BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND AND EASTERN NEW YORK - HOFFMANN

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WRENS: FAMILY TROGLODYTIDÆ

Five species of Wren occur in New York and New England. The two Marsh Wrens are found only in extensive marshes or wet grassy meadows. The Great Carolina Wren is not regularly found north of southern Connecticut. The House Wren, though local, is fairly common from Massachusetts southward, and occurs here and there in northern New England. The Winter Wren is a common summer resident of the moist forests of northern New York and New England, and occurs elsewhere as a migrant. Wrens are noisy and active, but secretive birds, concealing themselves in tall grass, brush heaps, or stone walls. They often cock their tails over their backs. They are all rather small and of a nearly uniform brown color.

LONG-BILLED MARSH WREN [MARSH WREN]. Telmatodytes palustris [Cistothorus palustris]
5.20 in.

Ad.— Head blackish-brown, unstreaked; middle of back blackish, spotted with white; rest of back, wings, and tail brown; tail barred with black; line over eye white; underparts white; only the sides washed with buff.

Nest, globular, with the opening at the side; made of grasses or cat-tails, and fastened to the stalks of cat-tails or to the stems of bushes. Eggs, chocolate-brown, spotted with darker brown at the larger end.

The Long-billed Marsh Wren is a common summer resident of the tidal marshes from Staten Island to eastern Massachusetts. It is also common near the coast in extensive cat-tail marshes along sluggish streams, as at Wayland, Mass., but in the interior of New England it is rare or absent, except along the valley of the Connecticut River, where it occurs as far north as Springfield. The Wrens arrive early in May and remain into October. A few even spend the winter in thick tangles of cat-tails near the coast. In the tidal marshes they frequent the ditches, and nest in the high-tide bushes (Iva).

The Wrens sing all day and through much of the night, often flying up over the cat-tails or grass, and singing as they descend. In making their way through cat-tails, they grasp the stalks with their strong feet, often standing with each foot on a separate stalk and their tails cocked over their backs so far that the white under tail-coverts show. When disturbed, they often show themselves only for a moment, and then disappear into the rushes, where they keep up a harsh scolding, or when reassured, pour out again their rapid, bubbling song. The alarm-note is an energetic tschuk. The nest is made of the stalks of cat-tails bent into a globular shape and fastened to cat-tails or to high-tide bushes.

It is lined with the soft down from the cat-tail head, and is entered through an opening at the side. The nest that contains the eggs is often a shabby-looking affair, made of old brown stalks, while all about are empty nests of fresh green cat-tails. These are busily woven by the male — why, no one knows.

[graphic]

Long-billed Marsh Wren



The white line over the eye, the blackish, unstreaked head, and the black patch on the upper back distinguish this wren from the following species.



SHORT-BILLED MARSH WREN [SEDGE WREN]. Cistothorus stellaris
4.00 in.

Ad.— Upper parts, brown, streaked with black and white; lower parts buffy, especially on the sides; no distinct line over eye.

Nest, globular, with the opening at the side; made of grasses bent over and fastened to the stalks of stout grass, on or near the ground. Eggs, white, generally unspotted.

The Short-billed Marsh Wren is a somewhat rare and local summer resident throughout southern and central New England and New York. It arrives in May and stays through September. While the Long-billed Marsh Wren lives among cat-tails, the Short-billed prefers the sedgy meadows that border sluggish freshwater brooks or rivers. If the meadows are extensive, there may be hundreds in a colony, or it may consist of only a pair or two. A few have been found as far north as Dublin, N. H., and several large colonies in Berkshire County, Mass. The bird is common in the Purgatory Meadows at Norwood, Mass., and in the marshes bordering the Sudbury at Wayland, Mass.

[graphic]

Short-billed Marsh Wren


While the song of the Long-billed Marsh Wren resembles the House Wren's in its volubility, that of the Short-billed Marsh Wren suggests rather some species of sparrow. It may be represented by the syllables tsip tsip tsip tsipper tsipper tsipper, the first two or three notes staccato, the rest running rapidly down the scale. The call-note is like the opening note of the song.

The bird clings to the grass stalks in the same attitude as its relative, with tail cocked over its back, but it may be distinguished by the absence of a white line over the eye, and by its streaked head and upper back, which lacks the black patch.




WINTER WREN. Olbiorchilus hiemalis [Troglodytes hiemalis]
4.06 in.

Ad.— Upper parts deep brown; line over eye pale brown or light tawny; wings and tail crossed with narrow dark bars; under parts brownish or tawny, lighter than upper parts, but barred with blackish and white, and darker than in following species; tail less than 1 in. long.

Nest, on the ground, often under the roots of an overturned tree. Eggs, often six or seven, white, speckled with reddish-brown.

The Winter Wren is a common summer resident of the Canadian Zone (see map), a rare winter visitant in southern New England, and a not uncommon winter visitant in the lower Hudson Valley. It passes north in April, and returns in September and early October, but it is rarer as a migrant than its abundance in the north leads one to expect. In winter and on migration it frequents brush heaps, stone walls, or fallen trees, particularly along the banks of woodland streams. It seldom sings while migrating. It breeds rarely in deep-wooded swamps on the upland of Worcester and Berkshire counties in Massachusetts, and in southern Vermont and New Hampshire, but as soon as one enters the damp forests of Mount Greylock in Massachusetts, the Catskills, and the higher mountains of northern New York and New England, the song of the Winter Wren becomes one of the characteristic summer sounds; it is as if the bird had been uncorked, Thoreau said, and the song left running.

The song is long and high, in two equally balanced parts, the first ending in a contralto trill, the second in a very high trill; after a little interval the song is repeated or answered. The Wren sings either from some high dead stub, or from the mossy logs over which it creeps in search of food. When alarmed on the breeding-ground, the bird utters a sound like the syllables crrrrip, and at other times a sharp chick, very like a note of the Song Sparrow, but quickly repeated. It has also a fashion of bobbing or curtsying when observed. When searching for food, it seems often to skip, rather than to fly, from one log to the next.

To distinguish a Winter Wren from a House Wren is a difficult matter. Except in September, however, the two will rarely occur together. The House Wren is nearly an inch longer, and much of the additional length is in the tail; its under parts are lighter, and it is likely even in the fall to utter its grating scolding-note. The Winter Wren utters a chick of surprise, and generally bobs or curtsies; this bobbing action will identify it at once. The Winter Wren has a light line over the eye, which the House Wren lacks, but the line is often rather indistinct, and especially difficult to see clearly on such an active and secretive bird.


HOUSE WREN. Troglodytes aëdon

5.00 in.

Ad.— Upper parts warm brown; wings and tail faintly barred with black; under parts grayish, the flanks faintly barred with bill long, slender; tail more than 1 1/2 in. long.

Nest, of sticks, etc., in a hole in a tree or box. Eggs, sometimes as many as eight, thickly speckled with pinkish-brown.

The House Wren is a common summer resident in most of New England and the lower Hudson Valley, but it is a local bird, and may be wholly absent from certain regions. It is rare in northern New England, and confined to the Transition Zone. Occasionally it is found nesting in dead trees in the burnt tracts away from the settlements, but as a rule any wren seen in the forests of northern New England is a Winter Wren. The House Wren arrives late in April, or early in May, and stays till October. It frequents apple orchards, or the yards about houses. Its small size, brown, unstreaked upper parts, and its pert ways readily distinguish it from other small birds. It often cocks its tail over its back, especially when scolding an intruder. When it sings, it holds its tail pointed downward.

The House Wren's song is a vigorous, bubbling performance, the notes following each other very rapidly. Its scolding-note is a harsh grating chatter, often uttered by the bird from its hiding-place in a stone wall or a brush heap, into and out of which it slips with the ease of a mouse. (See preceding species.)


CAROLINA WREN. Thryothorus ludovicianus

5.50 in.

Ad.— Upper parts rich reddish-brown; line over eye whitish; throat white; breast and belly washed with buff.

Nest, bulky, of sticks, etc., in a hole in a tree or in some cavity about buildings. Eggs, whitish, speckled about the larger end with reddish-brown.

The Carolina Wren is a very rare permanent resident of southern Rhode Island and southern Connecticut, and a rather common summer resident of the eastern slope of the Palisades; it occasionally wanders into Massachusetts. The bird's favorite haunts are brushy tangles. If a male is anywhere about he can hardly be overlooked; he is a constant singer,even in winter, and his song is so loud and clear that it can be heard easily a quarter of a mile away. It consists of short phrases of from two to four notes repeated again and again in a loud clear whistle. These phrases vary greatly; some of the common forms may be written twip'pity, twip'pity; whiddy you', whiddy you' whiddy you'; thrilou, thri'ou, thrilou. Certain phrases suggest notes both of the Cardinal and the Tufted Tit; a beginner should make a careful study of the notes of these three species. The alarm-note is a rather smooth peurr.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren


A Carolina Wren is easily recognized by its wren-like behavior, by the rich brown of its upper parts, and by the conspicuous whitish line over its eye.


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