Swallows or Wrens?


There is a lot of bird activity around my garden at the moment with tits and finches colouring up, plus there is plenty of territorial squabbling going on. Early mornings are now a symphony of thrushes singing, wood pigeons cooing, goldfinches twittering and chaffinches chirping, interspersed with the reedy songs of robins and dunnocks.

But loudest of all these songs is the wren’s. Last year we had four or five wrens’ nests around the garden, mostly in small woven ‘roosting pockets’ that were conveniently placed a couple of winters ago to provide warm spots for tits to spend cold frosty nights. One in the front porch of our house had been used through a few winters by a succession of great tits, so we were sure these little structures would be useful, but as spring approached a couple of years ago wrens quickly took over the porch pocket and after building their intricate mossy nest, raised five or six youngsters. This has happened for the last two springs and the garden is awash with wrens. They have a winter roost under the eaves at the back of the house and up to sixteen have been counted using this on cold evenings.

Roosting pockets in a garden Clematis on my potting shed, in a Cotoneaster against the house and under the eaves of my log cabin Teaching Room, were all occupied by nesting wrens last spring and at the end of the breeding season the garden was overflowing with them.  The Teaching Room was abandoned for a few weeks so as not to disturb the nests, but the house porch could not be out of bounds for obvious reasons.  Thankfully our sympathetic postie made his way daily to the back of the house and left the post in a dry spot, but visitors were invariably startled by a tiny brown bird flashing before their eyes as they rang the doorbell.

Wrens are one of my favourite birds but there is a dilemma with the porch nesters. Prior to their occupation of this warm, sheltered spot, the porch was a nest site for swallows, which we welcomed with open arms.  On a couple of occasions when a door was left open, a swallow made an exploratory foray into the house and up the stairs. One found his own way back out again but another, after perching on a picture frame, was gently caught and returned to the outdoors.

We considered having swallows nesting around our house a huge privilege and we miss them, as since the wrens have taken over, swallows have visited the porch and twittered a little on their ledge but then moved off, probably to the small hamlet down our lane where they nest in tumbledown brick sheds. Many house sparrows also nest under eaves in this tiny hamlet.

So this spring I have made the decision to remove the wren pocket from the front porch. There is a chance that wrens will build a nest there anyway on the swallow ledge, but I am hoping that will not be the case and that ‘our’ swallows will return. Plenty feed around us throughout the summer on the thousands of winged invertebrates that this organic, wildlife garden produces, plus they also drink from our big pond, but they no longer breed here. So I am hoping to save this little space for them – the wrens can have the rest of the garden.

About Dinchope Diary

I am a plant ecologist, specialising in wildlife gardening for more than 30 years, writing books and teaching. My blog is about the two acre wildlife garden I have created in South Shropshire.
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