1902 Encyclopedia > Wren

Wren




WREN (Anglo-Saxon Wrxnna and Wrenne, Icelandic Rindill), the well-known little brown bird—with its short tail, cocked on high—inquisitive and familiar, that braves the winter of the British Islands and even that of the European continent, and, except in the hardest of frosts, will daily sing its spirit-stirring strain. It is the Motacilla or Sylvia troglodytes of the earlier systematists, and the Troglodytes parvulus, europxus, or vulgaris of most later writers, save a few who (ignoring not only common sense but also the accepted rules of scientific nomenclature), by an utterly mistaken view of Vieillot's intention in establishing the genus Troglodytes, reserve that term for some American species—which can hardly be generically separated from the European form—and have attempted to fix on the latter the generic term Anorthura, which is its strict equi-valent and was proposed by Bennie on grounds that are wholly inadmissible.
The interest taken in this bird throughout all European countries is scarcely exceeded by that taken iu any other, and, though in Britain comparatively few vernacular names have been applied to it, two of them—" Jenny " or " Kitty-Wren "—are terms of endear-ment. M. Rolland records no fewer than 139 local names for it in France ; and Italy, Germany, and other lands are only less prolific. Many of these carry on the old belief that the Wren was the King of Birds, a belief connected with the fable that on one occasion the fowls of the air in general assembly resolved to choose for their leader that one of them which should mount highest. This the Eagle seemed to do, and all were ready to accept his rule, when a loud burst of song was heard, and perched upon him was seen the exultant Wren, which unseen and unfelt had been borne aloft by the giant. The curious association of this bird with the Feast of the Three Kings, on which day in South Wales, or, in Ireland and in the south of France, on or about Christmas Day, it was customary for men and boys to "hunt the Wren," addressing it iu a song as "the King of Birds," is very remarkable, and has never yet been explained.
The Wren hardly needs description here, and its domed nest, apparently so needlessly large for the size of the bird, is a well-known object, for it is built with uncommon care, and often (though certainly not always) in such a fashion as to assimilate its exterior to its surroundings and so to escape observation. Very curious too is the equally unaccountable fact, that near any occupied nest may generally be found another nest, or more than one, of imperfect construction. The widespread belief concerning these unfinished fabrics is implied by their common name of "cocks' nests," but evidence to that effect is not forthcoming. The breed-ing-habits of the Wren were most closely studied and accurately reported by Mr Weir to Macgillivray (Brit. Birds, iii. pp. 23-30) in a way that leads every ornithologist to wish that the same care might be bestowed on other kinds of birds.
The range of the Wren in Europe is very extensive, though it seems to stop short of the Arctic Circle; but it occurs in Algeria, Madeira, and, according to Bolle, in the Canaries. It also inhabits Palestine. Further to the eastward its limits are difficult to trace, because they inosculate with those of a considerable number of local races or species. As might be expected, the form inhabiting Japan, T. fumigatus, seems to be justifiably deemed a species. In North America, T. alascensis occurs in the extreme north-west, and is replaced further to the southward by T. pacificus. East-ward of the Rocky Mountains, the form is T. hyemalis—the well-known Winter-Wren of Canada and the United States. Tho number of species of Wrens inhabiting North America is, however, very considerable; but authorities are by no means agreed as to how many should be reckoned valid, and thej' have been segregated into six or seven genera. Here the House-Wren, T. domesticus or aedon, can alone be mentioned. It is a very common summer-visitant to most parts of the Eastern States, and where it occurs is of a very familiar disposition, entering into the closest relations with those that cultivate its acquaintance. It is represented in the West by T. parkinanni.
The Troglodytidx, if they are to be regarded as forming a distinct Eamily, predominate in the New World, no fewer than 60 species being enumerated in the Nomenclátor of Messrs Sclater and Salvin as belonging to the Neotropical Region. But the Troglodytidx by no means contain all the birds to which the name " Wren " is applied. Several of the Sylviidx (cf. WAEBLEE) bear it, especially the beautiful little Golden-crested Wren (cf. KINGLET) and the group commonly known in Britain as " Willow-Wrens "— forming the genus Phylloscopus. Three of these are habitual summer-visitants, which differ much more in their manners than in their look. The largest, usually called the Wood-Wren, P. sibilatrix, is more abundant in the north than in the south of England, and chiefly frequents woods of oak or beech. It has a loud and very peculiar song, like the word twee, sounded very long, and repeated several times in succession—at first slowly, but afterwards more quickly, and near the end accompanied by a peculiar quivering of the wings, while at uncertain intervals comes another note, which has been syllabled as chea, uttered about three times in succession. The Willow-Wren proper, P. trochilus, is in many parts of Great Britain the com-monest summer-bird, and is the most generally dispersed. In spring its joyous burst of song is repeated time after time, until all around thrills with the loud and merry chorus, and yet never tires the ear. The restless but graceful activity of the bird, as it flits from twig to twig, adds to the charm of its appearance, which Hewitson so well appreciated. The third species, P. collybita or minor (frequently but most wrongly called Sylvia rufa or P. rufus), commonly known as the Chiffchaff, from the peculiarity of its constantly repeated two-noted cry, is very numerous in the southern and western part of England, but seems to be scarcer northward. These three species make their nest upon or very close to the

ground, and the building is always domed. Hence they are commonly called "Oven-birds," and occasionally, j from the grass used in their structure, " Hay-jacks," a name common to the WHITE-THROAT (q.v.) and its allies.
To return, however, to the Troglodytidx or true Wrens.
If it cannot be said that they form a peculiar Family, it
would be rather to the Sylviidas that they and the
Certhiidee (cf. TREE-CREEPER) should be assigned, and
they seem to be very unfitly placed sfmong the Timeliid.ee,
as has lately been done (Gat. B. Brit. Museum, vi. p. 1).
These last, so far as any definition can be given of them,
belong to the Ethiopian and Indian Regions, while the pre-
dominance of the Troglodytidx in the Neotropical Region,
is already remarked, is very obvious. (A. N.)



Footnotes

Much interest has lately attached to the discovery, announced by Mr Seebohm (Zoologist, 1884, p. 333), that the Wren, for 200 years and upwards, known to inhabit St Kilda differed in hue from that of the other British Islands and of the continent of Europe, and it has by him been described as a distinct species, T. hirtensis. It had for more than twenty years been known that the Wren of the Fseroes and Iceland deserved separation from the ordinary T. parvulus, by being larger, and especially by having larger and stouter feet. It is the T. borealis of Fischer (Journ. fur Ornitlwlogie, 1861, p. 14, pi. i.).

By ornithologists this name is given to a wholly distinct group— not even belonging to the Oscines—the Furnariidse of Garrod, con-sisting of about 8 genera of Tracheophonine Birds, some of which build marvellous nests of mud spherical in form. For their habits see Darwin (Jour, of Researches, chap, v.) and Mr Hudson's account (Argentine Ornithology, i. pp. 167-170).








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