I like the Wren and would like to encourage them to pass by more often and I have put a wren box in a yew tree in the hope that this might encourage him to nest here. Although I don’t see them very often Wrens are among the most common birds in the UK, and according to the RSPB there are currently around ten million pairs.
They suffer from heavy losses during the winter though because food can become hard to come by for them. In the most recent coldest winter, 1962/3 there wasn’t a frost-free night from 22nd December until 5th March. The continuous freezing temperatures meant that snow cover lasted for over two months and the winter of 1962/63 was the coldest over England and Wales since 1740 with mean maximum temperatures for January and February 1963 more than 5 °C below the average.
Seventy-five per cent of British wrens were thought to have died during the harsh winter of 1962-3. That is why it is important to feed them in cold weather. They suffer from cold because at a length of less than ten centimetres they are the second smallest birds in the UK, after the Goldcrest. Because it may be difficult to catch spiders and I am not going to do it for them a handful of grated cheese is the usual recommendation.
The food needs to put on the ground and their scientific name explains why, it is taken from the Greek word “troglodytes”, from “trogle” a hole, and “dyein” to creep, which literally means “cave-dweller” and refers to its habit of disappearing into cavities or crevices whilst searching for spiders or to roost.
Another interesting fact about the Wren is that it has an enormous voice for its size, ten times louder, weight for weight, than a cockerel, so try and imagine, if you can, a cock-a-doodle-doo with that sort of vocal power!
In the Spring the male Wren builds several nests, as many as six or seven and then invites a female to select her favourite. These are called cock nests but are never completely finished or lined until the female chooses the one she wants. I suppose that is a bit like a man building a house and leaving the decoration and soft furnishings to his wife.
According to European folklore, the Wren is the King of the Birds. Long ago the birds held a contest to see who could fly the highest; at first it looked as though the Eagle would win easily, but just as the Eagle began to get tired, the Wren, which had cleverly hidden under the Eagle’s tail feathers, crept out and soared far above.
The Wren also features in the legend of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who was supposedly betrayed by the noisy bird as he attempted to hide from his enemies. Traditionally, St. Stephen’s Day on 26th December has been commemorated by ‘Hunting the Wren’, when young Wrenboys would hunt hedgerows and catch the bird and then ritually parade it around town,
The diminutive Wren also appeared on the last farthings to be minted in the UK from 1948 until 1956 and it ceased to be legal tender from 1960. I don’t know this for sure but I have always assumed that the image of the Wren appeared on the farthing because of the fact that it was such a small coin. That seems plausible to me anyway.
Shakespeare refers to the wren no fewer than nine times in his different Plays. Its small size is noticed, and the bird is credited with an amount of courage disproportionate to its stature. When Macduff flees to England his wife bitterly complains that he left her and his children without his protection:
“He loves us not;
He wants the natural touch:
for the poor wren,
The most diminutive of birds, will fight,
Her young ones in her nest, against the owl.”
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