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Bringing Up Baby Wrens: How I watched a hard working wren mum raise her chicks.

Raising young can be hard work for any parent, but among the animal parents I most admire are those that won’t be deterred from the job at hand. Like the female wren I watched one year who worked tirelessly to feed her chicks despite the efforts of her mate to distract her. I’m currently exhibiting a new range of paintings inspired by watching animals parent in the wild and I have categorised the different parenting styles each species adopt. I think this wren mum fits into ‘indulgent mum’, read on to find out how she carefully prepared each meal for her hungry brood.

I watched the wren for a week after spotting it whilst on the Scottish coast at Burnmouth. I was there to watch gannets and puffins, but this wren’s dedication to her brood absorbed me and I watched her for a week.

I was walking along the seafront one rainy day when I heard the sound of some young chicks being fed close to the road. As I peered into the brambles a wren popped out and flew off. She had built her nest just five feet from the road in a tuft of grass overhanging a rock. I stayed for a while and before long the wren was back bearing food for her tiny chicks. I spent any spare time I had that week studying this wren family. It was fascinating to watch the mini dramas of family life unfold before me. The wrens became so accustomed to me that I could sit on the bank just over a metre away while the female fed her chicks. This is quite unusual behaviour for a wren; normally I have to use a hide. A few days later the chicks had grown already and their beaks were just showing out of the entrance hole of the nest. Soon the chicks would be popping their heads out of the hole and I wanted to be there to see it happen.

Artist Research, Robert E Fuller
Wren feeding its chick, photographed by Robert E Fuller

From my close position I could see what the wren was bringing in to feed her hungry chicks. Hoverflies, caterpillars, damselflies, crane flies, aphids and even small beetles were all on the menu. Sometimes she would forage quite close to me disappearing beneath some undergrowth or grasses. The way she scurried about reminded me more of a mouse’s behaviour than that of a bird. I noticed that it was the female who attended to the hunting and feeding duties. I didn’t see the male feed the chicks once. He spent most of his time showing off, by singing and flashing his wings at her.

He seemed to be trying to tempt her into a nest that he had built further up the bank. A pair of wrens can have two or three broods a year. But she wasn’t in the least bit interested and disappeared beneath the undergrowth calling out in annoyance each time he approached with further amorous advances.

Wren and Chicks, painted by Robert E Fuller
Wren and Chicks, painted by Robert E Fuller

By the end of the week I was delighted to see the chicks popping their heads out of the nest hole as the female approached. This was the moment I had been waiting for all week and just what I needed to produce a painting. I laid down on the bank and the female soon arrived on the scene. Four chicks saw her approach and popped their heads out of the entrance hole of the nest begging for food. I got a great photograph of these tiny little chicks with their gaping mouths. I knew there were more chicks in here but the entrance to the nest was too small for any others to fit out at the same time. They would have to try their luck next time. On another occasion, the female disappeared under a tuft of grass and flushed out an orange under wing moth and then pursued it across the road. She caught it then pecked furiously at it, banging it onto the tarmac.

It was quite a tussle but she managed to disable it by taking off one wing before deftly removing the other. She bashed it a few more times for good measure before taking it to the nest and stuffing it down one of the chick’s throats. I was quite surprised that this little chick was able to swallow such large prey. It certainly got a good meal.

I was so entranced by what I was watching some six and a half hours passed before I realised that the day was drawing to a close. Below are two further pictures of wrens I painted in previous years. Click here to view them in my shop.


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