Sunday, March 10, 2019


Up here on the Lancashire coast March lived up to that old adage of “In like a lion, out like a lamb”. At the moment the Atlantic Jet Stream sits over us like a heavy wet blanket bringing just this morning a hoolie of wind, rain, sleet and hail, plus a dollop of sunshine. The few brief days that promised spring are but a distant memory as we settle in for another week of foul weather. 

With little chance of ringing or birding for a day or two, here’s a note or two about a very common but mostly forgotten species. 

In those few hints of spring I’d heard the familiar loud and rapid chatter of the diminutive Wren, one in song then quickly followed by a reply from the second. I knew it was territory time. Wrens are famously good singers, and a male will duet so as to sing down and hopefully silence a nearby rival. 

On one of my dashes to the garage freezer this week I disturbed a Wren taking dried up material from the base of last year’s hanging basket. I watched as the Wren scuttled off along the fence like a clockwork mouse and promptly disappeared into the ivy covered hedge that separates us from next door.  Nest-building already, but maybe not for real as the Wren is one of those species known to build “cock nests”, a nest built by a male bird as part of the courtship ritual. Several such nests may be built by one male, one of which will be selected by the female. 


The Wren’s scientific name of Troglodytes troglodytes is Greek "troglodytes" ("trogle" a hole, and "dyein" to creep), meaning "cave-dweller", and refers to its habit of disappearing into cavities or crevices whilst hunting insects or to roost. Many a Wren nest looks much like a cave, dark and forbidding with a just tiny entrance hole where none but the brave dare enter. 

Wren - Photo: Armin Kübelbeck, CC-BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons 

I often feel rather sorry for the common Wren, neglected by birders and barely mentioned because it has no rarity value. Depending upon which book or Internet page read, the Wren is one of the commonest and most widely distributed British birds with breeding pairs estimated at 7–8.5 million. 

The Wren population is generally sedentary but perhaps surprisingly, there are a number of recoveries to and from the near Continent and Scandinavia. Our own ringing group has a database of almost 3000 Wren captures that show few if any migratory tendencies but some evidence of the species longevity of up to 6 years. 

When winter weather hits hard Wrens can become penguin-like by huddling together for warmth. In the winter of 1969 a Norfolk nest box was found to contain 61 Wrens. Such severe but fortunately rare winters can finish off anything from a quarter to three-quarters of the Wren population. Hence the reason that a Wren lays between 5 and 7 eggs at a time and a pair can rear two broods of chicks in a single year. 

The Wren is unloved by most bird ringers as an annoyance in a mist net as it twists and turns through the mesh in its eagerness to go nowhere. Should the ringer fail to take charge of the initial encounter, the open cuffs of a shirt or jumper provide another handy crevice or cavity into which the Wren will quickly escape. When using a car as a ringing base and processing a wriggling Wren, a ringer is well advised to close all doors including the rear hatch. An open car door is a large, open and welcoming cave to a Wren; even more so are the nooks and crannies of a vehicle dashboard. 


In 2015 the Wren never made it to be the most loved British Bird when in a national poll involving over 200,000 people the Wren languished fourth behind the Blackbird in third place, the runner up Barn Owl and the jubilant Robin. 

 Robin -1st

Barn Owl - 2nd 

Blackbird - 3rd 

Wren - 4th 

The English surname of Wren is said to derive from being applied to people who were small, busy, quick and energetic just like our little bird. Sir Christopher Wren is perhaps the most famous, so active and endlessly occupied as to design St Paul’s Cathedral as well as fifty two other churches after the Great Fire of London. And he lived to be ninety-one. 

I am old enough to remember the British farthing (1⁄4d) coin, (from "fourthing"), a unit of currency of one quarter of a penny, now long redundant, but where the Wren found short-lived fame. Recognition came again in 2017 when out little friend appeared on the first-class stamp in a Royal Mail ‘Songbirds’ series. 

A Farthing Wren

Wren stamp

That's all for now. Wish me and the little Wren luck with that weather.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday.


Samyuktha Jayaprakash said...

This is a wonderful introduction to wrens!

David Gascoigne said...

Hell Phil: I am very pleased to hear that even though you are old enough to remember the Wren on the farthing you have not been declared equally redundant - yet! It is indeed a delightful little bird and one that I am sure brings cheer to many. As you know we have several wren species here, and in tn the Americas many - all wonderful. And none of them redundant,

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Hope your weather has improved by now. I enjoyed reading about the habits of this under-appreciated bird (here as there; I doubt it would even come fourth in a poll of birders on this side). But I enjoy watching them at our daughter’s acreage when we’re in Oregon ...and I’m curious to hear how they and her other birds survived the areas unusually severe winter storms.

Margaret Adamson said...

Well I love wrens. I recently I as down at my old caravan and had wonderful views of a wren perched on a post in full view of my caravan, displaying to a female. of course I had left my camera in the car and I could not get out without the wren disappearing so I just sat mesmerised with its singing an display movements. Thanks for this informative post.

italiafinlandia said...

In the top part of the ranking of my favourite birds!
I love its voice...I hear it all winter long in Italy, even though I seldom see him.
Small and brisk and cute.

Rhodesia said...

I love wrens and I have only ever seen one in our garden and that was a few years back now. Thankfully I got a (not very good) photo of it tp mark the occasion.
The weather here has changed also, and after temperatures around 20C we are feeling more like winter again. Having lived in Africa for so many years I think I must have thin blood and I just cannot handle the cold. David G teases me that I am a baby just can because he is daft enough to go out in -20C 😊
Have a good week, Diane

mick said...

A very interesting post about your wren. Ours are popular because of the bright colors on the males. Way back when ! - we also had farthings although without the wren on them!! I saw farthings because my Mum saved some. By the time I came along we only used ha'pennies - and they bought a surprising amount of goodies!!

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

Thank you for the info - lovely photos too

Wandering Wren said...

What a beautiful post. Of course, I just love these little common as muck birds. Our Aussie Blue Fairy Wren counterparts are a little flashier, although just as energetic and impossible to photograph, although I believe no actual relative. I'm off to start a penny farthing collection now! Loved every bit of this post, and your wonderful photos. Thanks so much for a lovely start to my day.
Wren x

Angie said...

Phil - we always denigrate that which is "common", but it can be special to many others. I love how the wren has that perky tail, and I admire it's energy. How could it ever rank behind a blackbird? Well, anyway, hope the weather is improving over there - we are due for 4 - 8 inches of snow tomorrow night!

s.c said...

Great shots. I like it.

Anni said...

This has been a rough, cold, LONG winter. Since I do not like crowded places with lots of people, I could understand the 61 wrens. I'd much prefer the wrens' company!

Missed you linking in this week and thought you were in Sunny Greece or Spain!

Always enjoy your photos.

Lowcarb team member said...

I have to say my favourite bird is the robin … but I enjoyed all of your photographs and information about the wren. Yes, both Eddie and I remember farthings (goodness we are getting older! LOL!)

Hope Storm Gareth treated you kindly, the winds down South have been quite strong.

Take care

All the best Jan

KB said...

Darling little birds

Tanza Erlambang said...

exciting...wren's baby in the nest.
have a great day.

eileeninmd said...

Hello Phil, awesome post on the wren. It is a sweet bird. I also love your Robin and the Barn owl. Great photos. Thanks for linking up and sharing your post today. Happy Saturday, enjoy your weekend.

Adam Jones said...

So right Phil. It's a very underrated bird sadly. At the moment I'm enjoying them being a lot more active in my garden and it's also the best time of year to see them out of the foliage. Good times.

Anni said...

The weather a factor this week? We in Texas have had the very same. Saturday, the storms moved in ...high winds & rain. No birding. Again.

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