Two of Britain’s birds have people’s names, or at least used to – Robin redbreast and Jenny wren. Over time redbreast was dropped from one and Jenny from the other. There is a famous rhyme about the two of them:
Little Jenny Wren fell sick,
Upon a time;
In came Robin Redbreast
And brought her cake and wine.
‘Eat well of my cake, Jenny,
Drink well of my wine.’
‘Thank you, Robin, kindly,
You shall be mine.’
Jenny she got well,
And stood upon her feet,
And told Robin plainly
She loved him not a bit.
Robin being angry,
Hopped upon a twig,
Saying, ‘Out upon you! Fie upon you!
Jenny doesn’t come out of that rhyme very well! But what of the real Jenny wren? Let’s find out.
Wrens are tiny birds, weighing no more than 10g. But they are not our smallest. That title belongs to the goldcrest. Yet, despite its diminutive stature, the wren has quite a loud voice – if you’d like to hear it, there is a clip on this RSPB page.
Wrens are predators and spend most of their time hunting for insects, spiders and other small invertebrates. Their small size allows wrens to get into little cracks and crevices where their quarry is hiding and this behaviour has given them the scientific name Troglodytides which means cave dweller – though they don’t live in caves. They usually nest in holes in trees, walls or banks of earth.
Wrens have large families and can produce as many as 9 fledglings in one brood. During winter, which they spend in this country, wrens gather together to keep warm, usually in groups of about 10 – although as many as 60 have been recorded in just one nest box!
Wrens are quite successful and can be found all over Britain, even on remote islands. In fact, there are three subspecies who live in isolation on Shetland, St Kilda and Fair Isle. There are thought to be something like 8 million wren territories in Britain and the species is actually increasing. That’s probably due to the milder winters we’re having. Cold weather can be devastating to wrens (hence the high birth rate, to guarantee survival) so climate change is actually good for them – it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.
If you like wrens then see if you can spot one in this quiz on garden birds. It’s one of over 60 free-to-play nature quizzes. Go on – take a look and test your knowledge of nature!