For us Brits, this is THE wren, perhaps unsurprisingly as it is the only member of its family (Troglodytidae) found in the Europe (and Africa) and indeed the only one found outside of the Americas. You’ll find them across the UK and much of the Northern hemisphere, they are usually flitting around voicing their distinctive calls and they are easily noticed on a woodland walks. They are the most common breeding bird in the United Kingdom with an estimated 8,600,000 breeding pairs (wow!) and recently came 4th in a poll to find Britain’s national bird, losing out to the Robin – there are worse birds to lose to! Its popularity probably goes some way to explaining how quickly someone identified it on #BeakoftheWeek.
It is on the small side measuring around 10cm long and weighing 6-12g (so about the same as a £1 coin). The sexes are similar in appearance but if you see one singing it is likely to be a male as the females are not known to sing, although recent work has shown that other female songbirds do indeed sing. They mostly eat invertebrates such as spiders and earwigs and small vertebrates such as small fish and tadpoles. They have also been known to eat vegetable matter such as berries. You can most often see them foraging low on the ground in vegetation.
A common behaviour seen in many species when breeding is that the males will build numerous nests and the female will then check them all out before choosing her favourite to lay her eggs in. The nests of this species are made from grass and fibres and are domed with side entrance holes. The female adds lining to these structures before she starts to lay. Laying begins around late march/early April and lay on average 5-8 eggs. The female incubates these alone and after 16 days some cute little chicks will emerge. On average the chicks leave the nest 17 days later and become fully independent of their parents 9-18 days later. Both parents take responsibility with chick feeding.
This species is not sexually dimorphic although differences in colouration, size and plumage barring has led to there being over 30 different subspecies classified worldwide. You’ll find these guys all year round in the UK and they tend to be residential, with ring recoveries showing movements of only 50km or less. Polygamy is quite frequent in western populations .
They have got to be one of my favourite birds to come across with their calls that are curiously loud for such a small creature, so I am pleased to say that it is of ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN redlist. Given how abundant this species is in the UK alone it is no shock to learn this. One more interesting fact about the wren is that its name “troglodytes” means cave dweller or hermit. Perhaps why although it is the commonest bird in the country it most certainly isn’t the one we will see the most of. The little skulker.
Okay a few more snippets about this great little bird. It appeared on the farthing and in European folklore it is know as the king of birds. How did it receive this esteemed title? Well of course it was by having a battle with an Eagle to see who could fly highest and by having the cheek to sit on the back of its adversary, therefore taking it highest. They say cheats never prosper…
You can head to OneZoom if you want to check out how related the wren is to your favourite bird species.
Here’s an example of one of their calls that can be found on Xeno Canto to get you started. For more follow the earlier link.
BirdLife International 2014. Troglodytes troglodytes. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 03 September 2015.
Kroodsma, D., Brewer, D., Christie, D.A. & Bonan, A. (2013). Northern Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2013). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/58150 on 3 September 2015).
RSPB. 2015. Wren. Online. 04/09/2015. Available from: http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdguide/name/w/wren/.
Images and Videos
WIld Bird Video Productions. 2011. Winter Wren. Online. 03/09/2015. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qw-NqhxwGWQ.