Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Wrens are Back

A metal awning over my kitchen window diffuses the summer’s intense morning sun. Attached to one support arm hangs a well-used wren house, a simple rectangular box with a pitched roof. The roof overhang protects a narrow horizontal oval entryway.

For several years, the wrens have been absent, replaced by a pair of cardinals, who built a nest in the overgrown lilac bush under the window. I watched the new neighbors with fascination each morning just as I had the wrens. They raised one ever-hungry chick before one day it and then they disappeared. Perhaps because the nest remained, the male cardinal (who we dubbed Ralph) decided that the other awning support provided a good resting place. He spent all winter perched on the end of the metal arm with the protective awning at his back. The wren’s house sat silent across from him. Ralph joined me as I did dishes late at night and was there before the rising sun’s light broke through the dark early morning, flying off during the day to parts unknown.

This Spring, the laissez-faire yard work attitude I had adopted needed an adjustment. Since Ralph and his mate had moved on to a new landlady, I didn’t worry too much about disturbing the now disheveled and unused nest. The out-of-control lilac bush got whacked. Within a few days, first one wren and then its mate came to check out the stunningly clear view from the birdhouse. It seemed to suit them.

It is hard to distinguish male and female wrens visually but they both love to sing. The Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds describes their voice as “a stuttering gurgling song, rising in a musical burst, then falling at the end.” The beak opens and a split second later, the stuttering song begins, the throat’s vibration carrying all the way down their little body to the tip of their tail as it quivers with the exertion.

Perhaps all the noisy to-do is a complicated mating ritual or perhaps they are bickering over house decorations – “move that twig just a scosh to the left please” or “the spider web padding goes in that corner, not this one”. They make trip after trip, carrying small twigs that usually fit through the hole; sometimes the sticks are too long and they fall to the ground. You can almost feel the wren’s resignation at having to try again. But eventually their nest will be just right. If I am lucky, I will get to witness the growth of a clutch of baby wrens.

The last nesting pair gave me a beautiful honor. One morning, as the coffee brewed, I witnessed, cheered, and sighed as one fledgling after another left the nest on their first flights. Some went out strong taking off in full flight; others tentatively, landing on a lilac branch before heading out. One dropped like a rock, its fate unknown but imagined.

Yes, I am glad the wrens are back.

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