If you are anything like me, it is the robin you think of when you think of December. It’s on Christmas cards and can often be seen bobbing around in the garden, too. So, it may come as a surprise to learn that the bird of the month for December is… the wren!
Now, wrens are tiny – not the tiniest of birds, but very small. They weigh about the same amount as a £1 coin. But they are quite noisy and have a loud song. Sometimes, they can be tricky to spot, mainly due to their size (about 9 or 10 centimetres long) and – cute, I know – but when it is particularly cold, they are known to cuddle up together for warmth. Just imagine all those feathers!
The wren is very common in folklore literature – more to come on that. In Holland, the Dutch call wrens ‘winterkoning’ – winter king. You might not expect a tiny little bird to be known as a ‘king’ when so many of our British birds are much larger, and much more dominant. According to folklore, though, in a competition of which bird could fly the highest, the wren won. Perhaps it cheated, however, as it had apparently hitched a ride under the wings of a magnificent eagle. So, this is what gave the wren its royal name. There is even a folk song for December called – you guessed it – ‘The Wren Song’ which would have been traditionally sung by the ‘wren boys’ on Boxing Day, or St. Stephen’s Day (December 26th). The first line is, ‘The wren, the wren, the king of all birds.’
This tiny bird has appeared in other writers’ work, too. John Clare, in the 1800s, wrote a poem called ‘The Wren’ – but it was about many different types of birds, including this tiny one the poem is named after. Much more recently, American writer Laura Donnelly wrote her poem ‘The Carolina Wren’ (pictured) about how its song can be so appealing – her last line is ‘Pinned and spinning in the sound of it.’ Closer to home, famed Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote ‘The Wren’s Nest’. It is written in a Scottish dialect, so you might find it tricky to understand!
The next time you think of a Christmas bird, then, don’t automatically think of a robin. Yes, that red-breasted, inquisitive creative has a definite role to play in the festive season, but it’s the ‘winter king’ that is the outright winner.