Where do Wrens find their winter food?

It helps to know what they eat, how and where they find it! The Wren, (Troglodytes, troglodytes), when it can it feeds upon invertebrate prey such as insects, bugs and spiders. I have also seen them eat very small slugs. In the winter these are rather scarce. It is notoriously difficult to tempt into your garden to feed for many people. It does not use bird feeders and only on very rare occasions have I seen one use a bird table when there is no other birds present and the table has had a roof.

Wren with caterpillar Jan 2018

Small bird

Glue states, “Small birds have to metabolise their food so intensively in order to survive at low temperatures that even a small period without food-for example, due to a spell of wet weather, to competition from larger birds, feeding at a table, or to the arrival of a predator in the garden-can quickly deplete their condition to a fatal level.” A wren is a very small bird and rarely uses a bird table and unlike other small birds, such as the Coal tit, wrens are not hoarders of food. So how does it survive the winter and how can we help?

A secretive scurrier!

Being secretive in its habits, the wren can easily be missed, especially as it prefers to keep to dense vegetation or undergrowth. You may get a glimpse of a wren as it scurries along a garden fence to the next cover or crevice into which it will disappear. In their search for food, they will hop and dash along under and in the undergrowth, searching leaves, under twigs, branches, small crevices and gaps in vegetation or walls, under leaf litter, compost heaps and the like.

Provide vertical cover

Wooden fences clad in ivy are ideal for wrens to hunt amongst the dense cover that ivy provides. Using other climbers adds to the pleasure, especially honeysuckle which may also attract insects as it flowers. I often watch the wren in my ivy-covered fencing.

Provide ground cover.

This large caterpillar was found in dense ground cover by the foraging wren. If the soil was left bare there is less likelihood for the wren to find food. Even under the primroses, as shown in the video, there are prey items to be found in winter months. Providing leaf litter or leafmould is a good idea as many invertebrates will be living in this mulch, which also protects your soil structure.

Compost heap

Besides wrens, many other birds will look for prey items in a compost heap, especially if you periodically turn it over to expose the many invertebrates that will live there.

Finely grated mild cheeses

They have been known to take mild grated cheeses, avoid very strong cheeses and they don’t like Stilton nor Danish Blue! Sprinkling grated cheese in nooks and crannies, patio pots, under thick bushes near to the trunk where other birds cannot see it or may not even venture, is useful. I used to put cheese on a wooden shelf, nailed to the long horizontal wooden fence batons, all of which had ivy and other climbers growing up it. I often watched wrens feeding in peace here. Keep an eye on it though as you don’t want it or any other food you supply for birds, to grow mouldy which may harm them.


Being insectivorous, wrens will eat live mealworms, though these can work out expensive and many people prefer to use the dried ones. Using a small mesh ground feeder to place them on, under a dense bush, under ivy or other dense vegetation would be ideal and once they have found it they will return. It’s best to place it where you have seen wrens foraging. Before evening, remove the tray and any mealworms to minimise vermin snacking on them! In the nesting season, it is best to soak the mealworms in warm water as they may dehydrate young chicks who rely on the moisture found in insects for their supply. Here is one method of rearing your own mealworms.


Other foods

In my wildlife garden, underneath the sunflower feeder are several dense lavender bushes. The wrens over the years in the winter months feed upon bits of sunflower hearts that have dropped from the feeder, scattering all over and under them. This has provided a rich picking area for wrens. Several bird food suppliers formulate various food which they say are attractive to wrens.

Large plant pots

Wrens will look for food inside large plant pots, especially if they are already near cover from which they can easily fly. Finely grated mild cheese, smaller pieces of crushed peanuts, oatmeal, dried mealworms would be well appreciated.

Folklore and song

For such a small bird it has a long history in European folklore, it has a Wren Day (December 26th) and groups of men in the past were even known as Wrenboys, who went out to kill wrens and a poem written about it. “The wren, the wren, the King of All Birds, on St. Stephen’s Day got caught in the furze.” This itself has been made into a song by Liam Clancy, which can be heard here

It is our 3rd smallest bird, the smallest being the Firecrest and Goldcrest. The Troglodytes means ‘cave dweller’ coming from the Greek derivation, ‘trogle’ a hole and ‘dyein’ to creep.

Scurrying for food or shame?

It could easily be mistaken for a mouse as I often see it scurrying around the undergrowth in my garden. Now is that because it is looking for food or ashamed to show itself as it was caught cheating to see which bird could fly the highest?

Interested in observing garden birds? Then Join  BTO Garden BirdWatch and receive for FREE book  Garden Birds and other wildlife

Great article by Mike Toms BTO Wonderful Wrens

Refs: Besides my own observations and above website links;

Burton (2003) “Birdfeeder. RSPB Birdcare” Dorling Kingersley

Glue (1982) “The Garden Bird Book”, British Trust for Ornithology

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