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The Wren: A Biography

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From the bestselling author of The Robin: A Biography The wren is a paradox of a bird. On the one hand wrens are ubiquitous. They are Britain's most common bird, with 8.5 million breeding pairs and have by far the loudest song in proportion to their size. They also thrive up and down Britain and Ireland: from the smallest city garden to remote offshore islands, blustery moo From the bestselling author of The Robin: A Biography The wren is a paradox of a bird. On the one hand wrens are ubiquitous. They are Britain's most common bird, with 8.5 million breeding pairs and have by far the loudest song in proportion to their size. They also thrive up and down Britain and Ireland: from the smallest city garden to remote offshore islands, blustery moors to chilly mountains. Yet many people, particularly a younger generation, are not sure if they have ever seen a wren. Perhaps because the wren is so tiny, weighing just as much as two A4 sheets of paper, and so busy, always on the move, more mouse than bird. However if we cast our eyes back to recent history wrens were a mainstay of literary, cultural and popular history. The wren was on postage stamps and the farthing, it featured in nursery rhymes and greetings cards, poems and rural `wren hunts', still a recent memory in Ireland particularly. With beautiful illustrations throughout, this captivating year-in-the-life biography reveals the hidden secrets of this fascinating bird that lives right on our doorstep.


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From the bestselling author of The Robin: A Biography The wren is a paradox of a bird. On the one hand wrens are ubiquitous. They are Britain's most common bird, with 8.5 million breeding pairs and have by far the loudest song in proportion to their size. They also thrive up and down Britain and Ireland: from the smallest city garden to remote offshore islands, blustery moo From the bestselling author of The Robin: A Biography The wren is a paradox of a bird. On the one hand wrens are ubiquitous. They are Britain's most common bird, with 8.5 million breeding pairs and have by far the loudest song in proportion to their size. They also thrive up and down Britain and Ireland: from the smallest city garden to remote offshore islands, blustery moors to chilly mountains. Yet many people, particularly a younger generation, are not sure if they have ever seen a wren. Perhaps because the wren is so tiny, weighing just as much as two A4 sheets of paper, and so busy, always on the move, more mouse than bird. However if we cast our eyes back to recent history wrens were a mainstay of literary, cultural and popular history. The wren was on postage stamps and the farthing, it featured in nursery rhymes and greetings cards, poems and rural `wren hunts', still a recent memory in Ireland particularly. With beautiful illustrations throughout, this captivating year-in-the-life biography reveals the hidden secrets of this fascinating bird that lives right on our doorstep.

30 review for The Wren: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kirsty

    I adore nature writing, and was therefore keen to pick up something by prolific author Stephen Moss, who writes almost exclusively about birds.  The blurb of the beautifully produced The Wren: A Biography says that this is a 'captivating biography of Britain's most common bird which lives - often unseen - right on our doorstep.' With at least eight million breeding pairs in Britain, it seems curious that the majority of people - myself included - believe they have never seen one.  In his introduc I adore nature writing, and was therefore keen to pick up something by prolific author Stephen Moss, who writes almost exclusively about birds.  The blurb of the beautifully produced The Wren: A Biography says that this is a 'captivating biography of Britain's most common bird which lives - often unseen - right on our doorstep.' With at least eight million breeding pairs in Britain, it seems curious that the majority of people - myself included - believe they have never seen one.  In his introduction, Moss alludes to the reasoning behind this: 'Perhaps that's because wrens are so tiny, weighing less than half an ounce; or that they're constantly on the move, behaving more like a mouse than a bird.' The Wren is a year-in-the-life biography.  Moss moves through each month, noting, as the book's subtitle suggests, 'The Secret Life of Britain's Most Common Bird'.  It begins on a 'bright, cold winter's day', when Moss leans out of his kitchen window 'soon after sunrise'.  Here, he observes a wren, describing it thus: '... quiet and unassuming, lurking deep in the shadows beneath the shrubbery, like a shy actor waiting in the wings, while others take centre stage.'  He then goes on to comment that he has seen wrens all over the United Kingdom, 'from the heart of London to the remotest offshore island.' The book features gorgeous illustrations throughout, and contains such charming details of wrens in popular culture and literature, from William Shakespeare to William Blake.  Moss writes of the different names bestowed upon the birds throughout history, from the Jenny wren to the tomtit.  He also explores the 'fascinating folklore surrounding this species.'   In each chapter, Moss references others who have written extensively about the wren.  Revered ornithologist Max Nicholson, for instance, described the wren as 'a bird of crevices and crannies, of woodpiles and fallen trees, of hedge-bottoms and banks, walls and boulders...  Wrens therefore can cut across, or rather scramble under, the imaginary boundaries which we are accustomed to draw between different types of country.' Throughout The Wren, Moss writes at length of many aspects of the existence of the wren.  He looks at the historical migration of the wren, which has meant that different variations of the bird can be found around the world.  He talks of their song, their mating rituals, the distribution of the birds, their preferred habitats, the effects of climate change upon them, the nest building process, and the fledging of the chicks, amongst other fascinating details. The Wren is the most darling nature book, and one of the most engaging about a single species which I have read to date.  It is informative and immersive from its very beginning, and the structure, which follows a single calendar year, works wonderfully.  Moss' prose is beautifully descriptive, and he speaks authoritatively throughout.   The Wren is sure to appeal to anyone interested in the natural world, and I thoroughly enjoyed Moss' take on the tiny birds.  I am so excited to read more of his books, and feel that he could easily become one of my very favourite nature writers.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    The book implies there's no particular reason for the pairing of Jenny and Wren but I've always had a sense of a person connection because of it... and because they are such singular birds. It was lovely to immerse myself in a book all about them. I wasn't sure about the structuring of the book around calendar months, but I am not sure I can come up with another way to do it, and some aspects - breeding, the Wren Hunt, make sense in this way. Mixing up ornithology and folklore and the personal ma The book implies there's no particular reason for the pairing of Jenny and Wren but I've always had a sense of a person connection because of it... and because they are such singular birds. It was lovely to immerse myself in a book all about them. I wasn't sure about the structuring of the book around calendar months, but I am not sure I can come up with another way to do it, and some aspects - breeding, the Wren Hunt, make sense in this way. Mixing up ornithology and folklore and the personal may work better than having discrete sections for each. However, occasionally I felt it had been a structure to put the book together in chunks and there was some repetition I think was unintentional. I also found the illustrations a little frustrating - I would have liked more variety of style for such a distinctive bird and better quality photographic reproduction. One is left in awe of the work that goes into studying birds, the many hours of observation which reveal the natural history.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tracy

    An interesting little book and a good companion to The Robin: A Biography. The illustrations are beautiful.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    A lovely book with some interesting history and insights into a lovely little bird, and highlighted with some beautiful illustrations.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sylvia

    After 'The Robin' I did not expect anything else then to love this equally and I did. This book is like a lovesong about The Wren, one of the tiniest birds and absolutely one of the most energetic and cheerful ones. I loved every detail written about it. I'm going outside into the sunshine now to enjoy its presence.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Berber

    Leuk boek, best interessant en vlot geschreven. De Nederlandse vertaling geef ik echter een 1. Ik heb een gruwelijke hekel aan mensen die de humor in Engelse gedichten proberen te vertalen door onzinwoorden te gebruiken, en die Engelse accenten en dialecten vertalen naar Brabantse of, de horreur!, Amsterdamse. Waren de gedichten maar onvertaald gebleven of in ieder geval de koosnamen voor het Winterkoninkje. Ik ga kijken of The Robin wel in het Engels in de bieb te vinden is.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kris

    Just like the author's other volume The Robin, this little book makes a wonderful gift. It is beautifully presented and has loads of colourful illustrations inside, which makes the reading so much more joyful. I didn't rate this one as highly as the one about robins, mainly because it felt a bit like it was just a copy of the earlier book, very similar in structure and sometimes also content. This may not apply to you if you've not read the robin book, of course. There was one chapter in particula Just like the author's other volume The Robin, this little book makes a wonderful gift. It is beautifully presented and has loads of colourful illustrations inside, which makes the reading so much more joyful. I didn't rate this one as highly as the one about robins, mainly because it felt a bit like it was just a copy of the earlier book, very similar in structure and sometimes also content. This may not apply to you if you've not read the robin book, of course. There was one chapter in particular, which only dealt with the cultural significance of the wren, and didn't touch on what the actual bird would get up to in that month. Now, this might be because there isn't actually anything exciting happening during that time of the wren's life cycle, but it would have been good to just mention it, otherwise it feels a bit like the author just skipped that month. To be fair, I am only nit-picking at this point. It is a lovely book and would make wonderful present for any bird lover.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Juliet Wilson

    The European wren is the commonest bird in the UK, but it's tiny size and skulking habits mean that many people have never seen one (on the other hand it's loud voice and persistant song means that most people have probably heard one even if they aren't aware of that fact). Stephen Moss here presents us with an insightful look into the year in the life of a European wren including the fact that the male wren will construct several nests at the start of the breeding season for the female to check The European wren is the commonest bird in the UK, but it's tiny size and skulking habits mean that many people have never seen one (on the other hand it's loud voice and persistant song means that most people have probably heard one even if they aren't aware of that fact). Stephen Moss here presents us with an insightful look into the year in the life of a European wren including the fact that the male wren will construct several nests at the start of the breeding season for the female to check over so she can choose the best place to bring up their young. On the other hand, wrens have been known to take over nests built by other species, whether this is in cases of the female despairing of the male's nest building capabilities isn't documented! The book also includes notes about the evolution of the wren family - the first wrens were found in what is now America and spread across the globe from there - with there being a number of subspecies of the European wren living in the British Isles, including most famously the St Kilda wren, found only on the remote islands of St Kilda far to the north of the British mainland. Plus details about the wren's place in folklore and tradition. Crammed with beautiful illustrations and written in an engaging manner this is a lovely book for anyone who loves nature and wants to find out more about this appealing little bird. You certainly won't want to overlook the wren once you've finished reading this!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gordon

    This companion volume to Stephen Moss's The Robin: A Biography is another great read for bird lovers. The Moss skill is to be able to make ordinary observations sound beautiful, and this little volume on Britain's most common bird (seriously, 8 million) is no exception. Laid out, like the book on Robins, in twelve chapters, one for each month, he covers any amount of ground about the life cycle of a wren as well as its place in history. This book appealed to me as a birdwatcher, but wrens are le This companion volume to Stephen Moss's The Robin: A Biography is another great read for bird lovers. The Moss skill is to be able to make ordinary observations sound beautiful, and this little volume on Britain's most common bird (seriously, 8 million) is no exception. Laid out, like the book on Robins, in twelve chapters, one for each month, he covers any amount of ground about the life cycle of a wren as well as its place in history. This book appealed to me as a birdwatcher, but wrens are less charismatic than robins and I'm not so sure it would have the same appeal to a casual reader. However I enjoyed reading it on a pick-up-and-put-down basis.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    A fascinating insight into the commonest bird in Britain. The author,using the months as chapter headings, takes us through the wren's annual life-cycle of claiming territory, nest building, mating, breeding, rearing young and then surviving the cold winter. Scattered throughout are literary, historical and ornithological references which make for an interesting read. A short, easily read book which I would recommend it to anyone interested in nature or simply wanting to know more about the natu A fascinating insight into the commonest bird in Britain. The author,using the months as chapter headings, takes us through the wren's annual life-cycle of claiming territory, nest building, mating, breeding, rearing young and then surviving the cold winter. Scattered throughout are literary, historical and ornithological references which make for an interesting read. A short, easily read book which I would recommend it to anyone interested in nature or simply wanting to know more about the natural history of this small, often elusive but frequently heard bird.

  11. 5 out of 5

    R.S.

    A fantastic biography/natural history of this much under-appreciated British bird. The monthly format is particularly well done - the writer brings out the larger than life character of Troglodytes troglodytes throughout the changing year.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Louise McHugh

    What a lovely little book about my favourite bird.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mark McKenny

    Again another neat little book that tells you most of what you'd like to know about Wrens. I like the way these books are set out in the months, look forward to a third if there ever is one.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Timothy

    A delightful read adding colour to a diminutive garden visitor. The monthly chapter breakdown is a bit unnecessary and contrived but there are a few gems in the book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    I loved this book! Just like Stephen Moss’ book about the robin, this one about the wren is also interesting, wonderfully told and beautifully illustrated. Stephen Moss’ passion and love for nature and birds is so obvious, which anybody who loves nature will enjoy.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jill

  17. 4 out of 5

    Leanne Riordan

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mark Patterson

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ruth Armstrong

  20. 5 out of 5

    Eve Hickey

  21. 4 out of 5

    Zoe

  22. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

  23. 4 out of 5

    simon merriman

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nicola Lopez

  25. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte

  26. 4 out of 5

    Christine

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Cooke (Bookish Shenanigans)

  28. 4 out of 5

    Monica

  29. 5 out of 5

    Esther Beck

  30. 5 out of 5

    Susie

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