It won't be long and spring will be upon us once again, although one would have to wonder if this spring will be late in arriving. The snow is deep, the ice on the lakes is thick, and winter still has a month to go yet.
Regardless of when Old Man Winter actually leaves the northland, most of us look forward to springtime. And it won't be long until migrant birds will begin trickling northward and eventually arrive here in northern Minnesota.
A group of birds that I especially enjoy are the handful of wren species that Minnesota harbors. For of the nine species found throughout North America, four species of wrens call Minnesota their summer home. And all four are quite different from one another in both preferred habitat and lifestyle, yet all share similar physical and behavioral features.
Most wrens nest in cavities, and as one particular wren's name implies, the house wren is one such wren. Many a bluebird house placed on a post near a woodlot or orchard doesn't escape the notice of a courting male house wren.
In fact, various other objects become nest sites as well. Old shoes or boots, open containers, and even hornet nests have all served as this wren's "house."
Male house wrens arrive in the springtime ahead of the females in order to establish breeding territories. A tireless songster, the male house wren sings its combo of trills and rattles with exuberance.
There's no mistaking the boundaries of a house wren's domain, for he flies from perch to perch singing almost ceaselessly from sunup to sundown throughout the breeding season.
Between songs and defending his territory, the male house wren is also busy building nests. If a yard full of birdhouses you have, a male house wren will soon fill the boxes full of sticks. It's his way of impressing a lady bird. And if he's lucky, she will choose one of his numerous false-nests that is most appealing to her.
Two other Minnesota species of wren are the sedge wren and marsh wren. Untiring songsters just like their upland cousin the house wren, both sedge and marsh wrens sing frequently, loudly, and vigorously.
Sedge wrens are typically found in grass and sedge meadows that are often ringed with short shrubs. A secretive bird too, these wrens are normally not seen unless flushed or observed singing heartily from the end of a stem or blade of grass.
His song is described as "sharp staccato chips" culminating in a rapid series of "chaps and chats." It's distinctive enough that with only a few encounters and confirmed observations, one can readily identify future meetings by hearing alone.
Marsh wrens occupy wetlands as well, though different types of wetlands than sedge wrens prefer. Aptly named, marsh wrens are found in wetlands dominated by cattails and reeds. The largest wren of the four species found in Minnesota - though not that large, only five inches in length - marsh wrens are usually heard before observed.
The male sings from the confines of tall marsh vegetation, gripping tightly the round stalks of reeds or the green blades of cattails, spewing a very musical and gurgling series of rattles and trills. So boisterous is the singing male during the breeding season that he rarely stops singing, even at night.
Winter wrens are not as common in Minnesota. The smallest wren of the nine occurring in North America, the winter wren is actually the only wren of the 59 worldwide species that can be found in both the New and Old Worlds. The four-inch dark brown bird with the exceedingly short and cocked tail prefers summertime haunts of cool coniferous forests, where it nests and hunts for insects.
Wrens are charming little birds. Occupying niches from forests to prairie to marshes, these similar looking birds are all remarkably different from each other in their own special ways, as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.