Wrens

Watercolour painting of a wren by Paul Hopkinson

The Eurasian Wren – Troglodytes troglodytes – it’s scientific name bearing reference to its tendency to disappear into crevices and cavities in search of food or a suitable roosting spot.  The Wren is a firm favourite with everyone.  Indeed I’ve lost count of how many I have painted over the years!  The Wren is not our smallest bird in the UK, that award goes to the Goldcrest and Firecrest, but it is sill a relatively small bird compared to everything else.  Measuring just 9 or 10cm and weighing between 7 and 12g what it lacks in size and weight it makes up for in personality and numbers.  There are estimated to be over 8.5 million breeding pairs here in the UK and I bet, even if you don’t realise it, you will have heard them sing at some point.  For such a tiny bird they have an incredibly loud voice.

Watercolour painting of a singing wren

Wrens are resident in our country all year round so you never really know when you may see one hopping about in the garden or whilst out on a walk.  Whilst a small brown bird, they actually have beautiful markings on their plumage.  Their body is quite dumpy, with both short wings and a short tail.  The latter is often held in a cocked position – one of the wren’s most familiar poses.  They eat insects and spiders and have a narrow, relatively long beak which is ideal for getting into all those nooks and crannies where a tasty meal may be hiding.

Watercolour wren displayed in a white frame

Wrens can be found in a wide variety of habitats, they are found in low numbers on really high ground, tending to favour woodlands, gardens, farms, moorland and heathland.  Their small body size and limited fat reserves mean they are particularly susceptible to very cold weather, so when the weather turns cold they turn to one another for warmth and will huddle together to roost and see out the worst of the weather.  The record seems to be 61 birds counted in one box in Norfolk in 1969.  Just imagine that!  Come the spring and the warmer weather the males are much less tolerant of one another and will strongly defend their territories.  They set about building a selection of unlined nests with which they court the female.  When the female finds a home that meets her expectations she lines it with soft feathers and lays usually between 5 and 6 small white, finely speckled eggs.  Each is just 17mm in length.  The male in the meantime maybe courting additional females!

Wren's nest
Not a great example but gives an idea of a wren's nest

Nests vary in location and in the material they are made from.  The nest in the photo is tucked behind an ivy branch and is constructed of bracken, we’ve seen them made with moss and straw and tucked in a variety of little places.  Jo’s Mum even had a nest in her tumble drier outlet pipe…..!  The young hatch at around 16 days and remain in the nest for 2 – 2.5 weeks.  After this time they may return to the nest to roost or may use one of the male’s spare nests instead.  They are mainly cared for by the female although occasionally a male may help with the rearing of the brood.

Watercolour painting of a family of wrens

The female can be as vocal as the male at times, warning off anything that comes near her nest or young.  Many a time we have been walking along our local lanes and we hear the tut-tutting of a wren and then the tiny little high pitched noise of fledglings in amongst the hedgerow.  They move about like little mice and can be difficult to catch sight of.  You very often hear them before you see them.  There are apparently 88 species of wren.  I’ve painted 3 of them!  I guess I need to get a wriggle on if I am to paint the other 85!

I hope you have enjoyed this blog as much as I have enjoyed writing about one of my favourite little birds.  I’ve saved the best to last in the hope that you have read this far.  About a week ago we caught movement in one of the cameras in our bird boxes.  We looked up and this is what we saw……

We were totally thrilled with this and it definitely won over the TV for viewing that night.  Anyway, must get on, I have 85 other species of wren to get painted……
Until the next time.
Keep them brushes wet.  Paul 🙂

Our Great Tit Family – Part 5

Those of you who are following the ups and downs of the little Great Tit family from our gate post bird box will hopefully be looking forward to today’s final instalment! Our little chicks are no longer quite so little, and actually the last few days Mum has not roosted/brooded in the box with them during the night. As we have not had a camera inside a successful tit nest before, we don’t know if this is normal behaviour or not. Do leave us a comment if you’ve seen this happen too.
Whilst Mum might not be brooding the chicks as much, both parents remain as diligent as ever with their feeding regime. However, the following footage was quite unbelievable. We were in hysterics watching it fold – not sure the caterpillar was quite so happy with the situation though….

We are pretty certain that it was dad who brought the caterpillar in. The male of the species has a wider black chest stripe and we have noticed that his head is less sleek than the female’s. However, it is the mother that ends up with the caterpillar and dad gives up, goes out and leaves her to it!
The following feed was a bit more straightforward.

We have so enjoyed watching the progress of our Great Tits this year, we had 16 days of watching whilst the eggs were laid and then brooded, followed by 21 days from hatching to fully grown fledglings.
Should you have missed their story so far, here are the links to Part 1Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.
Modern technology definitely gives you an insight into the natural world that was never really possible before and we would wholeheartedly recommend getting a nest box camera if you are able. Our cameras give us hours and hours of pleasure and have taught us a huge amount along the way. But, all good things must come to an end, and 3 weeks after hatching the inevitable happened.

Thank you so much to everyone who has joined us in watching this story unfold, it has been a real pleasure to share it with you all and thank you for all your comments. Maybe next week we will get back to a painting related blog instead!!
Until then, it’s Goodbye from me and it’s Goodbye from our little Great Tits too. Kind regards to you all, Paul. 🤓

Our Great Tit Family – Part 4

Things are moving on with our family of great tits. Should you have missed their story so far, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
It can take between 15 and 22 days for chicks to fledge and throughout that time the parents work tirelessly 24/7. We captured the following footage around midnight and were fascinated by the lengths Mum went to in order to keep her nest tidy, clean and hygienic.

She removed the carefully placed faecal sac around 5 in the morning when feeding had already resumed after her broken night’s sleep! In this next clip she is again tidying, even if this means rooting around under the chicks and turfing them out of the nest as she hoovers up underneath them! In fact, you may notice that we are down to just 3 chicks in the next clip and we suspect that at some point she took the dead chick out too. We’ve certainly seen blue tits do this, and as far as we can see the fourth chick is not in the nest. Again, adult birds will try to remove dead chicks, it cuts down on the likelihood of pests and diseases affecting the remaining healthy ones.

As the chicks have got bigger and older there has definitely been an increase in wing stretching and preening. The first sign of the feathers forming is when what are called pins emerge, these are also known as ‘blood feathers’ – both simply names for developing feathers. Gradually the preening helps to remove the waxy coating and the feather starts to emerge. In our next clip you can see that the feather is perhaps half showing on the wings. All the stretching and flapping helps to build up muscle strength for the chicks first flight and probably shakes off all the ‘feather bits’ too!

The increase in the size of the chicks is quite phenomenal in such a short space of time. Our camera does distort sizes slightly, but the chicks are definitely much, much bigger and you can see their characteristic feather markings – the black heads and the bars on their wings developing and showing out clearly.

With just 3 chicks to feed, we thought the odds may even up a bit, however there still seems to be a chick which is slightly smaller than all the rest. We do still wonder whether the prolonged period of hatching over the 36 hours was the start of this difference in chick size. Without a camera on the box we would never have known that the hatching took so long – and indeed in small birds like this we didn’t expect it. However, our woodland boxes are also a bit ‘odd’ this year, lots of whole broods not making it, and the broods that are surviving – there are generally only low numbers of chicks left to fledge. It has been suggested that the parents didn’t time the hatching with the emergence of the oak tree caterpillars which are their main staple food for feeding their young and that food has been scarce. We can only ponder and hope that our data alongside all the other nest data submitted enables the BTO to form a clearer picture of what may have been the challenges for birds this year.

We will finish this week’s blog on a high note and chicks that look like they are on the verge of fledging. It is a bit dark in the corner but there are still 3 in there so fingers are crossed for a happy outcome for these 3.
Do enjoy your weekend and I’ll catch you all next week for the final instalment……
Paul 😉

Our Great Tit Family – Part 3

For those of you following the lives of our Great Tit family in the bird box on our gate post, here is the next instalment in their little lives. It is amazing the changes that have happened in a week. Both parents have continued to feed on a regular basis, a range of tasty treats – well I have to say that even to me, someone who likes his food, some look less tasty than others!
No matter what is being brought in for breakfast, dinner, tea, supper or even a snack in between – there is always the same reaction from the 4 little chicks……

It is amazing just how far they can stretch those bendy little necks in their bid for the food. In the first few days their heads were a bit too heavy for their necks, but now their muscles are definitely strengthening up. Survival of the fittest is happening right in front of our eyes. The longer the reach the more likely you are to get the food. We do wonder about the little chick that hatched 36 hours behind the first, he or she is bound to be slightly smaller and will forever be playing catch up. We have our fingers crossed.
Sometimes when feeding we notice the parent bird trying the food in different beaks before putting it into one. We did wonder if with a juicy snack whether they are squeezing a bit of juice into each beak, or maybe they are seeing which chick hangs on to the food with the most strength and this is the one that gets it? Do you know? Leave me a comment if you do.
Anyway, I am sure that you are wanting to see what fine dining experience was next on offer……

You will of course have noticed that what goes in has to come out! Great Tit nestlings are one species that produce faecal sacs – a mucus membrane that surrounds the faeces. This allows the parent bird to easily remove the waste material from the nest. Nestlings will produce the sac within seconds of being fed, or sometimes the parent will encourage production by doing a bit of ‘prodding’!! Great Tit chicks indicate that they are about to produce a sac by raising their bottoms in the air. Other species we monitor deposit the sac on the edge of the nest for removal – it can lead to a bit of an unpleasant build up as the season goes on…
On that note, I’ll sign off for this week. We have a long weekend here in the UK with Bank Holiday, so plenty of time for getting outside and enjoying the wildlife, but I’ll of course be back on here next week to update you on our little family. 😉 Paul

Find Part One – here
Find Part Two – here

Our Great Tit Family – Part 2

I am hoping that you enjoyed the first part of our Great Tit family’s saga, should you have missed it, check the previous blog post out here. Thought I would give you a little update on their progress so far. The female was a really good Mum and continued to brood her eggs almost constantly whilst the male kept her well fed with tasty caterpillars and such like. Then on the evening of day 12…….

…..great excitement for us as we spotted a tiny pink, naked chick! Mum and Dad remained as attentive as usual and carefully started to feed the chick. Given that the eggs are just 18mm (0.7″) long – you can imagine how tiny the chick is! Sometimes the food brought in was just too big – which meant Mum and Dad had to polish it off themselves, but it is amazing how big a meal the little ones can take!
We remained alert to the cameras, and over the period of 36 hours a further 3 chicks hatched out.

This was interesting behaviour, we were aware that parents will take the hatched egg shells away from their nest, this keeps the nest clean and hygienic and dropping the shell a distance from the nest confuses predators too. We were not really aware that the shells were eaten, although it makes perfect sense for the female to eat the shell to replenish her diminished calcium supplies. Female birds do indeed look for snail shells prior to laying in order to increase their calcium levels. There is an interesting article on this behaviour here.

Great Tit in watercolour by Paul Hopkinson

Let’s see what next week brings for our little family, I’ll definitely edit up some more chick footage for you all – we can never get enough of cute little chicks!
Have a lovely weekend, let’s hope the weather stays dry and we can all get out and enjoy the wildlife wherever we live.
Have fun! Paul