The Rest of the Wren Story

In June of 2015, I noticed that one of the yard’s House Wrens had begun feeding a family of Northern Cardinal nestlings. (Read my initial blog post here.)

Nestling May 30

The adult cardinals, especially the male, were also feeding the nestlings.

Nestling May 31

In that early blog post I wrote, “I wonder if this kind of behavior is common. Have the yard’s birds been feeding each other all along?”

Cardinal May 11

In searching for answers to my question, I ran across the Tough Little Birds blog, run by biologist Katie LaBarbera. I contacted her through the blog, and she replied that the behavior was unusual enough to be of interest to other biologists. Before too long we had a short article ready to submit for publication. After peer review and a few revisions, the article was accepted by The Wilson Journal of Ornithology and can be found in the current (September 2016) issue: House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) provisions nestlings of Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).

And now, as Paul Harvey might have said, it’s time to post the rest of the story…


Back in June of 2015, while I was searching for answers online, the wrens’ brood hatched. For a few days the male wren stayed busy feeding both nests, dividing his time somewhat unequally in favor of the young cardinals. But something changed as the cardinals neared fledging. The last time I saw the cardinal nestlings accept food from the wren was on June 5th, and the last time I saw him approach their nest was on June 6th. (They greeted his visits on the 6th with silence.) On June 7th, the young cardinals left their nest.


The yard stayed in a turmoil on the 7th, loud with the cries of hungry cardinal fledglings and nervous cardinal parents. (The male cardinal was particularly aggressive with larger birds that day, much to the dismay of a hungry brown thrasher.)



The wren, formerly so devoted to the cardinal nestlings, never approached the cardinals after they fledged. Instead he spent the 7th, and the following days, feeding his own nestlings. The young wrens stayed in their nest box until June 16th and 17th, eating spiders and praying mantises and a variety of other insects brought by their parents.






The nestlings grew bigger and bolder each day.



And their parents worked harder and harder to keep them fed.


By June 16th they showed signs of leaving.



And on June 17th …


They were out of the nest box, but they were still hungry!




When they left the yard that evening, I felt bereft. As I always do when the yard’s children move on.


I wished, as I always do, to follow the fledglings. Or at least to know their futures. Did any of them survive? Have they, perhaps, visited the yard again in the weeks and months since?


Let me know if you see them.

10 thoughts on “The Rest of the Wren Story

  1. kestrelart October 17, 2016 / 2:19 PM

    I came here through Tough Little Birds, a favourite blog. Great to turn observations into a paper!

    • Rae Spencer October 18, 2016 / 2:23 PM

      Tough Little Birds is one of my favorite blogs, too! Thanks for following the link to my post!

  2. Sylvia Ismail October 17, 2016 / 5:31 AM

    Brilliant to have an article published following on your close observation of the wren’s behavior. Your photos are wonderful too. I should think the male wren has now flopped with exhaustion, while the next generation is probably going from strength to strength. Maybe in another garden – are wrens territorial?
    We have lots of warblers and hoopoes in our garden in Egypt. They nest locally, and I watch the hoopoes each spring as they fly continually backwards and forwards to feed their young, though the nest is not in our garden.

    • Rae Spencer October 18, 2016 / 2:27 PM

      I looked up hoopoes, and now I’m obsessed. What beautiful birds! It must be wonderful to have them flying through your garden! 🙂

  3. toughlittlebirds October 16, 2016 / 2:49 PM

    You got such wonderful photos!! I love the teeny crest on the fledgling cardinal. And the wren chick peeking out from his nest – is it time to fledge yet?

    • Rae Spencer October 16, 2016 / 3:59 PM

      Thank you! I had a lot of fun watching and photographing the nests. 🙂

  4. Vicki October 14, 2016 / 4:54 PM

    very interesting post..

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