Saturday, May 03, 2008


This is not about anything important or of world-historical significance, so please click away if that's what you're after.

Via this post by Dave Hill I noted that the image of a farthing that he had used included a familiar-looking bird. The wren.

Among the many bird species we're happy to say appear in our garden on a daily basis (blackbirds, various tits, finches, sparrows, redstarts, robins, a blackcap, the occasional woodpecker), a wren (we think it's a particular individual) shows up rather often.

He or she (I'm not up to telling the difference) is a delightful creature. Tiny, mouse-like, but very, very loud.

As Simon Barnes has noted, wrens 'can be pugnacious birds, to other wrens and to other small birds: you'd fancy them to pick a fight with anything. They are wonderfully indomitable--adaptable, clamorous, vehement--tiny birds with a quite colossal presence.' (A Bad Birdwatcher's Companion, 31)

Moreover, they have probably one of the best binomial names ever: Troglodytes troglodytes. How cool is that?!

We have become great fans of the wren.

It is quite pleasant to know that British currency designers have occasionally gotten it very right: not only have they put Charles Darwin on the tenner, but they once put the wren on the farthing.

Well done.

OK, that's all.

That might, on reflection, have seemed a bit twee.

If it helps at all, I was listening to Motörhead at full volume while I wrote this.

Seems appropriate to the wren, somehow.


KB Player said...

The wren is a charming little bird, with its perky, right-angled tail. It's friendly as well - I remember sitting on a beach in the remote north west of Scotland while one flitted about me, perching a foot or two away.

It reminds me of another charming small bird, the New Zealand fantail, which darts around you as you walk, not because it thinks you're St Francis of Assisi but because you disturb insects and so present it with fast food.

The fantail merits a dollar bill rather than an obsolete farthing.

Sharon said...

It's not twee. The wren farthing is one of the prettiest coins I've ever seen - it's just a pity they took it out of use before I was old enough to be allowed to play with real money.

Bring back the wren and get rid of that frumpy old bag Lizzy, that's what I say.

Ario said...

A fellow twitcher. Who would have thought?

Great post. One of the things I absolutely love about living in Germany (hailing from urbanised Holland) is its wide diversity of bird life.

My girlfriend shrugs it off. But my heart skips a beat every time I see a magnificent bird of prey flying over or rest on a post by the motorway or somewhere.

Wrens are cool, too, though.

Geoff Coupe said...

Tee-hee. A post about the smallest European bird, and you get lots of posts.

No wonder, The Wren - Winterkoning (Winter's King) in Dutch - is pure delight.

I'm intrigued by the fact that both Dutch and English folklore recognise its royalty (it's known as the King of the Birds in England, and has folklore tales illustrating that fact).

Also, in the Isle of Man, on St. Stephen's Day (26 December) there was a tradition whereby groups of singers would go from door to door with a decorated cage containing a wren. At each door, they would sing a traditional Manx folksong - Hunt The Wren - and then present the houseowner with a feather from the wretched bird. My grandmother used to insist on having a real feather, not just having the song sung, as soft-hearted groups were wont to do.

J. Carter Wood said...

Yes, I'd never have guessed that all I had to do was write about birds to get some (very welcome) feedback.

Thanks, KB, for the reference to the Fantail. Very pretty. Perhaps I'll see one in person someday.

Sharon: Sooner or later, of course, Lizzy's visage will be replaced... but just think of the replacement! Careful what you wish for.

Ario: Are there really that few birds in Holland? I'm surprised. We're in the semi-countryside, so we have plenty. There are kestrels and buzzards and some kind of pelican-like thing that we see now and then. And jays and jackdaws...and swans..and some kind of gull. It just never ends! Which is great.

How can anyone shrug about birds? They can fly! They're descended from dinosaurs! How much better can it get?!

Geoff: in German, the wren is known as the 'Zaunkönig' which'fence-king'. Hardly as grand as 'winter-king', I'll grant you.

'Fence-king' sounds more like one of those local businesses you'd see advertised on late-night TV when I was a kid.

I ran across some of the folklore on the wren while researching the post. I wasn't aware of that, though I had heard the phrase 'king of birds' before.

I've been wondering: how does one hunt a wren? (And you're not allowed to answer, 'very carefully'.)

Thanks all.

Geoff Coupe said...

How do you hunt a wren? "With sticks and stones", of course:

The tune is one of those maddening earworms that once you hear it, you can never get out of your head. Be grateful that I don't have anMP3 to inflict upon you.

Ario said...

Well, they are certainly hard to spot in the west of Holland where I used to live, although you get some interesting migratory birds and seabirds (all kinds of tern and gull and whatnot) there of course. But birds of prey are certainly a rare sight, probably because everything is so built up and there are only few natural spots left there.

Perhaps Mr Coupe is more lucky where he lives, it would be interesting to hear for me what birdlife is like in the east.

As for my girlfriend... Sigh. This is her one clear failing. Perhaps that's why we haven't married yet...

Sorry. I have to ask. There are pelicans in Rheinland-Pfalz????

The Wife said...

No pelicans in Rheinland-Pfalz -- John means cranes or herons, one of the two. I saw one of them when I went running this morning. I also saw the sweetest couple of black geese in flight -- very charming. They quite obviously were quite fond of each other.

Having said that: As it's "Bird Week" on Deutschlandradio Kultur, I learnt on my way to work the other day that canaries could survive in our area, what with global warming et al. We just have to release them. Canaries, pelicans, all the same stuff ....

Oh, allegedly there's a park in Wiesbaden with an impressive parrot population. I've been meaning to go, but there's always to much to do.