The sun drops into the horizon, fingering shadows along the garden hedge. We take up our positions and wait for wrens. Four gather each evening to share a communal winter roost. Over the last few days, they have transferred from the old, battered roosting pocket that saw them through last winter’s snow and wind, to a new pocket suspended below. Their behaviour at dusk suggests that they cannot settle alone. Some evenings, a wren will pop in and out of the roost, inspecting nearby bird boxes, and calling until others arrive. Wrens can travel over a mile to find a suitable roost and groups of up to 30 or 40 have been observed in some hard winters.
This year the bird box nearby has been taken as a roost by a blue tit. Unlike the wrens, blue tits roost alone. A pair arrives in the hedge, feeds on fat balls and keeps watch as the sun sets. Almost to the minute, at 4 o’clock, one of the pair flies directly into the box with an astounding degree of flight dexterity and accuracy. The other blue tit, sometimes as much as ten minutes later, flies into a cranny underneath a lifted roof tile.
Half an hour later the wrens begin to gather. To our consternation, a great tit, on several nights, tried out the roost for himself. The wrens showed considerable anxiety, ending with their dispersal to find a replacement shelter. It reminds me of American nature writer, John Burroughs, who described a similar turmoil with competing bluebirds: ‘The poor wrens were in despair; they wrung their hands and tore their hair, after a wren fashion’.
Having formed a degree of attachment to, and admiration for, our wrens, the decision was taken to disturb the incumbent great tit with a couple of sharp taps to the pocket, and allow the wrens to keep their communal roost. Tea time in winter provides our very own neighbourhood watch.