Wrens are charismatic, active birds that can be a treat to see in the backyard for both avid birders and casual observers alike. However, it can be challenging to attract—and keep—wrens in your yard. Homeowners who understand how to meet these small birds' needs and match their personalities with the right food, water, shelter, and nesting sites can easily encourage wrens to visit frequently.
Reasons to Love Wrens
There are nearly 80 species of wrens in the world, all of which are part of the Troglodytidae family, though only a few are regular backyard guests. In North America, the house wren, Carolina wren, Bewick's wren, and cactus wren all make regular appearances in bird-friendly yards in their respective ranges. Similarly, the winter wren is a common garden visitor in Europe and Asia.
Wherever these birds end up, they are almost always welcome, thanks to their hearty insectivorous appetites, bold songs, and inquisitive natures. Wrens can even become such regular guests that they may learn to take food from patient hands, a feat that keeps them a perennial favorite among backyard birders.
How to Attract Wrens
As with any backyard bird, it is vital to meet critical food, water, shelter, and nesting preferences in order to attract wrens of any species. If all of these needs are not fulfilled by your yard's offerings, it's unlikely that you'll get local wrens to stick around long enough to become frequent backyard guests.
Wrens eat primarily insects but will sample berries as well, particularly during the fall and winter months when insects are more scarce. If you want to attract wrens to your yard, avoid using insecticide sprays or removing spider webs (wrens will forage for food there and like insects). You can also plant berry-producing shrubs in your landscape, which will serve as good natural food sources for the birds.
Leaving leaf litter intact is a great way to encourage the presence of insects for the ground-foraging wrens to feed on (they will also eat snails and slugs). At feeders, these curious birds will sample mealworms, peanut butter, peanut hearts, and suet. Platform or tray feeders are best for offering these types of foods; peanut butter and suet can also be smeared directly on a tree trunk or branch for wrens.
Multiple water sources will be more effective at attracting wrens than a single birdbath. Bird fountains or other moving, splashing sources of water will pique the birds' curiosity and draw them in. Both pedestal and ground bird baths work well. Whichever bath you choose should be relatively shallow to accommodate wrens' short legs. In the northern parts of wrens' range, heated bird baths can be useful to provide adequate water during the winter months. Birders who have reedy, secluded ponds in their yards may be able to attract marsh wrens as well.
Wrens prefer relatively dense cover and tend to stay low in thickets. Providing several dense, shrubby areas in your yard can give them sufficient shelter. Consider leaving low branches intact on small trees and shrubs to help wrens feel protected—if no plants are available, a brush pile can be useful, and wrens will also use bird roost boxes as shelter on cold winter nights. Ideally, a shrubby cover should be connected throughout the yard so wrens can move around without feeling exposed.
Wrens are well known for nesting in unusual places, including hanging flower pots, cluttered garage shelves, or outdoor wreaths. Leaving these creative places intact can help attract nesting wrens to your yard. Some species will readily use birdhouses with a 1-to-2-inch entrance hole, though they are not generally picky about the overall house shape.
Providing nesting material such as feathers, moss, small twigs, and grass clippings can also encourage wrens to nest nearby. Because these birds often build several initial nests as part of courtship, empty nests should be left intact until after breeding season (spring and early summer) to encourage additional broods. Wrens may even reuse nesting material from unwanted nests as they build more nesting locations for later broods.
Other Useful Tips
Even with the best food, abundant water, and plentiful shelter, wrens can be tricky to attract. If you are having trouble bringing wrens to your yard, there are additional steps you can take to invite these birds to visit.
- Upcycle items for rustic birdhouses, such as a teapot or coffee can, to attract the attention of inquisitive nesting wrens.
- Use pishing and other sounds that attract birds to capitalize on wrens' curiosity and investigative nature to bring them to the yard.
- Offer both food and water in several areas close to dense cover, where wrens and other shy birds will lurk so they can feel safer about visiting.
- Take extra steps to discourage feral cats and other predators that could be threatening to these ground-feeding, shrub-loving birds.
Most importantly, be patient. Wrens can be shy and wary at first, but once they realize an area meets their needs and is a safe sanctuary, they will quickly become used to flitting about the yard at ease. In time, a wren-friendly yard will give birders great views and a wonderful opportunity to learn more about these perky birds.
"House Wren Life History". All About Birds, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/House_Wren/lifehistory.