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Sorrow turns to joy when singing neighbor comes home


The commentary below represents the ideas, observations and opinions of the author.

Truth be told, I felt terrible about the vacant real estate just behind our house.

  Tom Houlihan

For weeks, we had watched our prospective neighbors as they tidied up the structure just to the south, and carried out little improvements.

“They’re really hard workers,” I’d tell my wife Patty. “They’re very well behaved. And I love it when they sing.”

Then … they were gone. Patty and I looked forlornly at each other, contemplating a summer without the bubbly sounds of our new Flossmoor neighbors. And the chilling prospect of looking at an empty house every day.

“Was it something we did?” I asked her. She just shook her head sadly.

But, as we know, sorrow can turn to joy, and in an instant.

This afternoon, sitting on our patio, we heard one of our neighbors singing in a loud, clear voice.

  The house wren visits
  its cozy cottage.
  by Tom Houlihan/H-F 

We immediately stopped talking, and listened to sweet music on an early summer day.

Then we saw her, hopping from branch to branch on our maple tree.

Troglodytes aedon, more commonly known as a house wren.

For close to an hour, we watched as the wren popped in and out of the birdhouse next to our patio. She was a marvel of efficiency as she moved through the maple looking for insects, caterpillars, spiders and other edibles. Then she’d quickly move through the door to her abode and drop off the fruits of her labor.

At least that’s how it looked to us.

Since the first appearance a couple of months ago, the wrens — they are a matched pair — have been a constant source of mystery to us.

I write this knowing I will never have a clear idea about why the wrens disappeared for close to a week, where they went or the reason at least one of them came back. These are wild animals. And they can fly.

I’d like to think they will stay in our birdhouse for a few months before heading south at summer’s end. But I have very little to say about anything that they do.

Here’s a little bit of background.

This all has to do with the birdhouse, a present from a friend, a former colleague at my last job. I received it as a going-away gift, in large part because I am interested in birds. Patty and I are modest birders and we have a feeder that attracts finches, cardinals, mourning doves, woodpeckers and occasional exotic migrants like orioles. Hummingbirds regularly hang out at another feeder.

I put the birdhouse on the mantel above our fireplace. It stayed there for four years. To be honest, I did not have much confidence in the structure as a place where birds would want to live. I thought it was a decorative tchotcke and something of a toy.

And, of course, I was wrong.

This year, Patty announced that she was going to hang the birdhouse in our maple tree. I told her to go ahead, but to not be surprised when nobody showed any interest in a toy birdhouse.

We had a wren in less than a week.

That’s especially remarkable since we had, according to our bird notebook, only seen a wren in our yard on one previous occasion, and then just for a brief glimpse.

Wrens are tiny birds, between four and five inches long. I have read that they weigh about as much as a wet teabag. However, they are great singers and belt out their tunes as loud as birds that are many times larger.

They also appeared to have no fear of the humans living just to the north. One of them would perch on a branch, singing non-stop while we sat seven or eight feet away. I could walk up to one of them, mid-song, and get just a couple feet away. The wren would not budge and continued singing.

Were they calling to a mate? Or announcing that they’d found a new home? Again, we’ll never know.

Soon, though, it became clear that the wrens were setting up housekeeping in the little red structure. We’d see one of them with a twig in its mouth. Sometimes, they’d have to carefully maneuver it into the inch-wide door. A couple of days later, we’d look inside the birdhouse. It was chock full of twigs and other building materials, including feathers and — I think — spider webs.

It was obvious that the little bird was building a nest and, before long, would be getting ready for the next generation of wrens.

Meanwhile, I read up on this type of bird. I learned that wrens often secure multiple nesting sites — sometimes inside tree cavities, sometimes in old boots — before deciding where to raise their young. Like a lot of us, they appear fixated on real estate.

That’s what I thought about when the wrens disappeared. Did they prefer an old boot to our cozy cottage? Or had they run afoul of something more ominous, perhaps a cat or an owl?

All our trepidation ended when the wren started singing this afternoon. We are excited about the prospect of little wrens, and hopeful that we will be good neighbors as long as they are here. 

It’s a terrible thing to fear that you have been rejected by a bird.

We are happy that the wren — at least for now — has picked our birdhouse as the place to raise her young.
I’d hate to think we lost out to an old boot. 

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