 1992. Oklahoma bird life. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.
Johnson, L. S. 1998. House Wren (Troglodytes aedon). In The birds of North America, No. 380 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
Lockwood, M. W. and B. Freeman. 2004. The TOS handbook of Texas birds. Texas A&M University Press, College Station.
Oberholser, H. C. 1974. The bird life of Texas. University of Texas Press, Austin.
Pulich, W. M. 1988. The birds of north central Texas. Texas A&M University Press, College Station.
Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, and J. Fallon. 2005. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2005. Version 6.2 2006. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel MD < http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs>