Common and widespread across the Americas, house wrens are no strangers to nesting and feeding in close proximity to human habitation, as well as in parklands and woods.
With such a wide distribution range, what is the preferred natural diet of a house wren? If you’re interested in finding out what foods may attract these tiny busy foragers to your yard, then please keep reading.
House wrens are mainly insectivorous. Bugs, beetles, spiders, grasshoppers and crickets are among the most important prey, with snails, slugs, caterpillars and millipedes also eaten. Suet, mealworms and peanuts are eaten at backyard feeders, especially in winter months.
Although seeds are not a major element of a house wren’s diet, in times when insects are not as readily available, the species may eat shelled sunflower seeds and other similar-sized seeds on offer at backyard feeders.
Active foragers, house wrens can be seen probing fallen leaves beneath hedgerows for tiny insects for long periods, but are also observed feeding in the upper branches of trees.
If you’d like to learn more about foods that may prove irresistible to foraging house wrens, then you’re definitely in the right place, so please read on.
House wrens predominately eat insects - House wren with a spider in its beak
The diet of house wrens is almost entirely insect-based, with beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, moths and flies frequently eaten. Most commonly eaten insects by house wrens, from observations of the stomach contents of individual birds, are true bugs (hempitera).
House wrens do eat some seeds at feeders, although their typical diet consists mainly of insects. Seeds likely to attract house wrens include black oil sunflower seeds, with peanuts also a popular choice.
Insects form the largest share of a house wren’s typical diet. True bugs and grasshoppers are perhaps the most important types, with crickets, flies, beetles and moths also regularly eaten. Bees, wasps and ants are also foraged for.
Spiders and invertebrates, such as larvae and caterpillars and millipedes, as well as snails and slugs may also be caught.
Fruits and berries are occasionally eaten by foraging house wrens, particularly in winter when insect populations may be scarce. Berry bushes, such as serviceberry and elderberry, may offer natural food resources.
House wren foraging on the grass
Active and tireless foragers, it’s not unusual to see house wrens on the ground for extended periods of time each day searching for insects among the leaf litter.
Early morning and just before dusk are among the peak feeding periods, but outside of these times house wrens remain busy and can be seen searching for bugs, beetles and ants on the ground and higher up, on tree trunks and along branches throughout daylight hours.
House wrens do visit feeders, and are tempted by suet, peanuts, mealworms and tiny pieces of sunflower seeds. You won’t see a house wren feeding on a hanging feeder or feeding on fat balls, but they may well pay ground-level tray or platform feeders a visit.
House wrens are ground feeders, sifting through leaf litter for insects, so will not tend to visit feeders hanging from branches. Tray feeders placed near to the ground may stand a better chance of attracting wrens, mealworms and suet pellets sprinkled directly on the ground or under hedgerows around the edges of a backyard.
Similar to many small songbirds, early morning feeding is common among house wrens, needing an urgent energy fix to start their day. They can also be seen feeding around backyard feeders just before dusk, when nuts or suet will give them a quick boost of nutrition before they settle down for their nightly roost.
House wren feeding from a bird feeder in winter
House wrens forage on the ground for insects, and can be observed busily turning over leaves and foliage underneath hedges and shrubbery searching for bugs to eat. Insects may also be found by house wrens probing bark on logs and tree trunks.
Occasionally they will have success foraging for food in the upper branches of trees, with research showing that males feed higher in trees than females.
In winter months, house wrens continue to forage for insects and will eat any bugs and spiders they find as they turn through piles of leaves under shrubbery. Snails and slugs may also be eaten.
Winter sees the increased presence of house wrens around backyard feeders, relying on mealworms, suet, peanuts and sunflower seeds to meet their energy needs.
The insect population is at its peak in summer months, and house wrens have no trouble finding enough bugs, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, moths and ants to feed on. These are found both underneath hedges and in the bark and branches of trees in which they are nesting.
Small insects are brought to the nest by both parent birds and fed directly to the hatchlings. As the young develop, larger prey are presented and feeding frequency increases.
House wren bringing insects back to feed hungry chicks in the nest
While house wrens are active and busy foragers, relying on insects for the majority of their regular dietary needs, they may readily take suet, peanuts and mealworms from backyard feeders.
Offering additional foods is fine, and when house wrens visit your yard, you will soon reap the benefits of local insect numbers being controlled naturally.
Out of preference, house wrens will forage for a wide range of insects, but they do frequently visit backyard feeders, particularly in winter. Bird feeder fare popular with wrens includes mealworms, suet, peanut hearts, and sunflower seeds.
Due to their small size, house wrens cope better with smaller seeds and shredded nuts, and may choke on larger food items or their shells. Foods such as onions, garlic and anything containing excess oil or salt should also be avoided.
House wren perched on the branch of a tree
Water is vital for the survival of house wrens, and low-level bird baths that are kept regularly filled with clean, fresh water will offer drinking and bathing opportunities. Running water is also a draw, and lots of small shallow containers may be more attractive to house wrens than one single bird bath.
Dense shrubbery and hedgerows offer plenty of foraging opportunities for house wrens and the shelter they need for suitable nesting sites.
Offering supplementary foods such as mealworms, peanuts and suet will help entice them to your yard, and a source of fresh drinking water that is regularly topped up will also be a bonus.
House wrens readily use nest boxes, often in preference to natural sites, so these offer another headstart in attracting the species to your yard.
Many gardeners welcome the presence of house wrens in their yard as a natural means of controlling the local insect populations. House wrens are busy and active foragers and the diverse range of insects means that crops can grow without as much risk of being eaten by garden pests.
House wrens are good to have around in the garden, as they can help control insect populations
Seeds are not a key element of a house wren’s diet, but when insects are not in abundance, they will readily be taken. Sunflower seeds, particularly those that are chopped into smaller pieces, are among the best choices. Other seeds may or may not be taken, depending on what other options are available.
Sunflower seeds, particularly black oil sunflower seeds and sunflower chips, are eaten by house wrens that visit backyard feeders.
Mealworms, both dried and live, are among the most favored foods eaten by house wrens visiting bird feeders.
House wren perched on a wire with insect in its beak
Bees, as well as wasps, are eaten by house wrens, but they do not form a major share of their diet. Data shows that bees and wasps accounted for less than 4% of the stomach contents of house wrens examined in a small sample study.
House wrens do eat mosquitoes and are good to have around in areas with high mosquito numbers. They serve an important role in the food chain, keeping mosquito populations under control.
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