THE HOUSE WREN.
Troglodytes ædon, Vieill.
PLATE LXXXIII. Male, Female, and Young.
Although Louisiana is supplied with thousands of the Great Carolina Wren, not a single individual of the present species is ever to be found there. It appears, indeed, that the central districts of our Atlantic coasts are their principal places of resort, probably because certain portions of the country are intended to be occupied by different species of the same genus. Thus, I think it highly probable that the Great Carolina Wren has been intended for the Southern Districts, the House Wren for the Middle States, Bewick's Long-tailed Wren for the regions of the Rocky Mountains, and the Little Wren for our north-eastern territories, along the St Lawrence, although it also breeds in the State of New York, and even in that of Pennsylvania, where I have found it in the Great Pine Swamp. I am induced to think that a fifth species of Wren will yet be found within the limits of the United States. From this arrangement I exclude the bird called the Marsh Wren, which more properly belongs to the genus Certhia. But, as I have already said, I leave all these matters to be discussed by the system-makers.
The opinion expressed by a former writer, that the House Wren occurs in the United States, is as incorrect as the assertion of a subsequent author, that the Florida Jay is met with on the Mississippi and Ohio. During a residence of twenty years in the different States through which these great streams pass, I never saw either the one or the other of these birds. These are errors, however, which are to be attributed to the circumstance that one of the writers alluded to never visited the Southern or Western States, while the other merely passed once through them.
From whence the House Wren comes, or to what parts it retires during winter, is more than I have been able to ascertain. Although it is extremely abundant in the States of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland, from the middle of April until the beginning of October, I have never been able to trace its motions, nor do I know of any naturalist in our own country, or indeed in any other, who has been more fortunate.
Its flight is short, generally low, and performed by a constant tremor of the wings, without any jerks of either the body or tail, although the latter is generally seen erect, unless when the bird is singing, when it is always depressed. When passing from one place to another, during the love-season, or whilst its mate is sitting, this sweet little bird flutters still more slowly through the air, singing all the while. It is sprightly, active, vigilant, and courageous. It delights in being near and about the gardens, orchards, and the habitations of man, and is frequently found in abundance in the very centre of our eastern cities, where many little boxes are put up against the walls of houses, or the trunks of trees, for its accommodation, as is also done in the country. In these it nestles and rears its young. It is seldom, however, at a loss for a breeding place, it being satisfied with any crevice or hole in the walls, the sill of a window, the eaves, the stable, the barn, or the upper side of a piece of timber, under the roof of a piazza. Now and then, its nest may be seen in the hollow branch of an apple tree. I knew of one in the pocket of an old broken-down carriage, and many in such an old hat as you see represented in the plate, which, if not already before you, I hope you will procure, and look at the little creatures anxiously peeping out or hanging to the side of the hat, to meet their mother, which has just arrived with a spider, whilst the male is on the lookout, ready to interpose should any intruder come near. The same nest is often resorted to for several successive years, merely receiving a little mending.
The familiarity of the House Wren is extremely pleasing. In Pennsylvania a pair of these birds had formed a nest, and the female was sitting in a hole of the wall, within a few inches of my (literally so-called) drawing-room. The male was continually singing within a few feet of my wife and myself, whilst I was engaged in portraying birds of other species. When the window was open, its company was extremely agreeable, as was its little song, which continually reminded us of its happy life. It would now and then dive into the garden at the foot of the window, procure food for its mate, return and creep into the hole where it had its nest, and be off again in a moment. Having procured some flies and spiders, I now and then threw some of them towards him, when he would seize them with great alacrity, eat some himself, and carry the rest to his mate. In this manner, it became daily more acquainted with us, entered the room, and once or twice sang whilst there. One morning I took it in to draw its portrait, and suddenly closing the window, easily caught it, held it in my hand, and finished its likeness, after which I restored it to liberty. This, however, made it more cautious, and it never again ventured within the window, although it sang and looked at us as at first. It is it which you see placed on the hat.
The antipathy which the House Wren shews to cats is extreme. Although it does not attack puss, it follows and scolds her until she is out of sight. In the same manner, it makes war on the Martin, the Blue Bird and the House Swallow, the nest of any of which it does not scruple to appropriate to itself, whenever occasion offers. Its own nest is formed of dry crooked twigs, so interwoven as scarcely to admit entrance to any other bird. Within this outer frame-work grasses are arranged in a circular manner, and the whole is warmly lined with feathers and other equally soft materials. The eggs are five or six, of a regularly oval form, and uniform pale reddish colour. Two broods are raised in the season.
The male seems to delight in attempting to surpass in vocal powers others of his species, during the time of incubation; and is frequently seen within sight of another, straining his little throat, and gently turning his body from side to side, as if pivoted on the upper joints of his legs. For a moment he conceives the musical powers of his rival superior to his own, and darts towards him, when a battle ensues, which over, he immediately resumes his song, whether he has been the conqueror or not.
When the young issue from the nest, it is interesting to see them follow the parents amongst the currant bushes in the gardens, like so many mice, hopping from twig to twig, throwing their tail upwards, and putting their bodies into a hundred different positions, all studied from the parents, whilst the latter are heard scolding, even without cause, but as if to prevent the approach of enemies, so anxious are they for the safety of their progeny. They leave Pennsylvania about the 1st of October.
Troglodytes ædon, Ch. Bonaparte, Synops. of Birds of the United States, p. 92.
House Wren, Sylvia domestica, Wils. Amer. Ornith. voL i. p. 129, Pl. 8, fig. 3.
Adult Male. Plate LXXXIII. Fig. 1.
Bill of ordinary length, nearly straight, slender, acute, subtrigonal at the base, compressed towards the tip; upper mandible with the ridge obtuse, the sides convex towards the end, concave at the base, the edges acute and overlapping; under mandible with the back and sides convex. Nostrils oblong, straight, basal, with a cartilaginous lid above, open and bare. Head ovate, eyes of moderate size, neck of ordinary length, body ovate, nearly equal in breadth and depth. Legs of ordinary length; tarsus longer then the middle toe, compressed, covered anteriorly with six scutella, posteriorly with a long plate forming an acute angle. Toes scutellate above, inferiorly granulate, second and fourth nearly equal, the hind toe almost equal to the middle one, third and fourth united as far as the second joint; claws long, slender, acute, arcuate, much compressed.
Plumage soft, tufty, slightly glossed. No bristly feathers about the beak. Wings shortish, broad, rounded: first quill half the length of the second, which is very little shorter than the third and fourth. Tail of ordinary length, of twelve narrow, lax feathers.
Bill dark brown above, yellowish-brown beneath. Iris hazel. Feet flesh-colour. The general colour of the upper parts is reddish-brown, darker on the head, brighter on the tail-coverts, indistinctly barred with dark brown; wings and tail undulatingly banded, tips of the larger wing-coverts whitish. A yellowish-grey line from the upper mandible over the eye; cheeks of the same colour, mottled with brownish-red. Under parts brownish-grey; sides barred with brown, as are the under tail-coverts.
Length 4½ inches, extent of wings 5½; bill along the ridge ½, along the gap ¾; tarsus ⅔, middle toe 7⁄12.
Adult Female. Plate LXXXIII. Fig. 2.
The female scarcely differs from the male in external appearance.
Young Birds. Plate LXXXIII. Fig. 3.
The young are of a lighter brown, more indistinctly barred, but resemble the old birds in the general distribution of their colouring.
This species differs from the Winter Wren, chiefly in having the bill a little stouter, the tail considerably longer, and the under parts less distinctly barred.