The Wren

TO one of our most interesting little friends we now come. He may not sing like the plaintive Nightingale, nor the sprightly Lark, nor with the thrilling notes of the Thrush or Blackbird. He is not so shapely and beautiful as the Canary or Goldfinch; yet is he a most charming little fellow, and a favorite with all. The Wrens are a large family, for there are many varieties, some of which are to be found in almost every part of the known world. In various countries it differs a little as to size, plumage, and song; but all are alike in one pleasing particular, they are most active little creatures, no bird is more lively; indeed, you would call him altogether a restless fellow, scarcely ever still for a moment. They hop about on the ground with the greatest sprightliness; they have become celebrated, too, for their ability to creep through the thickest and most tangled brushwood you can possibly conceive of.
If hitherto you have not learned to distinguish him, a glance at our engraving will enable you to do so. He is the smallest of all our feathered tribe, and the manner in which he cocks his little tail, so different from all other birds, makes it manifest at a glance to what tribe he belongs. Nearly all other birds are content to let their tails hang gracefully down, but Master Wren has a very different notion; when hopping about he points his tail straight up in such a pert manner as almost to make him look impudent. Some of the foreign Wrens, as in America, are spoken of in the most rapturous manner by naturalists. The Carolina Wren is a little larger than his English cousin, but much like it in other respects.
“The quickness of the motions of this bird,” says one, “is fully equal to that of the mouse. Like the latter it appears and is out of sight in a moment; peeps into a crevice, passes rapidly through it, and is seen in a different place in the next instant. When satiated with food, or fatigued with these multiplied exertions, the little fellow stops, droops its tail, and sings with great energy a short ditty, something resembling the words, ‘Come to me, come to me,’ repeated several times in quick succession, so loud, and yet so mellow, that it is always agreeable to listen to its music. During spring these notes are heard from all parts of the plantations, the damp woods, the swamps, the sides of creeks and rivers, as well as from barns, stables, and piles of wood.” Another American naturalist speaks of its vocal powers as very fine, especially its ability to imitate the notes of other birds. "Amidst its imitations and variations, which seem almost endless, and lead the stranger to imagine himself, even in the depths of winter, surrounded by all the quaint choristers of the summer, there is still with our capricious and tuneful mimic a favorite theme, which I heard from him in the dreary month of January. This sweet and melodious ditty—tsee-toot, tsee-toot, tsee-toot, and sometimes tsee-toot, tsee-toot, tsee—was uttered in a plaintive or tender strain, varied at each repetition with the most delightful and varied tones, of which no conception can be formed without experience." This sentimental air has been not unnaturally translated by the young people of America into "sweetheart, sweetheart, sweet." "I shall never forget," says the same writer, "the soothing satisfaction and amusement I derived from this little constant and unwearied minstrel, my sole vocal companion through many weary miles of a vast, desolate, and otherwise dreary wilderness.”
Our own common Wren is not more than about four inches long, and about five inches broad. The upper portion of the body is reddish brown, streaked with pale black, the under side is paler, marked with undulating dark-brown lines; a brown check stripe passes across the eyes, and a narrow brownish white line above them. T. Rymer Jones says of its song, “It consists of a great variety of clear piping notes, intermingled with clear piping trills, and is poured out with an energy and power that appear really astonishing if we consider the small dimensions of the little singer. Throughout almost the entire year this cheerful music is to be heard; no inclemency of weather appears to daunt the brisk but diminutive vocalist, who carols forth his joyful anticipations of the coming spring, even when the snow-covered ground renders it impossible for him to procure a sufficient supply of food, and cold and want have completely silenced all his feathered companions.”
The food of the tiny Wren consists chiefly of insects and berries, and when cold and winter's snow cut off these, he will fearlessly venture into our houses and outbuildings, there, if possible, to procure a meal. Many tales are told about the Wren. A male bird was once observed to construct four nests before it took a partner. After it had found a mate, both worked together at three different nests, each in succession being left uncompleted, until at last the female, despairing of obtaining a place wherein to deposit her eggs, deserted her capricious spouse, who consoled himself by constructing two more nests, which, like the rest, were never employed.
They are not particular as to the material with which they build their nests; whatever happens to be nigh at hand is turned to purpose. If built near a haystack, hay is used; if moss is plentiful, that is utilized. Sometimes in building, one bird confines itself to the construction of the nest, which it never leaves for a moment, whilst the other, incessantly passing and repassing, supplies the materials for the structure. These materials, however, this helper never once attempts to put into their places, but always delivers them to the principal architect engaged in constructing the building. "I know not," says a writer, "a more pleasant object to look at than the Wren; it is always so smart and cheerful, to it all weathers are alike. The big drops of a thunder shower no more wet it than the drizzle of a Scotch mist; and as it peeps from beneath a bramble, or glances from a hole in the wall, it seems as snug as a kitten frisking on the parlor rug.”
The Wren is a prolific bird, the female often laying as many as eight eggs in number, and it is a common thing to have two broods in the summer. Both male and female take their turn at sitting, which lasts for thirteen days. They are said to be very cleanly as to their nests, and most attentive and diligent in feeding their numerous family.
Pennant, an old writer on birds, tells us that the Wren will lay from ten to eighteen eggs at a sitting, and as often brings up as many young. How wonderful this is! Only think of two such tiny things having eighteen mouths to fill, and each one must have something at least every hour in the day, and not one is overlooked! Ah, little Wren, no wonder you are so quick, and hop about with such activity, you have a great work to do.
There is an old and a nice little story about the Wren, which I must tell you before I close.
But then, remember, it is a fable, and made up by some old philosopher, to teach that little creatures are sometimes wiser than great ones.
For many hundred years the Wren has been called Regulus, in the Latin tongue, which means a little king, and the fable is to account for its first getting this remarkable name. "Once upon a time, the birds agreed that they should like one to be king over all the rest. But how should they decide who was worthy of the honor? They settled at last that the one who could soar the highest should be their king. So the Swallow started forth, and with its rapid wing it wheeled round and round in endless circles, but it could not soar into the sky; and the Lark rose higher and higher, but it could not breathe in that cold upper air. But the Eagle—that was his natural home. He mounted up as if he never meant to come back to earth. There was no question about it; do what they would, it was plain the Eagle must be king, and none besides. Just as they were about, then, to salute the Eagle as king of birds, the little golden-crested Wren popped up his head and put in his claim. Where had he come from? Why, he was so small, he had perched himself on the Eagle's tail, and nobody had seen him; and so light, the great bird had never felt his weight. So he had soared all the time with the Eagle, and been just as high as he had. The other birds shook their heads gravely, but they could say nothing against such a cunning little fellow. And thus it came to pass that the smallest bird and the largest were each honored with the title of, king. And the little gold crest deserves it too; for, with his golden crown upon his head, he tells us that in this world there is room for the small as well as the great; nay, that God's power is even more shown in the perfectness of the small than in the majesty of the large.”
With the following beautiful verses, by one who loved a Wren, which for many years had its nest in his garden, I must close my story about this charming little bird.
Little warbler! long hast thou
Perched beneath you spreading bough;
Snug beneath you ivied tree,—
Thy mossy nest I yearly see,
Safe from all thy peace annoys—
Claws of cats and cruel boys.
We often hear thy chit-chat song
Call thy tiny brood along;
While, in her nest, or on a spray,
The throstle charms us with her lay.
Little warbler! cheerful wren!
Spring-time's come, and thou again;
Little warbler! thou like me,
Delight'st in home and harmless glee;
What of peace is to be found
Circles all thy dwelling round;
Here with love beneath the shade
Thy tranquil happiness is made.