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Ornithological Biography/Volume 1/Bewick's Wren

Bewick's Wren (Audubon).jpg


Troglodytes Bewickii.


The bird represented under the name of Bewick's Wren I shot on the 19th October 1821, about five miles from St Francisville, in the State of Louisiana. It was standing as nearly as can be represented in the position in which you now see it, and upon the prostrate trunk of a tree not far from a fence. My drawing of it was made on the spot. Another individual was shot a few days after, by a young friend, Joseph R. Mason, who accompanied me on my rambles. In the month of November 1829, I had the pleasure of meeting with another of the same species, about fifteen miles from the place above mentioned, and as it was near the house at which I was then on a visit, I refrained from killing it, in order to observe its habits. For several days, during which I occasionally saw it, it moved along the bars of the fences, with its tail generally erect, looking from the bar on which it stood towards the one next above, and caught spiders and other insects, as it ran along from one pannel of the fence to another in quick succession, now and then uttering a low twitter, the only sound which I heard it emit. It occasionally hopped sidewise, now with its head towards me, and again in the contrary direction, at times descending to the ground, to inspect the lowest bar, but only for a few moments. At other times, it would fly to a peach or apple-tree close to the fence, ascend to its top branches, always with hopping movements, and, as if about to sing, would for an instant raise its head, and lower its tail, but without giving utterance to any musical notes. It would then return to the fence, and continue its avocations as already described. I shot the bird, and have it preserved in spirits.

In shape, colour and movements, it nearly resembles the Great Carolina Wren, and forms a kind of link between that bird and the House Wren, an account of which you will find in this volume. It has not the quickness of motion, nor the liveliness, of either of these birds. Where it comes from, and whither it goes to breed, are quite unknown to me.

I have honoured this species with the name of Bewick, a person too well known for his admirable talents as an engraver on wood, and for his beautiful work on the Birds of Great Britain, to need any eulogy of mine. I enjoyed the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with that gentleman, and found him at all times a most agreeable, kind, and benevolent friend.

The little twig on which the Wren is perched, is from the tree commonly called the Iron-wood Tree, a species of Elm, the wood of which is very hard and of close texture. The branches, and sometimes the stem, are ornamented with longitudinal expansions, resembling cork in their nature, but much harder.

Troglodytes Bewickii.

Adult Male. Plate XVIII.

Bill nearly as long as the head, subulato-conical, acute, slightly arched, compressed. Mandibles of equal breadth, with acute margins, the gap line a little arched, and slightly deflected at the base. Nostrils basal, oval, half closed by a membrane. Feet longish, proportionally rather robust; tarsus anteriorly scutellate, compressed, acute behind, longer than the middle toe; toes free, scutellate above, the lateral ones nearly equal, the posterior long; claws slender, compressed, acute, arched, that of the hind toe much larger.

Plumage rather compact above, blended beneath. Wings short, very convex, rounded; first quill short, third and fourth longest. Tail erect, long, of ten feathers, much rounded, the outer feather not more than half the length of the middle one, all rounded at the end.

Bill blackish-brown above, pale blue beneath. Iris brown. Feet and claws pale brown. The general colour of the upper parts is rusty brown, that of the lower greyish-blue. Quills and wing-coverts barred with rusty brown and black, as are the two middle tail-feathers. Outer web of the lateral tail-feather, and the terminal portion of that of the others, whitish, barred with black, their middle parts black, toward the base barred with rusty brown. A line of pale brownish-yellow extending from the upper mandible, over the eye, to half way down the neck. The rump feathers white towards their base, with central spots.

Length 5 inches, extent of wings 6½; beak along the ridge ½, along the gap ⅔; tarsus 7/12, middle toe ½, hind toe 7/12.

The Iron-wood Tree, or Wahoo.

Ulmus alata, Pursh. Flor. Amer. vol. i. p. 200. Mich. Arbr. Forest, de I'Amer. Sept. vol. vi. p. 275. Pl. 5.—Pentandria Digynia, Linn. Amentaceæ, Juss.

Twigs winged on two opposite sides with a corky substance; leaves oblongo-oval, acute, nearly equal at the base; fruit downy and ciliated. This species of Elm occurs only in the Southern States, where it grows by the sides of rivers and in marshes. It attains a height of from thirty to forty feet.