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Reddish Vale Country Park

Wingspan, 13-17cm,

Length, 10cm,

Weight, 9g (same as £1 coin),

Lifespan, up to 9yrs,

baby wrens can eat  500 meals a day,

UK breeding pairs, up to 7 million.

The wren is one of the smallest birds found in the British Isles.

 

The wren is found everywhere in Great Britain from the centre of cities to the tops of mountains. It is very common, but not very well known as it rarely comes out into the open.

 

The scientific name of the wren is TROGLODYTES which translates to 'hole dweller'.

 

Wrens build nests in holes and thickets where they are well protected.The nest is a hollow ball of moss and leaves with an opening in the side. The male builds the nest and will often build more than one. In one recorded case a male made 12 nests in one  season. The female chooses one of the nests and stays in it.

 

Wren populations are very variable. A bad winter can kill off nearly 90% of the population. The severe winters of 1962 and 1963 left the wren population severely depleted, over the next ten years the population grew by a factor of ten, a growth rate unmatched by any other bird. Being so small, wrens are affected by the cold, so they will often roost huddled together, a practice which is uncommon with most other birds. They will often nest communally to conserve heat; as many as 60 wrens have been seen entering a standard nesting box.

 

In many traditional nursery rhymes, the wren is given the name 'Jenny Wren' and is female but in the two most well known traditions and stories, it is the male that is significant.

 

There was a strange tradition in parts of Great Britain and Ireland of hunting wrens on one day a year.

 

In Ireland it was St Stevens Day (26 December) in parts of Great Britain the day was Christmas eve or Christmas day itself.

Gangs of boys called 'wren boys' would hunt and kill a wren. They would dress up in fancy costumes, with blackened faces.

 

They would tie the dead wren to a stick, attach streamers to it and parade around town, knocking on doors. At each door they would sing the 'the wren song' and people would give them money. when enough was gathered there would be a big party and the wren would be solemnly buried.

The origins of the custom are unknown. There are various stories told, about the wren being punished for betraying a saint or some soldiers, but they all sound as if they were invented after the event.

The custom appears to honor the wren as well as killing him, suggesting connections with the pre-Christian tradition of killing the King each year as an offering to the gods. The mention in the song of the furze, a dark green spiky bush, suggests a link to that other Christian symbol, the Holly.

Whether the wren boys are in fact connected with pre Christian rituals or not, the custom fell out of favour around the end of the 19th Century. 

 

 

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds

St. Steven's Day was caught in the firs

Although he was little, his honor was great

Jump up me lads and give us a treat

 

We followed the wren three miles or more

Three miles or more, three miles or more

Through hedges and ditches and heaps of snow

At six o'clock in the morning

 

Rolley, Rolley, where is your nest?

It's in the bush that I love best

It's in the bush, the holly tree

Where all the boys do follow me

 

As I went out to hunt and all

I met a wren upon the wall

Up with me wattle and gave him a fall

And brought him here to show you all

 

I have a little box under me arm

A tuppence or penny will do it no harm

For we are the boys who came your way

To bring the wren on St. Stephen's Day

Wren

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Wren