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The Winter Wren
by [?]

An old hemlock wood at the head waters of the Delaware is a chosen haunt of the winter wren. His voice fills these dim aisles, as if aided by some marvelous sounding-board. Indeed, his song is very strong for so small a bird, and unites in a remarkable degree brilliancy and plaintiveness. I think of a tremulous, vibrating tongue of silver. You may know it is the song of a wren from its gushing, lyrical character; but you must needs look sharp to see the little minstrel, especially while in the act of singing. He is nearly the color of the ground and the leaves; he never ascends the tall trees, but keeps low, flitting from stump to stump and from root to root, dodging in and out of his hiding-places, and watching all intruders with a suspicious eye. He has a very pert, almost comical look. His tail stands more than perpendicular: it points straight toward his head. He is the least ostentatious singer I know of. He does not strike an attitude, and lift up his head in preparation, and, as it were, clear his throat; but sits there on a log and pours out his music, looking straight before him, or even down at the ground. As a songster, he has but few superiors. I do not hear him after the first week in July.

The winter wren is so called because he sometimes braves our northern winters, but it is rarely that one sees him at this season. I think I have seen him only two or three times in winter in my life. The event of one long walk, recently, in February, was seeing one of these birds. As I followed a byroad, beside a little creek in the edge of a wood, my eye caught a glimpse of a small brown bird darting under a stone bridge. I thought to myself no bird but a wren would take refuge under so small a bridge as that. I stepped down upon it and expected to see the bird dart out at the upper end. As it did not appear, I scrutinized the bank of the little run, covered with logs and brush, a few rods farther up.

Presently I saw the wren curtsying and gesticulating beneath an old log. As I approached he disappeared beneath some loose stones in the bank, then came out again and took another peep at me, then fidgeted about for a moment and disappeared again, running in and out of the holes and recesses and beneath the rubbish like a mouse or a chipmunk. The winter wren may always be known by these squatting, bobbing-out-and-in habits.

As I sought a still closer view of him, he flitted stealthily a few yards up the run and disappeared beneath a small plank bridge near a house.

I wondered what he could feed upon at such a time. There was a light skim of snow upon the ground, and the weather was cold. The wren, so far as I know, is entirely an insect-feeder, and where can he find insects in midwinter in our climate? Probably by searching under bridges, under brush-heaps, in holes and cavities in banks where the sun falls warm. In such places he may find dormant spiders and flies and other hibernating insects or their larvæ. We have a tiny, mosquito-like creature that comes forth in March or in midwinter, as soon as the temperature is a little above freezing. One may see them performing their fantastic air-dances when the air is so chilly that one buttons his overcoat about him in his walk. They are darker than the mosquito,–a sort of dark water-color,–and are very frail to the touch. Maybe the wren knows the hiding-place of these insects.