WRYNECK (Ger. Wendehals, Dutch draaihalzen, Fr. torcol), a bird so called from its way of writhing its head and neck, especially when captured on its nest in a hollow tree. The Iynx[1]torquilla is a regular summer visitant to most parts of Europe, generally arriving a few days before the cuckoo, and is known in England as “cuckoo’s leader” and “cuckoo’s mate,” but occasionally is called “ snake-bird,” not only from the undulatory motions, just mentioned, but from the violent hissing with which it seeks to repel an intruder from its hole.[2]

The unmistakable note of the wryneck is merely a repetition of what may be syllabled que, que, que, many times in succession, rapidly uttered at first, but gradually slowing and in a continually falling key. This is only heard during a few weeks, and for the rest of the bird’s stay in Europe it seems to be mute. It feeds almost exclusively on insects, especially on ants. It is larger than a sparrow, but its plumage is not easily described, being beautifully variegated with black, brown, buff and grey—the last produced by minute specks of blackish-brown on a light ground—the darker markings disposed in patches, vermiculated bars, freckles, streaks or arrowheads—and the whole blended most harmoniously, so as to recall the coloration of a goatsucker (q.v.) or of a woodcock (q.v.). The wryneck commonly lays its translucent white eggs on the bare wood of a hole in a tree, and is one of the few wild birds that can be induced to go on laying by abstracting its eggs day after day, and thus upwards of forty have been taken from a single hole—but the proper complement is from six to ten. As regards Britain, the bird is most common in the S.E., its numbers decreasing rapidly towards the W. and N., so that in Cornwall and Wales and beyond Cheshire and Yorkshire its occurrence is but rare, while it appears only by accident in Scotland and Ireland.

Some writers have been inclined to recognize five other species of the genus Iynx; but the so-called I. japonica is specifically indistinguishable from I. torquilla; while that designated, through a mistake in the locality assigned to it; I. indica, has been found to be identical with the I. pectoralis of S. Africa. Near to this is I. pulchricollis, discovered by Emin Pasha in the E. of the Bar-el-Djebel (Ibis, 1884, p. 28, pl. iii.). Another distinct African species is the I. aequatorialis, originally described from Abyssinia. The wrynecks (see Woodpecker form a subfamily Iynginae of the Picidae, from the more normal groups of which they differ but little in internal structure, but much in coloration and in having the tail-quills flexible, or at least not stiffened to serve as props as in the climbing Picinae.  (A. N.) 

  1. Frequently misspelt, as by Linnaeus in his later years, Yunx.
  2. The peculiarity was known to Aristotle, and possibly led to the cruel use of the bird as a love-charm, to which several classical writers refer, as Pindar (Pyth. iv. 214; Nem. iv. 35), Theocritus (iv. 17, 30) and Xenophon (Memorabilia, iii. 11, 17, 18). In one part at least of China a name, Shay ling, signifying “Snake’s neck,” is given to it (Ibis, 1875, p. 125).