Attracting Wrens to Your Backyard

Carolina Wren With Mealworm

Dan Pancamo/Flickr/Used With Permission

Wrens are charismatic, hyperactive birds that can be a treat to see in the backyard, but it can be challenging to attract wrens. Birders who understand how to meet wrens' needs and match their personalities with the right food, water, shelter, and nesting sites can encourage these small birds to visit.

Why We Love Wrens

There are nearly 80 species of wrens in the world, all in the Troglodytidae family, but only a few are regular backyard guests. In North America, the house wren, Carolina wren, Bewick's wren, and cactus wren 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 are, they are welcome because of 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 birders' 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.

  • Food: Wrens eat primarily insects but will sample berries as well, particularly in the fall and winter when insects are scarcer. Avoid using insecticide sprays or removing spider webs where these birds will forage, and plant native berry-producing shrubs as good natural food sources. Leaving leaf litter intact will encourage insects for these ground-foragers, and 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 foods. Peanut butter and suet can be smeared directly on a tree trunk or branch to offer to wrens, and these birds will also visit suet feeders.
  • Water: Multiple water sources will be more effective at attracting wrens than a single bird bath. Birdbath fountains or other moving, splashing sources of water will pique their curiosity. Both pedestal and ground bird baths work well, and the bath should be relatively shallow to accommodate their short legs. In the northern parts of their range, heated bird baths can be useful to provide adequate water for wrens in winter. Birders who have reedy, secluded ponds in the yard may be able to attract marsh wrens in the proper range as well.
  • Shelter: These birds prefer relatively dense cover and they tend to stay low in thickets. Providing several dense, shrubby areas in the yard can give them sufficient shelter, and leaving low branches intact on small trees and shrubs will 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.
  • Nesting sites: Wrens are well known for nesting in unusual places, including in hanging flower pots, on cluttered garage shelves, or balanced in outdoor wreaths. Leaving these creative places intact can help attract nesting wrens. Some wren species will readily use birdhouses with a 1 1/4 to 1 1/2-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 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 the breeding season to encourage additional broods. Wrens may even reuse nesting material from unwanted nests as they build more nesting locations for later broods.

Once wrens start visiting, birders should brush up on their wren identification skills. These birds can be relatively drab and camouflaged, and since they often stay hidden in cover, identification can be difficult even in the most wren-friendly yard.

More 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.

  • Use native plants that will provide both insects and berries as food sources, and minimize pruning to provide the messier, scrubbier habitat wrens prefer.
  • Upcycle items for rustic birdhouses, such as a teapot birdhouse or coffee can birdhouse, 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 wonderful opportunities to learn more about these perky birds.