Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
TROGLODYTES HYEMALIS, Vieill.
PLATE CXXI.--MALE, FEMALE, AND YOUNG.
The extent of the migratory movements of this diminutive bird, is certainly
the most remarkable fact connected with its history. At the approach of winter
it leaves its northern retreats, perhaps in Labrador or Newfoundland, crosses
the inlets of the Gulf of St. Lawrence on tiny concave wings, and betakes itself
to warmer regions, where it remains until the beginning of spring. Playfully
and with alacrity it performs the task, hopping from one stump or fallen log to
another, flitting from twig to twig, from bush to bush, here and there flying a
few yards; feeding, singing, and bustling on, as if quite careless as to time or
distance. It has reached the shore of some broad stream, and here a person
ignorant of its habits might suppose it would be stopped; but no, it spreads its
wings, and glides over like a meteor.
I have found the Winter Wren in the lower parts of Louisiana, and in the
Floridas, in December and January, but never saw one there after the end of the
latter month. Their stay in those parts rarely exceeds three months; two more
are employed in forming a nest and rearing their broods; and as they leave
Labrador by the middle of August at the latest, they probably spend more than
half of the year in travelling. It would be interesting to know whether those
which breed along the Columbia river, near the Pacific Ocean, visit the shores
of our Atlantic States. My friend THOMAS NUTTALL informs me that he
occasionally saw the Winter Wren feeding its young in the woods, along the
At Eastport, in Maine, when on my way to Labrador, I found this species in
full song, and extremely abundant, although the air was chill, and icicles hung
from every rock, it being then the 9th of May. On the 11th of June, I found it
equally plentiful in the Magdeleine Islands, and wondered how it could have made
its way there, but was assured by the inhabitants that none were ever seen in
winter. On the 20th of July, I met with it at Labrador, and again asked myself,
how it could possibly have reached those remote and rugged shores? Was it by
following the course of the St. Lawrence, or by flying from one island to
another across the Gulf? I have seen it in almost every State of the Union, but
only twice found it breeding there, once near the Mohawk river in New York, and
again in the Great Pine Swamp in Pennsylvania. It breeds abundantly in Maine,
and probably in Massachusetts, but few spend the winter even in the latter
The song of the Winter Wren excels that of any other bird of its size with
which I am acquainted. It is truly musical, full of cadence, energetic, and
melodious; its very continuance is surprising, and dull indeed must be the ear
that thrills not on hearing it. When emitted, as it often is, from the dark
depths of the unwholesome swamp, it operates so powerfully on the mind, that it
by contrast inspires a feeling of wonder and delight, and on such occasions has
usually impressed me with a sense of the goodness of the Almighty Creator, who
has rendered every spot of earth in some way subservient to the welfare of his
Once when travelling through a portion of the most gloomy part of a thick
and tangled wood, in the Great Pine Forest, not far from Mauch Chunk in
Pennsylvania, at a time when I was intent on guarding myself against the
venomous reptiles which I expected to encounter, the sweet song of this Wren
came suddenly on my ear, and with so cheering an effect, that I instantly lost
all apprehension of danger, and pressed forward through the rank briars and
stiff laurels, in pursuit of the bird, which I hoped was not far from its nest.
But he, as if bent on puzzling me, rambled here and there among the thickest
bushes with uncommon cunning, now singing in one spot not far distant, and
presently in another in a different direction. After much exertion and
considerable fatigue, I at last saw it alight on the side of a large tree, close
to the roots, and heard it warble a few notes, which I thought exceeded any it
had previously uttered. Suddenly another Wren appeared by its side, but darted
off in a moment, and the bird itself which I had followed disappeared. I soon
reached the spot, without having for an instant removed my eyes from it, and
observed a protuberance covered with moss and lichens, resembling those
excrescences which are often seen on our forest trees, with this difference,
that the aperture was perfectly rounded, clean, and quite smooth. I put a finer
into it, and felt the pecking of a bird's bill, while a querulous cry was
emitted. In a word, I had, the first time in my life, found the nest of our
Winter Wren. Having gently forced the tenant from his premises, I drew out the
eggs with a sort of scoop which I formed. I expected to find them numerous, but
there were not more than six, and the same number I afterwards found in the only
other nest of this species ever discovered by me. The little bird called upon
its mate, and their united clamour induced me to determine upon leaving their
treasures with them; but just as I was about going off, it struck me that I
ought to take a description of the nest, as I might not again have such an
opportunity. I hope, reader, you will believe, that when I resolved to
sacrifice this nest, it was quite as much on your account as my own. Externally
it measured seven inches in length, four and a half in breadth; the thickness of
its walls, composed of moss and lichen, was nearly two inches; and thus it
presented internally the appearance of a narrow bag, the wall, however, being
reduced to a few lines where it was in contact with the bark of the tree. The
lower half of the cavity was compactly lined with the fur of the American Hare,
and in the bottom or bed of the nest there lay over this about half a dozen of
the large downy abdominal feathers of our Common Grouse, Tetrao Umbellus. The
eggs were of a delicate blush-colour, somewhat resembling the paler leaves of a
partially decayed rose, and marked with dots of reddish-brown, more numerous
towards the larger end.
The nest which I found near the Mohawk was discovered by mere accident.
One day in the beginning of June, and about noon, feeling fatigued, I sat down
on a rock overhanging the water, where, while resting, I might have the pleasure
of watching the motions of some fishes in sight. The damp of the place produced
a sudden chillness, and caused me to sneeze aloud, when from beneath my feet
there flew off a Winter Wren. The nest, which I soon found, was attached to the
lower parts of the rock, and presented the same form and structure as that
already described; but it was smaller, the eggs, six in number, contained young
The motions of this interesting bird are performed with great rapidity and
decision. While searching for food it hops, creeps, and leaps about from one
spot to another, as if it derived pleasure from exercise. At each movement it
bends its breast downward, so as almost to touch the object on which it stands,
and by a sudden extension of its strong feet, aided by the action of its half
drooping concave wings, jerks itself forward, keeping its tail elevated all the
while. Now through a hollow log it passes like a mouse, now it clings to the
surface in various attitudes, suddenly disappears, but presently shews itself by
your side; at times it chirrups in a querulous rolling tone, then emits single
clear sharp chirps resembling the syllables tshick, tshick, and again remains
silent for a time. It will now and then reach the upper branches of a small
tree or a bush, by hopping and leaping from twig to twig; in the course of this
transit it will present its opposite sides to you a score of times; and when at
length it has gained the summit, it will salute you with its delicate melody,
and then dash headlong and be out of sight in a moment. This is almost
constantly observed during the spring season, when more than ever its alertness
is displayed. On all such occasions, however, whilst in the act of singing, its
tail is seen to be depressed. In winter, when it takes possession of the
wood-pile, close to the husbandman's dwelling, it will challenge the cat in
querulous tones, and peeping out here and there, as it frisks in security, wear
out Grimalkin's patience.
The food of the Winter Wren consists chiefly of spiders, caterpillars, and
small moths, as well as larvae. Towards autumn it eats small juicy berries.
Having lately spent a winter at Charleston, in South Carolina, with my
worthy friend JOHN BACHMAN, I observed that this little Wren made its appearance
in that city and its suburbs in December. On the 1st of January I heard it in
full song in the garden of my friend, who informed me that in that State it does
not appear regularly every winter, but is sure to be found during very cold
The Winter Wren so closely resembles the European Wren, that I was long
persuaded of their identity; but a careful comparison of a great number of
specimens, has convinced me that permanent differences in colouring may be
pointed out, although still I am not by any means persuaded that they are
WINTER WREN, Sylvia Troglodytes, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. i. p. 139.
TROGLODYTES EUROPAEUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 93.
TROGLODYTES HYEMALIS, Winter Wren, Swains. & Rich. F. Bor. Amer., vol. ii.p. 318.
WINTER WREN, Troglodytes hyemalis, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 427.
WINTER WREN, Troglodytes hyemalis, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iv. p. 430.
Bill rather long, slender, tapering, acute, nearly straight, subtrigonal at
the base, compressed towards the end. Upper mandible with the dorsal outline
slightly arched, the ridge narrow, the sides sloping at the base, towards the
end slightly convex and erect, the edges sharp, direct, without notae; lower
mandible with the angle narrow and rather acute, the dorsal outline straight,
the back narrow, the edges sharp and inflected, the tip very narrow; the
gape-line very slightly arched. Nostrils linear-oblong, basal.
Head ovate, of moderate size, neck short; body ovate. Feet of ordinary
length; tarsus compressed, with seven anterior scutella, of which the upper are
indistinct; toes rather large, compressed; first large, and much longer than the
two lateral, which are equal, the third much longer; the third and fourth
coherent as far as the second joint of the latter. Claws long, arched,
extremely compressed, laterally grooved, acute.
Plumage soft and blended; no bristle-feathers at the base of the bill.
Wing shortish, broad, much rounded; first quill very small, being little more
than half the length of the second, which is 2 1/4 twelfths shorter than the
third; the fourth longest, and exceeding the third by half a twelfth, and the
fourth by somewhat less; secondaries long rounded. Tail short much rounded, of
twelve slightly arched, weak rounded feathers.
Bill dusky brown, with the basal edges of the upper and two-thirds of the
lower mandible paler. Iris brown. Tarsi and toes pale greenish-brown, as are
the claws. The general colour of the upper parts is reddish-brown, darker on
the bead, brighter on the tail-coverts, quills, and tail. There is a white spot
near the tips of the posterior dorsal feathers. The secondary coverts, and the
first small coverts, have each a white spot at the tip. The wing-coverts and
quills banded with blackish-brown and brownish-red, the bands of the latter
colour becoming reddish-white on the outer five quills. Tail with twelve
dusky-bands. The dorsal feathers and scapulars are more faintly barred in the
same manner. A brownish-white band from the upper mandible over the eye; the
cheeks brown, spotted with brownish-white, the margins of the feathers being of
the former colour; the lower parts pale reddish-brown, the sides and abdomen
barred with brownish-black and greyish-white; the fore neck and breast more
faintly barred; the lower wing-coverts and axillars greyish-white, barred with
dusky; the lower tail-coverts brownish-red, barred with dusky and having the tip
Length to end of tail 3 7/8 inches, to end of wings 3 1/8, to end of claws
4 3/8; extent of wings 6 (1 1/2)/8; wing from flexure 1 7/8; tail 1 5/12; bill
along the ridge 5/12; tarsus 8/12; hind toe 4/12, its claw 4/12; middle toe
6/12, its claw (2 3/4)/12. Weight 6 dr.
The female is somewhat smaller than the male.
Length to end of tail 3 5/8 inches, to end of wings 3, to end of claws
4 2/8; extent of wings 5 3/8; wing from flexure 1 7/8; tail 1 4/12. Weight
Young in autumn.
The upper parts are much darker than in the adult; the lower parts of a
Length to end of tail 3 1/2 inches, to end of wings 3 1/8, to end of claws
4 1/8; extent of wings 5 3/8; wing from flexure 1 (5 1/2)/8.
The young bird just ready to fly, has the bill bright yellow, excepting the
ridge of the upper mandible, which is brown; the feet yellowish-brown. The
upper parts are reddish-brown, faintly barred with dusky; the wings as in the
adult, but the secondary coverts with only a very small dull white spot at the
tip, and the first row of coverts with a line of the same colour along the
shaft. The lower parts are dull greyish-brown, with the terminal margin of each
feather darker, and the sides and hind parts barred with dusky.