Wren. Troglodytes troglodytes.
This jaunty, tubby little bird, with its chestnut markings, spindly legs and cocked tail, has always had a special place in many people’s affections. Like the hedgehog, the wren appears in children’s stories, folk lore, poetry, and nonsense verse. Believed to be Britain’s smallest bird, the wren even featured on our smallest coin, the farthing, before it was discontinued in 1960. In fact, both the goldcrest and firecrest are smaller.
How often have you actually seen a real wren? Probably not very often, so you may be amazed to know that the wren is the commonest British bird, with an estimated 8.6 million territories*. In fact, it was originally not British at all, but came from America, gradually spreading via Alaska and Siberia into Europe and the British Isles – even to St Kilda (which has its own subspecies of wren).
Wrens are constantly active and restless. Their territories are nooks and crannies, bushes and brambles, gaps in old stone walls. The generic name means ‘cave dweller’. You might say that they are hyperactive lurkers – constantly searching the leaf litter for small insects and invertebrates. They are not migrants, able to find food in winter, but may come to grief in particularly cold spells. One survival technique is for many wrens to all huddle together in a small space such as a nesting box – up to 60 have been found keeping each other warm.
However you will almost certainly have heard a wren. They are everywhere, from city parks to remote islands. For such a tiny bird, the male has an extraordinarily loud voice. He pours out a stream of high-pitched notes with intense energy and frequency, often including a characteristic rasping trill. Apart from all this singing to attract a female, a male wren may also build up to 6 nests, so that she has a choice of des res. It is hard work being a male wren, but once paired and mated, he tends to leave all the child care to the female.
Photos: Richard Tough
- Moss, Stephen: The Wren: A Biography. Square Peg. London (2018) Strongly recommended
- *Holden, P. and Cleeves, T. : RSPB Hand book of British Birds (2014).
- RSBP website page about wren