From a recent BTO Newsletter I learned that research at Exeter University is confirming something I’m sure most of us instinctively knew: watching birds near your home reduces your stress levels!
Visiting friends who live on the upper slopes of Ilkley, I had a cheering encounter. As I went up the path to their front door, a small bird flew out of the hedge, paused on the lawn, then flew to the doorstep and posed there for a few seconds before, becoming aware of my approach, it flew back to shelter. A tiny brown bird with a tip-tilted tail and the direct flight of a bumblebee, it was immediately recognizable from my childhood as the bird depicted on the tiny farthing coin (one quarter worth of the old penny) where its chubby shape fitted snugly into the circle – it was a wren.
Tiny, it may be, but the wren always seems to me a sturdy, characterful bird. Its song, a mixture of rapidly delivered notes interspersed with whirring trills, is remarkably loud. Watch one singing and you’ll be impressed by the single-minded vehemence of the singer, its whole body vibrating with the pulse of its song. Wrens are surprisingly abundant too. Walk through woodland at this time of year and you’ll pass rapidly from one singing male to the next – the wood is carved up into a jigsaw of wren fiefdoms. Such energy too: the cock builds several nests within his territory then invites his prospective mate to inspect and choose one. If she does, she will line it with feathers. In this bulky, domed structure they will raise a brood of up to 6 chicks. It must be admitted that he sometimes installs another female in one of the other nests – a shame to waste it!
I remember once walking along the riverbed in Coverdale in early summer. The banks on either side were steep and knotted with tree roots and the whole area was alive with newly fledged wren families – I’ve never seen so many in one place before or since. The surrounding woodland provided ideal foraging territory and the many cavities in the riverbank are just the kind of terrain wrens love to explore. Their Latin name is Troglodytes troglodytes – ie. cave-dweller.
Later that afternoon, my friend pointed out of his window to a male pheasant in full breeding colours strutting the lawn. The stress levels in that house must be pretty low, I guess.