According to folklore, many years ago the birds of the world gathered to decide which of them would be king. Whoever could fly the highest would be crowned, and the eagle soon soared highest of all – only to discover upon landing that the little brown wren had flown even higher by perching on his back. Outraged, the eagle proposed a new contest – whoever could swoop the lowest would be king. Again, the clever wren applied her cunning and hopped straight into a mouse burrow beneath the surface, immediately claiming victory. Furious, the larger birds decreed that she may be king but would never rule over them, and they set a constant guard at the mouse hole so that she could never leave. After several days, an owl happened to be on duty just as the sun rose, momentarily blinding him, and the wren seized her chance to flit away to safety. She remains wary of the larger birds' wrath to this day and always keeps herself safely hidden among the hedgerows.
Or so the story goes. The diminutive wren may have a reputation for being a secretive bird but it's a familiar garden visitor, easily identified by its small size, chunky body and short, upturned tail. In fact, the wren is one of our most abundant and widespread species, with around seven million territories across Britain, but its small stature and effective camouflage help it to go unnoticed. Not so easy to miss, however, is the wren's powerful song, which is surprisingly loud for a bird so tiny. Males will soon be establishing their breeding territories by singing at the top of their voice, often trembling with the effort, pouring forth a fast volley of hurried notes that ends with a rattling trill. Each burst of song lasts just a few seconds but if it is slowed down significantly, the true complexity of the composition is revealed. A wren sings at an astonishing rate of 740 notes per minute, impossible for the human ear to distinguish but conveying a huge amount of information to a fellow wren – and cementing the wren's reputation as a clever king of the birds.