ON the other side of our stream is a steep bank which is covered with ivy. Occasionally I see a quick movement amongst the leaves and I immediately think it is a mouse. Sometimes it is a wood mouse (slightly different from a house mouse) but more often than not it is a wren.
These dear little birds, officially the Eurasian wren, have one of my favourite Latin names, Troglodytes troglodytes (another is the common toad, Bufo bufo). It is the tiniest but one of the British birds, the goldcrest being just a bit smaller. I can’t think of any other bird which holds its tail almost vertically (note added later: I have just remembered the ruddy duck and white-headed duck, part of a group known as stifftails).
It weighs as little as one-fifth of an ounce (7g) but has an astonishingly powerful voice.
I have tried to discover how this works. Apparently while a human produces sound from the larynx at the top of the windpipe, a bird’s song comes from a structure called the syrinx deep within its body, at the bottom of the windpipe where it divides into the bronchial tubes to the lungs. The syrinx is surrounded by an air sac, and the combination works like a resonating chamber to amplify sound. Presumably the wren’s is larger in proportion to its body, or more efficient, than those of other birds.
Male wrens use the song to establish their breeding territories in early spring. They have the most charming way of attracting a mate, and this happens around now. They partially build several nests in different locations, maybe six or even more (they like thick vegetation for preference). They use leaves, grass and moss to make the spherical structures, maybe reusing old nests if they can find them. These are not half-hearted efforts, as you can see in this video.
When a female enters the territory and agrees to look round, the male escorts her to the various sites and shows her his handiwork. If she chooses one, she finishes it by lining it with feathers. She lays between five and eight eggs, and the pair may get two broods in a year in the South.
Years ago I was lucky enough to see four fledglings just out of the nest, and I found a video of a similar scene.
There was a funeral at our tiny village church on Friday. One of the churchwardens, a lady of 86, had died after having a stroke. She had been taken to hospital but when it was decided that nothing could be done she was brought home for her last few days. She had lived in the village all her life and her grandfather was responsible for building the bridge over the Ribble which I mentioned here.
Because of the wretched ‘social distancing’ only a limited number of mourners were allowed in the church, but before the funeral the hearse drove round the village at walking pace. Many villagers watched as it passed, and dozens gathered outside the church. Although it was cold it was a beautiful bright day, and on the other side of the churchyard lambs were chasing each other and bleating.
It all seemed symbolic of what we treasure so much. While there are still villages and people like ours, it is hard to believe that we can be defeated.