Wren: the bird profiles


I am particularly interested in garden wildlife which is why I did my Master's degree with a focus on "animal ecology". I am convinced that beneficial insects and wildlife are a sustainable and effective alternative to many of the products we use on our plants. I am also a passionate birdwatcher and rarely go for a walk without my binoculars.

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With vertical tails and a penetrating song, wrens are an intriguing little songbird. Here’s everything you should know about the wren.

A wren perches
The wren’s vertical tail is very distinctive

The wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) is the third smallest bird in Europe, after the goldcrest and the firecrest. With a vertical tail and a loud, penetrating song, it is an impressive little fellow. Read on to find out more about the UK’s most common breeding bird.

Wren: key facts

SizeAbout 9-10cm
WeightAbout 10g
Breeding seasonApril - July
LifespanApproximately 4 years
HabitatUndergrowth of forests, parks and gardens
Food preferencesSoil living insects, beetles and spiders
ThreatsDecline in food and habitat

How to recognise the wren

The easiest thing to look out for when identifying a wren is its tail, which usually points vertically towards the sky. Its back and wings are rust-red and striped, and its belly is a lighter brown. Wrens have dark, pointed beaks and light stripes just above the eyes.

A wren clings to the side of a tree trunk
The wren’s long, white stripe just above the eye gives it away

How to recognise a young wren

Young wrens look exactly like their parents. With striped wings, red-brown plumage and characteristic white stripes above the eyes, you can’t miss them!

How to recognise a wren egg

A wren egg measures about 1.6 x 1.2 centimetres and is whitish with fine red speckles. Females lay about five to seven eggs in a nest of moss, padded with feathers and hair.

Where do wrens build their nests?

Wrens like well-hidden nests; bushes and undergrowth are ideal nesting sites, as are cracks in a wall and building cavities. They build deep, spherical nests with side entrances that are made of damp moss. A nest strengthens as soon as its moss dries, but occasionally wrens will reinforce it with small branches or roots.

When is breeding season for wrens?

Wrens begin breeding in April. The female lays an egg every day shortly after sunrise until the clutch is complete. The eggs won’t hatch for another 14 to 18 days. Unfortunately, female wrens receive no help from their mates in raising their young. During incubation, and after the young have hatched, wren mothers must provide themselves and their chicks with enough food. Their promiscuous partners will be away, often mating with several other females per season. The hatchlings arrive blind into the world and are dependent on their mother’s care for over 14 days, before they are old enough to leave the nest. After leaving the nest, young wrens usually stay together in small groups and are supplied with food, even if their mother has already begun taking care of the second clutch.

A wren and its chicks look out from a mossy nest
Moss is a popular nesting material for the wren [Photo: FJAH/ Shutterstock.com]

How to tell the difference between male and female wrens

Female and male wrens are as good as indistinguishable. Studies have found that males have on average longer wings than females, but this distinction is of no consequence to the casual observer. However, if you notice a wren building a nest, it is almost certainly male. Males build several nests at once, from which the females choose the best.

What is the perfect habitat for wrens?

Wrens prefer deciduous, mixed forests with lots of undergrowth. But they can also be found in parks and gardens, as long as there is plenty of dense vegetation near the ground – such as hedges, shrubs or heaps of brushwood.

Where do wrens spend winter?

Even in winter, the wren does not give up its land. In fact, wrens will defend their territory loudly, with a song that can be heard throughout winter. Because wrens are so small, however, they are sensitive to the cold and tend to roost in communities of up to 20 in tree hollows or birdhouses.

What does a wren’s song sound like?

The song of the wren begins with a sequence of bright, clear tones, before a series of trilling verses. For its stature, the wren has a very loud call. In fact, its song will sound loud throughout a forest.

Wrens also have a characteristic warning call: a kind of metallic “Zerrr”, which you might hear coming from the undergrowth.

A wren
Despite his small stature, a wren’s voice is very powerful

Help the wren!

Like almost all songbirds, wrens have to fight a declining natural habitat and with it a declining food supply. Here are some tips on how you can support the wren with the correct feed and suitable nesting aids.

What do wrens eat?

Wrens are mainly found near the ground, where they look for insects, beetles and spiders. They also feed their offspring small protein-rich animals. If you would like to support your garden wrens, reach for soft foods like oat flakes, grains, raisins and fruit.

Tip: If you would like to control what you feed your birds, you can make your own bird food! Have a look at our article to learn even more about what birds like.

A wren holds an insect in its beak
With its pointed beak, wrens collect insects for themselves and their offspring

Which birdhouses are suitable for wrens?

Wrens use birdboxes with large openings: the entrance should be around 14 centimetres high. For the little songbird, it is best to place your birdhouse no more than 2 meters above the ground, and hidden in a hedge or behind some bushes. Wrens use birdhouses throughout spring during breeding season and in winter as an insulated home.

Tip: Learn everything you need to know about making a bird box in our special article.

How can I support wrens even more?

As well as installing birdhouses in your garden, it is essential to create natural breeding grounds for wrens by providing sufficient undergrowth in the form of hedges and bird-friendly shrubs, or simply a heap of brushwood. If you have enough space, meadows also provide a rich food supply for wrens.

In summer, birds love a bird bath. This could be as easy as setting down a bowl of water on the patio. In time, this bird bath will attract many more garden visitors, for example the nuthatch and the jay.