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The bold and highly vocal Wren

This is the third in our series of blogs where we look at a specific species of garden bird, and this time it’s about the bold and highly vocal Wren.

Perhaps the most surprising fact about the Wren is that it’s the most common bird in the UK, and therefore the most numerous. There are estimated to be around 8.5 million breeding pairs of Wren in the UK, which far outweighs both House Sparrow and Wood Pigeon – species which are offered presumed to be the most numerous – both of which have populations of about 5.3 million.

What makes the Wren’s population statistic so surprising to many people is that this is a bird which, often at best, they have an infrequent glance of on a prominent perch in their garden – and probably singing its head off – before a blur of tiny wings takes its small and dumpy body back into thick cover.

So how can it be that the wren is actually so common? The answer lies in its unrivalled ability to exist and breed in so many highly varied habitats, with these including hedgerows, woodland (deciduous, coniferous and mixed), parks, gardens, moorland, wasteland, rocky coastline (including remote islands), and marshland with reeds and thickets. The common factor is that in all habitats it has to have a degree of cover to hide, breed, and hunt for invertebrates.

Another fact which makes the Wren such a special bird is its nest and breeding behaviour. The nest is a delicate dome structure consisting of moss, plant materials, lichen, leaves and feathers, and located in a hollow or crevice in a tree, wall, bank or rock face, or behind climbing plants such as ivy. (It’s easy to understand where the Wren’s Latin name of Troglodytes troglodytes comes from given its choice of nesting locations.)

The male builds the main structure of the nest with the female then lining it with feathers, though the male will build several nests with the female then choosing the right one. However, more than one of the nests the male builds may be taken by females, as Wrens are polygamous (though more so in the south of the UK than extreme north) and therefore the male bird may mate with several females – all of which can go on to successfully have young. Incubation is by the female only of the 5-6 eggs, with two broods per season normal. Both parents feed the young, which means a male bird with multiple nests can be kept very busy!

And then there’s the Wren’s song, which is unusually loud – especially considering how small the bird is – and consists of a musical rattling and softer warbles, and usually blasted out from a prominent perch.  It’s a fantastic song, and the usual giveaway that this much-loved bird is close-by.

Wrens are not an easy species to attract with food in the garden, though in harsh winter weather they may occasionally be tempted with very small food pieces such as peanut granules or finely grated cheese. However, a far better tactic is creating habitat which will harbour natural invertebrates, with a large but loosely stacked pile of branches and twigs being ideal.