The smallest part

The song was amazing. Clear, beautiful and varied…and very, very loud. I stopped what I was doing to stand and listen. I know that particular song well, though its singer is elusive. Not because wrens are particularly shy, but because they are so tiny.

Less than four inches long and weighing no more than a third of an ounce, their voices, weight for weight, are ten times louder than that of a rooster and their song is incredibly complex. Wrens are seldom seen, even though they are one of the commonest British breeding birds, simply because of their size and behaviour… but they certainly make themselves heard.

The top ‘leaf’ is my resident wren.

This little one is probably a male and has a particularly rich song. They vary… some sing better than others, but this one is a virtuoso. I scanned the trees, with little hope of pin-pointing the singer as they are tiny enough to hide behind a leaf and well enough camouflaged to disappear against bark. They are easily recognised because of the short, upturned tail, but so hard to see! But there he was, proudly perched  on the very top of the tree, singing his little heart out and vibrating with song. I grabbed the camera.

I am always amazed by these little birds. They play such a huge role in our folklore, yet they are so small. The Druids held them as sacred and the Queen of the Fae herself is said to shape-shift into the form of a wren in some of the old tales. While they are certainly fairy-like creatures,  the wren is also King of the Birds, having won the crown from Golden Eagle. And then there is the Hunting of the Wren which takes you even deeper into folklore and mythology…

So important to the folklore of these isles is the wren that he used to feature on our smallest coin. Farthings were also tiny and a wren weighs about the same as three of these small coins. Before decimalisation changed our currency in 1971, we used a system of pounds, shillings and pence, confusingly written £-s-d or LSD…and working with it was as potentially mind-blowing as its psychedelic namesake. The ‘L’ came from the Latin libra, as a pound was originally that weight in silver. The ‘s’ was for shilling, which came from the Old English word for ‘to divide’ as coins were often cut, while the ‘d’ originated with the Roman denarius, a small coin.

There were twenty shillings in a pound, twelve pennies in a shilling and four farthings in a penny. It made learning basic mathematics interesting when everything else was added, multiplied or subtracted in tens, but money required the same process with a twelve-fold approach.  Just to complicate matters, we also had thrupenny bits, florins, half crowns and sixpences too… and just when you’d mastered that, you realised that people were still pricing things in guineas (twenty-one shillings).

The farthing, from ‘fourthing’, was legal tender until 1960, though the last coins were struck four years earlier. As a very small girl I would still find the odd farthing in loose change. I distinctly remember my mother telling me about the wren on the coin one day as I dipped a stick of ‘spanish’ in a bag of kayli. We were on the way back from the little sweet shop, walking past Yates’s Mill, when she erroneously told me it was the smallest british bird. It was probably the first bird I learned to name and the first time I can actively remember my mother being less than infallibly omniscient. Even so, there was something magical about its image turning up in your hand.

The little guy on top of tree just kept on singing. My son’s garden has a lot of trees and bushes around it and there is always birdsong, even in winter. It occurred to me that I have been hearing this wren every day now for months. Whether it was the invitation of a little warm sunshine that tempted me to linger outside for longer than usual, or the bird’s determination to be heard, I don’t know…something made me take far more notice today.

It occurred to me too that without this one bird’s song, my days would have been poorer, yet I had not consciously realised how much he was contributing to the beauty of time and place. Just as the lack of a single, tiny farthing would change a whole £1 into a mere 19/11¾ – then the absence of this one little bird would have left the day less than whole.

It is the smallest of things that make a difference sometimes. We do not have to see them, we do not always realise that they are there… but we notice when they are not, even though we do not know what it is we are missing. We take such a lot for granted, so many small gestures that pass almost unnoticed as habit, without the many such small and seemingly insignificant gifts each day can bring, the world would be a poorer place.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She has written a number of books, both alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com
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69 Responses to The smallest part

  1. Our Carolina wren is the same. Looks very similar, but more brown and dappled. Also sings so very loudly. I rarely see them. They blend into the trees but you can hear them from far away. Such a strong voice for such a tiny bird!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely post! We have a little wren that visits our garden, despite the four cats and his song is amazing for such a tiny bird 😺

    Liked by 1 person

  3. TanGental says:

    Funny how a bird can feature in ones memory like that. I think mine had to be a thrush. Lovely post Sue

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Helen Jones says:

    I love your little wren, and the stories behind it – I think I have a few farthings in my old money box somewhere. I also love the sentiment behind your post, as you say, it’s the little things that can make all the difference 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Widdershins says:

    It boggles the mind that such power comes out of such a little package. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. jenanita01 says:

    I often hear this birdsong in the quiet of our garden and often wondered what invisible bird it was. I am rather fond of the blackbird too, with his early morning joy and salute at the end of the day. Our days are full of such small, significant things…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. We used to often see them in the garden, but it’s years since I’ve seen a single one. Too many cats around probably.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. willowdot21 says:

    do agree, walking the dog be it early or late i am always amazed at the wonderful bird song around me. They are so brave one tiny chap was stood singing in the middle of the path and allow Ruby to pass and me to get very close before moving! I would be lost without my singing friends! 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  9. As I read your post at 6 in the morning my time, I have my window open and bird sounds are wrapping around me like a soft silk scarf. Warbles and toot toots and lilting song and pleas for love. Makes living worth while. Makes us realize how important it is to listen to all, and hear the songs of the many. Thanks for sharing your ‘little guy” – he’s adorable.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. memadtwo says:

    The birds have been so loud the past few days…I’m taking that as an omen that winter is really gone. Life would be so much poorer without them.
    If only I could spot that flicker that is providing background music to my mornings…(K)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Eileen says:

    Wonderful photos. Our wrens build several nests….not sure why….they only use one. Maybe they just like to keep their options open or as decoys for predators. Loved this…..so true about so much of life is made up of tiny, but important things.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is a lovely post, Sue, I don’t think I have heard a wren singing although there is a lot of it going on outside at the moment! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. paulandruss says:

    Lovely post Sue… Great about the wren o nthe farthing. I had forgotten all about that

    Liked by 1 person

  14. adeleulnais says:

    How beautiful the wren is. We have one in our garden too and you are right, they are very difficult to see but once seen or heard, the moment is precious. xx

    Like

  15. Rae Longest says:

    Fascinating–very educational, and a fun read. TY!

    Like

  16. Birds are wonderful creatures of God. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

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