DALS WILDLIFE SITE { WILDLIFE OF NORTHERN ENGLAND}

WILDLIFE OF NORTHERN ENGLAND

The wren. Troglodytes troglodytes.

The wren belongs to the Order Passeriformes {perching birds} and placed in the genus Troglodytes. From trogle meaning a hole + dutes meaning a diver, others say it means cave dweller, whichever it alludes to the birds habit of skulking in the undergrowth.

It was some time before naturalists could assign this popular little bird to a proper position in ornithological classification, and the wren was originally placed among the warblers, but for various reasons this bird is now placed in the Troglodytes, as having more in common with that class than with the Sylvidae.

This little 'brown bird'  is ten centimeters long with a wing span of fifteen centimeters and weighs in at just 109 grams.

Equally with the swallow and the robin, this bird enjoyed an amount of protection which almost mounted to superstition in days gone by.  it is not surprising that this dapper little bird, whose food consists of insects, and stays with us throughout the year, cheering us with his merry little song, should hold a prominent position of goodwill of all men.

However, during the late 1700's  and early 1800's it is a sad fact that in certain localities the little bird suffered considerable persecution from the irrepressible school boy. Noticing that the wren naturally kept to the shelter of a hedgerow, and seldom ventured upon any prolonged flight, these boys armed with sticks and stones would beat on either side of the hedgerow until poor 'jenny' wren was killed.

This unwarrented cruelty may indeed be linked to the old custom of 'Hunting the wren at Christmas day' once general in parts of Ireland and Wales, if not also in England, when one party would carry sticks to beat bushes, and another stones to kill the poor birds as they emerged. The origin in this cruel and curious custom has been lost in the mist of time. It has by some authorities, been ascribed to the anger felt by Catholic Irish at a wren saving from surprise and massacre, by tapping a drum, a small party of worn out Protestants. But it is a fact that this same legend in Southern Ireland occasioned a ceremony in which a wren was carried about in honour, to the accompaniment of the following ditty--

" The wren , the wren, the king of birds,

Was caught , St,Stephen's day in the furze {gorse};

Althoough he's little, his family's great,

Then pray, kind gentlefolks, give him a treat" 

Another legend attached to this cheeky little bird   explains why it keeps to the undergrowth, relates how the birds had an election to choose the king of birds. The chosen one would be the bird that could fly the highest. The wren hid among the plumage of the eagle. The eagle soared high in the sky climbing ever higher, at last when the eagle was exhausted the wren came out of the eagles feathers where he had concealed himself, and flew higher to claim a victory. The other birds found out about his cheating and ordered that the wren would have to spend its life among the undergrowth where it would have to hide its shame.

Jenny { or in our more distance past Kitty }  wren is one of our smallest birds, and yet there is scarcely one better known. This may be due to myth and legend which tells of the courtship and marriage of Cock Robin and Jenny wren. Doubtless it is from that same legend that the idea , which was prevalent during the 1800's that the wren was the female robin

Wren from the book Familiar wild birds1883

Breeding nest and eggs

The male builds up to five nests during early spring, the structure being dome shaped, with an opening at the side and composed of various materials, principally twigs, roots leaves, moss and feathers and is equally varied in its location. They may be encountered against the trunk of a tree, under the thatch of a building, in the forks of a cabbage that has run to seed, and even overhanging banks of a stream of rocky projection. The locality greatly influences the material used for its construction, as the bird labours to blend the nest in with the surroundings. The wren, for such a small bird, builds the nest of heavy materials, so that it is a matter of surprise how they contrive to transfer it to its place.

Once the male wren has built its nests within its territory these little homes are shown to a female. She will choose one in which to lay her eggs. Once this task has bean completed the male is off to find another female which will also be given the opportunity to choose a home for her eggs.  Maybe even a third female will be chosen by this dapper male who has no involvment in the rearing of his young.

Each female will lay five to six white eggs which are speckled with a few red spots and placed on the feather lining of the nest. The eggs will then be incubated by the female for  16-18 days. They will fledge in a further 15-18 days

A favourite singer

For the size of the bird the song possesses a great power and sweetness and is repeated again and again, even under the most adverse circumstances. Like the robin the song is continued even during the winter months. Even when there is snow upon the ground, the wrens triumphant warble may be heard proceeding from the shelter and security of a bush or hedgerow.

During the winter these little birds roost in holes in houses, trees, walls and thatch or in ivy in sheltered positions. To keep warm they huddle together many birds sharing one location, in an attempt to resist winters icy grip. 

Conservation issues

There are no present concerns over the wren.  After a succession of mild winters the wren can be one of the most numerous British birds with a population of eight million+. However, a particularly cold winter can easily decimate numbers. Because the wren is a fecund breeder numbers soon recover even after a devastating period.

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