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The wren

David Chapman / 15 December 2015

The wren is one of the UK's smallest birds but with a larger-than-life personality. It also has a rather unusual link to Christmas.

The wren
The wren is one of the UK's smallest birds. Photograph by David Chapman.

When it comes to measuring a wren’s attitude there can be no more obvious indicator than its song. The volume would be impressive even if it came from the lungs of a bird twice its size. With its beak wide open and tail thrust into the air every sinew and muscle of the male wren is focussed on producing a glorious sound.

Recognising the wren's song

However good or bad you might regard yourself at remembering bird song, I would suggest that the wren is an easy one to learn. It is high-pitched and always contains a trill, usually at the end.

The wren’s tuneful outpourings can turn to scornful rebukes should an unwanted visitor wander close by; cats and owls are two of the most common recipients of the wren’s vexation and its persistent chack-chack alarm calls must drive them to distraction.

Read David Chapman's tips for photographing garden birds.

Nesting habits

The desire of the male wren also drives him to work hard at his marital duties. Once he has paired up he takes it upon his shoulders to provide not just one nest but a choice of several for his partner to choose from. 

This ball-shaped shelter of twigs and leaves could be described as scruffy in appearance but the male wren would probably rather describe it as functional and camouflaged. Just one of these nests will benefit from the feminine touch when his mate lines it with soft furnishings such as feathers and hair.

Wrens in winter

For now, wrens must concentrate on getting through the cold winter. Small creatures have a large surface area to volume ratio making them more susceptible to heat loss. During cold days wrens feed continually just to survive but at night they must find shelter from the elements. Some will overcome their usually solitary nature to take shelter with other wrens in nest boxes or tree holes where they can share body heat.

Wrens at Christmas

But what of the wren’s connection to Christmas? Well, sadly the wren was once the focus of annual ‘wren-hunts’ and even ritualistic killing and the fact that these events took place in the days after Christmas is no coincidence. It is said that Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr whose feast is on December 26, had been falsely accused of blasphemy and was to be stoned to death; his attempted escape was foiled when the alarm call of a wren alerted his guards. 

Thankfully throughout the rest of the year it has always been regarded as unlucky to cause harm to a wren.

Find our why the robin has become associated with Christmas.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.