1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wren
WREN (O. Eng. wrǽnna, Mid. Eng. wrenne; Icel. rindill), the popular name of the birds of the Passerine family Troglodytidae, of which the best known example is Troglodytes parvulus, the little brown bird—with its short tail, cocked on high—inquisitive and familiar, that braves the winter of the British Islands, and even that of the European continent. Great interest is taken in this bird throughout all European countries, and, though in Britain comparatively few vernacular names have been applied to it, two of them—“jenny” or “kitty-wren”—are terms of endearment. M. Rolland records no fewer than 139 local names for it in France; and Italy, Germany and other lands are only less prolific. Many of these carry on the old belief that the wren was the king of birds, a belief connected with the fable that once the fowls of the air resolved to choose for their leader that one of them that should mount highest. This the eagle seemed to do, and all were ready to accept his rule, when a loud burst of song were heard, and perched upon him was seen the wren, which unseen had been borne aloft by the giant. The curious association of this bird with the Feast of Three Kings, on which day in S. Wales, or, in Ireland and in the S. of France, on or about Christmas Day, men and boys used to “hunt the wren,” addressing it in a song as “the king of birds,” is remarkable.
The better known forms in the United States are the house-wren, common in the eastern states; the winter-wren, remarkable for its resonant and brilliant song; the Carolina-wren, also a fine singer, and the marsh-wren, besides the cactus wrens and the cañon-wrens of the western states.
Wrens have the bill slender and somewhat arched: their food consists of insects, larvae and spiders, but they will also take any small creatures, such as worms and snails, and occasionally eat seeds. The note is shrill. The nest is usually a domed structure of ferns, grass, moss and leaves, lined with hair or feathers, and from three to nine eggs are produced, in most of the species white.
The headquarters of the wrens are in tropical America, but they reach Greenland in the N. and the Falkland Islands in the S. Some genera are confined to the hills of tropical Asia, but Troglodytes, the best known, ranges over N. and S. America, Asia and Europe.
The Troglodytidae by no means contains all the birds to which the name “wren” is applied. Several of the Sylviinae (cf. Warbler) bear it, especially the beautiful little golden-crested wren (cf. Kinglet) and the group commonly known in Britain as “willow-wrens”—forming the genus Phylloscopus. Three of these are habitual summer-visitants. The largest, usually called the wood-wren, P. sibilatrix, is more abundant in the N. than in the S. of England, and chiefly frequents woods of oak or beech. It has a loud and peculiar song, like the word twēē, sounded very long, and repeated at first slowly, but more afterwards more quickly, while at uncertain intervals comes another note, which has been syllabled as chea, uttered about three times in succession. The willow-wren proper, P. trochilus, is in many parts of Great Britain the commonest summer-bird, and is the most generally dispersed. The third species, P. collybita or minor (frequently but most wrongly called Sylvia rufa or P. rufus), commonly known as the chiffchaff, from the peculiarity of its constantly repeated two-noted cry, is very numerous in the S. and W. of England, but seems to be scarcer N. These three species make their nest upon or very close to the ground, and the building is always domed. Hence they are commonly called “oven-birds,” and occasionally, from the grass used in their structure, “hay-jacks,” a name common to the white-throat (q.v.) and its allies. (A. N.)