Nests & NestingMystery NestsMystery Nest # 4 Answer

Mystery Nest # 4 Answer

Mystery Nest. Photo by Bet ZimmermanFirst egg laid in box. Only one downy feather at this point. Unusual house wren nest. Photo by Bet Zimmerman

By the time three eggs were laid, more downy feathers and a piece of tinsel had been added to the nest. House wren. Photo by Bet Zimmerman

Unusual house wren nest with eggs. Photo by Bet Zimmerman

This is a House Wren nest. Go figure! It was hastily constructed because I was removing what I thought were dummy nests from the box. (I have found that if I allow House Wrens to use a box, I get nothing but House Wrens in that area, they fill surrounding boxes with dummy nests, and frequently peck or remove the eggs of other nesters.) Once there is a nest cup (or eggs of course) the Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibits disturbance.

Unusual grass HOWR nest. Photo by Bet ZimmermanThe first nests constructed by this pair were typical of a House Wren – primarily composed of sticks (see photo below). Perhaps because the female was ready to lay, they focused on doing preparing a nest cup that evolved into the entire nest. Maybe they ran out of sticks. Or maybe they were just trying to fool me because I kept removing their sticks from the box! Here is a second example of the same type of nest, possibly made by the same birds.

I deconstructed the nest, and it consisted of the following: approximately 200+ blades of grass (difficult to count as some were falling apart), ~5 strips of bark (from a vine?), 1 piece of tinsel, ~25 soft evergreen twigs without needles all <3″ long, and 74 feathers up to 1″ long (many downy.)

See a more typical stick nest photo below. If I had not seen the birds or eggs, I might have thought this was a Carolina Wren, bluebird or Tree Swallow nest, or maybe even a House Sparrow nest. Just goes to show that it’s important to see the bird and eggs to confirm a nest ID, as members of a species may build different types of nests depending on the individual, circumstances, and materials available. See Nest and Egg ID for descriptions for various cavity nesters.

According to Arthur Bent, author of Life Histories of Familiar North American Birds:

“McAtee (1940a) analyzed the materials in 33 complete or partial nests found at the Bureau of Plant Industry Experiment Station located near Glen Dale, Md. His report is as follows:

Typical house wren nest. Photo by Bet Zimmerman.“Foundations include (in the number of nests indicated): twigs (33), feathers (16), chestnut spikes (13), wool (12), leaves (7), cord (6), and weed stalks (5). Materials used in fewer instances were: rootlets, red-cedar bark, cotton, grass, chestnut shell, paper, a large fragment of snail shell, exoskeletons of milliped and sowbug, and a spider cocoon. The twigs were characteristically coarse and included some up to 8 inches in length and a few that were branched. Rose twigs with plentiful thorns were frequently employed, and in a few cases callow young were raised in such nests with little or no cushioning to protect them from the spines. The twig bases of nests were often from 4 to 6 inches deep. Flecks of wool and cotton were scattered through the twig bases to no conceivable purpose. The lining of the 33 nests included grass in 19 cases, hair, chiefly horsehair, in 16, feathers in 13, and rootlets in six. Other items were red-cedar bark, chestnut spikes, weed stalks, and grass. The material in one nest, loosened up in the process of analysis, filled a 2-gallon bucket.”

The House Wren may use other than the traditional nesting materials. Mrs. Gilbert Drake (1931) describes a nest built in a chicken house in West Park, N.Y., that consisted largely of small pieces of rusted chicken wire. A nest observed by Helen P. Williams (1931) was made up entirely of metal consisting of rusty bent nails, double-pointed tacks, and pieces of wire. An analysis made of a nest found at Ames, Iowa, by Harriet C. Battell (1925) was made up of the following rubbish: “52 hairpins, 68 nails (large), 120 small nails, 4 tacks, 13 staples,. . .10 pins, 4 pieces of pencil lead, 11 safety pins, 6 paper fasteners, 52 wires,. . .1 buckle, 2 hooks, 3 garter fasteners, and 2 odds and ends.” Goelitz (1918) reports finding a nest made up entirely of rusted pieces of wire. In fall a tangle of rusted chicken wire was thrown behind a shed, and the following spring a pair of House Wrens in search of nesting material found that the wire would break easily into pieces just suited for the purpose. The birds used this wire to the practical exclusion of all other usual materials.”


Thanks to all of you for helping fill the skies with blue.
– E.A. Zimmerman, 2005


Latest Articles