The Husbandry of Fairy-wrens By Bob O’Grady Softbill, Dove & Quail Branch

The pros and cons of keeping Fairy-wren’s

Pros:

They are active all day – whereas parrots don’t move and finches disappear; wrens are out in open view and are always nosey.

They are easy to feed; at least relative to such birds as lorikeets and fruit pigeons, if you set the aviaries up correctly to start with.

Wrens breed readily given the right conditions and are easily sexed, at least as adults.

Cons:

Young birds are not easy to sex until they are about three months of age, depending on the species.

You need a special permit and birds are therefore more difficult to buy or sell.

Wren’s must be fed daily-without fail

Generally speaking wrens are a fascinating and attractive challenge to aviculturists of all standards.

So what do you do if you think you want to keep wrens?
Rule No 1: “With wrens preparation is everything – do not buy in haste before you are ready.”

Setting up an aviary to cater for their needs.

1. Size

As large as you can provide with a minimum size of 5′ by 10′ by 7′. The smaller the aviary the less temptation there is add other birds. But if the aviary is too small it is not suitable for wrens either. It is very important to keep only one pair per aviary and to avoid keeping wrens in adjoining aviaries. My Splendid Fairy-wrens are kept in a 12′ by 18′ aviary with Diamond Fire-tails, Cubans, Cordons, Double-bars, Gouldians and quail. All species except the Cordons have bred. However, in a 5′ by 10′ aviary I have had no success breeding wrens when any other birds were in the aviary; but on their own they bred very well.

2. Floor

A mulch of some description is useful to attract insects. I add a catcher full of leafy grass clippings as often as possible and fork it over every month or so.

3. Plants

Plants serve three different purposes in wren aviaries.

(a) Provide cover and nest sites. Plants useful for this purpose include Needle-Brush, Bamboo, Book Pine and etc. – any thing thick but manageable will do but take care that it doesn’t start growing out the top of the aviary and breaking the wire.

(b) Attract insects. I use Hibiscus and Roses for aphids.

(c) Bathing. A fine leafed hanging baskets or two under the mist spray gives great enjoyment to both you and your birds – I use Asparagus Ferns.

4. Mist Sprays

As well as watering the plants in the aviaries mist sprays encourage insects breeding by keeping the mulch moist.

5. Lights

I use 12 volt garden lights on a timer to extend daylight hours. During the night moths are attracted to the light, and disperse into the foliage, to be found the next day by the hunting wrens.

6. Water

Water should be provided in a shallow dish placed in the shade. I find a of water depth of approximately 1″ is suitable. Wrens do not spend much time at the water-bowl because they prefer to drink and bathe in the shrubs.

7. Feed Stations

Feed stations should be placed near the door, whether it is at the front or the back of the aviary. You should try to stay out of their space as much as possible as privacy and secrecy is very important to these birds. The mealworms must be shaded as direct sunlight (or even heat on a warm day) will kill them very quickly and wrens will not eat dead mealworms.

Rule No 2: “Check carefully that there are no holes in the aviary. Wrens cover every inch of the aviary several times in the space of the day and will find even the smallest hole very quickly.”

Feeding

1. Mealworms.

These form the staple live food for wrens and therefore you need in active colony – I don’t mean just one box, I mean at least six to eight boxes PLUS a reliable source for purchasing in quantity at times when yours are not breeding fast enough. My basic diet is one tea spoon of mealworms per day per bird.

2. Softfood Mix

My recipe is one egg, mixed with one tablespoons of each of the following Insectivore Mix, egg biscuit and grated cheese. This is an easy mix to make and keeps well in the refrigerator in a sealed container for a week or two. I feed this mixture at the rate of one desert spoon per pair per day. The wrens don’t eat a lot of the mix, but it is a reliable back up to mealworms and any quail you have will love the left-overs.

3. Insect Bucket

Citrus fruits, watermelon and tomatoes are some of the best ingredients for the insect bucket. However any compostable material will suffice. This source of live food is very important in a breeding season because newly hatched chicks need to be fed very small live food.

Plus all the wild live food generated by the mulch, plants and lights.

Now you can get your birds!

The Wedding Day

This is when you introduce the birds to the aviary and to each other. This is best done out of the breeding season and when the birds are out of colour. You should observe the birds carefully to detect any bullying or excessive aggression. Fully coloured birds must be watched extremely carefully (even birds bought as a mated pair placed in a new aviary can become aggressive). A friendly game of chase is normal behaviour but the bird being changed, usually the hen, is always in control and when she stops the game should be over and neither bird should look distressed at any time. Make sure both birds are seen at the mealworm dish within the first hour. If you are not happy, catch them up, and keep them separate until the next day. Then you should place than in adjoining budgie cages in the aviary for a few hours before releasing them at the same time – the next morning you will know if this has worked!

The Breeding Season

Rule No 3: “Hen birds must be rung, either above the ankle or above the knee as young birds will rapidly grow up to resemble their mothers.”

Nesting Material

Under-felt

Coconut fibre

Fine grasses

Spider webs on a forked stick – spider webs are an aphrodisiac for wrens

Some pairs will use of variety of material but others are fussier. I have had nests made entirely of under-felt; a ball of fluff 5 inches in diameter with just a few white feathers in the nest chamber.

Feeding

As much variety as possible. Mealworms of all sizes must be provided (not just the big ones) plus fly pupae, vinegar flies and moths if available. The mealworm dish must never be empty, especially at daybreak. Remember that hot weather will kill mealworms very quickly so worms must be fed as a constant supply throughout the day. Warning: mealworm consumption can increase from a teaspoon per day to a teaspoon per hour if the nest contains multiple chicks!

If everything is to their satisfaction wrens can breed continuously from November to April – laying a new clutch of eggs as the previous young leave the nest. If conditions are not right, wrens will often try hard to breed but will continue to fail. My Superb Fairy-wrens have bred from July 95 to February 98. In their best year (1996) they had 13 young. The Splendid Fairy-wrens started breeding in April 96; their best year was 1999 when they had 4 chicks.

When to separate the young? The answer is “not too soon but not too late” and varies with each pair. Birds should be watched carefully for any aggression developing towards the young birds and also to ensure that they are no longer reliant on their parents for food when they are removed.

Conclusion

Wrens are very active and attractive birds with a lot of personality. They are easy to keep if you take the time to set up both the aviary and your food supply correctly, but you must be willing to feed them at least once a day, every day. With the investment of a bit more time and trouble to provide a more varied supply of live food, wrens can be bred quite readily and often very successfully. Research into the birds you are interested in is very important and, as there is very little written material available, you should talk to as many people that keep wrens as possible. A good source of talkative wren keepers is the Softbill, Dove & Quail Branch of the Society, so I invite you to come along to a meeting (for further information please check out the Branch section).