How to make a House Wren*

Start with eggs:

Numbering the eggs is optional

Keep the eggs warm until they hatch. When they do hatch, you should get something like this:

Less than 5 minutes old: head fluff still wet

That doesn’t look like a bird at all! You did it wrong!

Just kidding. You’re fine. Now, feed the chicks:

One day old: still transparent, but not quite so pink

Eight days old: breaking pins**

That looks like a bird! Well done! Now keep feeding it. At 16-20 days old, it should leave the nest (fledge):

Fledged!

You’re done! Haha no. Now you just have to keep feeding it, and also warning it about predators! Being a parent bird involves a lot of feeding. But after a week or so, you can stop feeding it, and it will survive on its own.

Maybe.

*This is a joke; you cannot make House Wrens, you are not a House Wren. (If you are a House Wren, email me ASAP so I can start work on my ground-breaking paper, “Internet access and English language comprehension by a passerine bird.”) These photos are from my nest monitoring, and I always put the eggs/chicks right back in the nest afterwards.

**”Breaking pins” is a term for when the chick’s pinfeathers break through their protective sheaths. You can see the fluff beginning to poke out of the plastic-looking sheaths on the wing feathers in this picture.

14 thoughts on “How to make a House Wren*

  1. But I thought if you touched baby birds the mother bird would smell “human” on them and abandon them. Just a myth? Or does it depend on the species?

  2. Myth! Birds can smell, but none that I know of will abandon chicks based on smell. Possibly this is because birds don’t tell which chick is theirs based on smell; instead, they tell by the chick’s calls and/or its presence in their nest. Rats, on the other hand, do identify their babies by smell and probably would reject a baby that smelled “wrong.”
    Handling chicks should still be avoided unless you have a reason, though: it may stress the chicks out, and it can alert predators to the location of the nest.

    • This is really hard, and will be even harder if the mom manages to raise chicks, because chicks when they leave the nest are pretty clumsy and easy prey for cats. (This is why keeping cats indoors, and only letting them outside on a leash, can save a lot of bird lives!) If the nest is on your property, can you put up some temporary fencing around the nest area that the wren can get through but the cats can’t? If that’s not possible, can you put up as much dense brush below the nest as possible? A pile of branches/tree trimmings would work well; the idea would be to make an area full of little holes in which the wren can hide and hop around while being protected from the cats. This would also help protect the chicks later. (Although you’ll want to make sure you DON’T pile brush up in a way that makes it a sort of ramp or ladder for other animals to reach the nest; everything from mice to raccoons would like to eat the chicks, so you don’t want to make it easy for them either.)
      Good luck!

  3. Hi, and HELP..
    I rescued a wren from a Catbird attack today, but I can’t find its nest and the parents have taken off.
    (they were around right after the attack, but have since left… Now, I’m looking for help about what to do with this little post pin broken chick, who seems to be quite content nestled in the cup of my warm left hand.
    I have made a mash of egg, dog kibble and hummingbird water… and (s)he is actually munching on it, a little. I’ve made a terry towel nest in top of a heating pad, but I’m thinking this bird wont be ready to fledge for another few days…
    Any advise?

    • My first advice is always to try to take the bird to a wildlife rehabilitator if you can find one. They’re experts in baby bird care and have a much higher chance of success than you do. However, I know some areas don’t have rehabbers, so if that’s not an option…

      Hard-boiled egg mashed up with water-soaked dog kibble is a good food. (Don’t add sugar to the water.) You want it soft but not liquid, so the bird doesn’t inhale it. You’ll need a small 1cc syringe (no needle!!), which you put the food in, then put the syringe into the back of the bird’s mouth (way back there, like a parent bird sticking his whole face into his baby’s mouth) and squirt out a bit of food. Let the baby swallow, then repeat. You can get a syringe at a pharmacy – just tell them you’re raising a baby bird and they’ll usually be charmed and let you have some. If you can’t get a syringe, you can use tweezers instead, but you’ll need to keep the food a bit chunkier in that case (so you can hold it in the tweezers), and be careful not to poke the bird!

      Another good food – ideally you’d use both – is mealworms. You can get these live from a pet store. You’ll need to kill them before you feed them to the bird, since they have bitey jaws and could injure the chick from the inside. (Kill them by smooshing their heads, or by leaving them in water for >5 mins.) These you’d feed with tweezers, not a syringe, of course. These are great because they’re a close approximation of what the bird would actually be getting from its parents. (Waxworms, available at some pet stores, are also good and don’t need to be killed first. They’re pretty pricey though.)

      Nest on top of a heating pad sounds great, although you’ll want to line it with toilet paper or paper towel, because it will quickly get dirty and you’ll need to change it out to keep the bird clean. Just make sure the heating pad isn’t too hot – don’t want to burn the bird! When he has body feathers, you can stop using the heating pad.

      Fledging: your bird might be ready to fledge in a few days, BUT that doesn’t mean you can let it go then! Wren parents keep feeding their chicks for 2-3 weeks (!) after they leave the nest. If you release the chick when he’s ready to fledge, he’ll just starve to death. Keep feeding him, and when you notice he starts to peck at things curiously, start leaving dead mealworms and/or live waxworms around him, so he can peck at those. Over time he should figure out how to eat them; when he’s pretty good at it, give him live mealworms to practice catching them. You’ll see that he kills them before he swallows them. He’ll be ready for release only once he can 1) fly upwards well, and 2) feed himself entirely on his own.

      Good luck!

      • Thank you… A good sign is he/ it is already “pecking” at food that I drop nearby…
        This evening he started to wander around his new “nest” and his parents came around when it started sqawking… He is really unsteady on his feet but he’s getting there….
        Fingers crossed!

        • If his parents are interested in him you might be able to release him to their care, which would be great! (They would be better at teaching him how to be a bird than any human could.) If you put him out in his nest, do they come down and interact with him? Do they feed him, or try to herd him into a hiding place? If they do, I’d just put him on the ground and let them take him.

          • Thanks again,
            I tried feeding it this morning, when I woke up, but it kept falling back to sleep in the cup of my hand. So I put it in a container with a terry towel cloth, on the window sill, on the outside of the window, with a heating pad underneath to keep him warm. He is calling his parents and they are coming down and hovering at the edge of the container to feed it (progress…!)
            I really wish I knew where the nest was so I could return it there because I know that would be best.
            After two attempts to put it in the tree yesterday he wound up on the ground each time, but around here that’s a dangerous place… Although I have to say, from the size of his poops the parents are doing a good job it keeping it fed…!

          • That’s great that the parents are feeding him! If you can keep him in this makeshift nest but let them do most of the feeding, then you’ll be certain that he’s getting the right food, AND when he’s ready to leave the nest (again…) he can go with his parents. I’m so glad this is working out so well!

            On Tue, Jun 9, 2020 at 7:08 AM Tough Little Birds wrote:

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  4. Hi… Success!
    The night went great with him pecking at the food in his nest and I covered him around 8PM (sunset) and he queted down to sleep… Yesterday morning, I put his make shift nest in the window sill (wedged to expose him to the outside, but secure so not to fall) and within seconds he started chipping away and his parents came with food and fed him… (as son as they could figure out how to light on the container). They even when under the sash to feed him when he wanted to get out of the sunlight…
    After an hour I moved his nest to the tree and secured it in a good spot with some small branches and leaves covering the nest, and his parents followed me over to the tree but, kept a real healthy watch on me. As soon as I left, they were back in his nest, feeding and caring… There was quite a flock as well… probably six birds altogether.
    We went out for the day and returned around 3:30 PM, and he was still there, but he had moved to another spot in the nest. when I went over to check on him there was no fear from him, but his parents were very close… and he was hopping around in the towel lined container (But he couldn’t hop out because of the depth… When I went to bring him in at sunset again, he was gone… I looked all around the ground to make sure he hadn’t fallen out, but I couldn’t find him anywhere…
    This morning I went to look again, in the light of the day. I heard a few other wrens chipping in the tree above me, but he was no where around…
    I’m hoping I gave him the day or two’s worth of rest he needed to fledge and now he is with his flock…
    Thank, so much for all your help and advice! And, BTW… Carolina Wrens are the coolest birds!

    • That’s great! I’m so glad he was able to reunite with his parents. Thanks so much for sharing this story as it happened and letting me share vicariously in some nice bird news.

      On Wed, Jun 10, 2020 at 11:46 PM Tough Little Birds wrote:

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