nestinboxLate each winter, as spring appears possible, I remove last summer’s nests from the birdhouses in my yard.  The coming season’s residents will want a new beginning, a clean slate.  They seek an uncluttered view of the possibilities, much as a married couple surveys the space in and around a prospective new home:  Do we like the location?  Is it safe?  Large enough for the kids?

While the robins and finches often succeed, the wrens have never managed to raise a brood, and for this I feel responsible.  I suspect I have sited the nest box they favor unwisely:  too low, too vulnerable to squirrels,  magpies and other malevolence.

Every winter I think: I must fix this; I must research their needs and reparate. I must place the house perfectly. And every subsequent spring, I fail to take timely action;  the male already is warbling, his tiny body shuddering with song from his perch near the fence post where the box is mounted. He is calling to the mate he has not yet met.  Here!  he declaims.  Here! I have found us a home.

He begins working before she arrives, weaving a grid of twigs in the base of the box.  He is showing his mettle and illustrating their potential;  Look, he is saying:  it is already begun.  Come join me; we will do this together.  Morning after morning, his invitation pierces the air, a melodic cascade as complex and beautiful as his plumage is drab. wrennwf

He arrived early last year,  thrilling my winter-weary heart,  which leapt again when I saw a female had accepted his proposal. I watched her, then,  ferrying twigs and dried evergreen needles to the box, disappearing into the cavity and re-emerging, disappearing and re-emerging, fetching and placing nest material with her thin beak.  An occasional softness, too —  she foraged feathers my hens had discarded and dryer lint cast outside for that purpose – as she completed the work.

When the twigs extended high enough to emerge from the hole, she stayed in the box for long intervals, her mate regularly delivering insect meals.   Incubating eggs, I thought.  Hoped.

But last year’s promise.  too, was never realized.  Something, somehow,  went wrong.  No fledglings emerged, and the wrens quit the nest.  Summer gave way to fall and then winter, now waning.

Last week, I removed the front of the wrens’ box – twigs still jutting from the hole – with something like fear fluttering in my chest, an incipient dread of what I might discover.  Perhaps the small and desiccated remains of a young bird, feathers just emerging.   It has happened before, and something in that truncated beginning, the potential unfulfilled, undoes me.

Nonetheless, the old must be cleared to make room for the new, so I gently extracted the woody rectangle and inspected its angled sides,  conformed to the shape of the box.  Then I saw it, slipped beneath the rounded top of the nest, where she had sat:  a single pale egg,  delicately mottled with rusty spots, smaller than a jelly bean.

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The wrens had started and come this far, but no farther.  If there had been other eggs – house wrens typically lay 5 or 6 – a predator had taken them.  Only this straggler was left.

When I removed the egg gingerly from the nest and placed it on the ground, it bobbled and righted itself like a Weeble doll.  And I felt that space in my chest open, the flutter and fall:  The egg had been fertile, and what remained of the potential wren still weighted the fragile orb with a kind of eternal latency, fixed and irredeemable.

This year, I think, it will be different.   I will find a better place for the nest box: higher, safer, less accessible to predators.  The male wren will again arrive early – perhaps before the month is out – and begin laying the twigs, building the foundation of possibility.

His tiny body will shudder with song,  piercing the morning and calling, calling, to the mate he has not yet met: Look!  Here!  I have found us a home.  Come join me.  It is already begun.


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  1. Pure poetry, Cate. We had a tiny, rustic wren house hanging from the back porch eave at our first farm. And wrens every year; they were my dad’s favorites. Love their song.


    1. Thanks, Jane. I’ve got my ear tuned, whether it’s the wrens or the whirr of the first hummingbird. 🙂


  2. Ah, birds! They give us so much. Wrens are among my favorites.


    1. Indeed they do. I have enough favorites to make the term meaningless.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m partial to the small, fierce birds, but also admire vultures. Dunno what that says about me. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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