Opinion: The wrens didn’t wait


There was an eerie silence when we came home. Three days earlier when we left for our annual family reunion the area around the front porch where the birdhouse hangs was a hotbed of screaming commerce.

The wrens that had taken up residence there several weeks earlier had patiently incubated their eggs until they hatched. What followed could only be described as a feeding frenzy.

Wrens do nothing in silence. The newborns suddenly realize they are hungry, and shriek nonstop for nourishment. The parents strap on their fastest feathers and hunt for groceries. One at a time, they flit back to the house, poke their beaks in, drop their cargo in one hungry mouth or another and take off again.

Apparently the female can’t sing, so she screams. If you’ve ever been in a railroad yard, there’s a special ear-splitting screech that comes from a freight car when it is suddenly moved after sitting for a month gathering rust and inertia.

The female wren sounds like that. The male, meanwhile, takes a moment out of each trip to perch on a nearby branch and yodel his heart out. This obviously infuriates the female who screams her displeasure in terms and decibels the entire neighborhood can understand.

My wife and I enjoy our morning coffee in the living room in full view of the drama taking place just outside our picture window. As the pleas for food grew more plaintive, the delivery pace accelerated exponentially.

At times the male would arrive with a morsel before the female had departed, putting them both on the tiny front porch of the birdhouse at the same time. The female saw this for what it was, of course: bad planning, and wasted no time admonishing her mate to shape up and do it pronto.

Just before we left, we noticed that neither parent actually entered the house anymore. The kids were feathering out and had literally filled up the place.

We knew they would soon leave the nest, and hoped they would wait until we returned home. We still remembered the fun and confusion when the youngsters flew from the back yard nest in April. With no experience to guide them, the young wrens simply flapped their wings and hoped for the best.

They landed everywhere: on the bricks of the house, upside down on the porch screen, and in one of the potted plants. It all took but a few minutes. Then they were gone.

We missed those few minutes at the birdhouse. They didn’t wait. But the female is already looking inside, preparing for the next clutch of eggs and screaming youngsters. And the male, naturally, is singing his heart out.