All of my bird photography this last week has been of the backyard yard variety. No matter. Miss Suzanne and my buddy Joe the Bird Whistler were up visiting over the weekend and with those two nature lovers in the house the combined aura was sure to attract the new and unusual to my Pine River digs.
Suzanne and I have a lovely daughter who thoughtfully presented me with a birdhouse last Christmas. It has been hanging on a shepherd's hook next to the high bank along the riverside. This weekend we noticed a commotion in and around it's confines and after a quick flip through the field guide I learned that we had a pair of House wrens (Troglodytes aedon), setting up housekeeping.
Thunder showers and leaden skies have been the order of the week and I have sought birds that would sit still and frequent regular perches. My ISO stayed locked on 400 and shutter speeds hung in there around 1/250 seconds at best. In these dismal conditions we could not have picked a more entertaining pair of birds to study. Every twig and stick flown in to begin the nest building ritual was accompanied by a remarkably loud and melodic virtuosity. For a "little brown job" the House wren's bustling energy and charming sing song performances easily trumped May's other early arrivals even with their flashier neon plumage.
We welcomed the little devil into our hearts.
Observe please the unspectacular profile of the wren. Once upon a time, back a hundred years, people built specialised bird houses to attract wrens into close quarters with their homes, such was the power of it's enchanting song. It's vigorous nature and voracious appetite for annoying insects endeared it to humankind and the House wren became family. Wrens flourished in our domestic shadow.
Until, that is... it was observed, for all it's winning ways, the wren harbored a wicked secret. Away from the admirable nest building and romantic crooning it was discovered sneaking into the nurseries of other cavity nesting song birds, such as the beloved Bluebird, and piercing the unprotected eggs fatally with its needle like beak.
Ornithological journals of the 1920's are lit up with the passionate debate; in good conscience could the House wren still be given special treatment now that its murderous ways had been revealed? Should their lovingly constructed nest boxes be dismantled on moral grounds? Would their lovely song be as enjoyable knowing its dark side?
Some argued the wrens good qualities gave it special dispensation and, after all, this tendency to murder the young of others as they slept egg bound wasn't likely to disrupt the natural order in any meaningful way.
Others suggested that to follow natures indiscretions with a moral compass calibrated to human sensibilities was ludicrous. This, in their mind, was a behavior to be admired in a undersized competitor fighting for it's very survival in a dog eat dog world.
Regardless, the House wrens reputation took a hard blow to the chin.
It is hard sometimes on these pages to get a good perspective on the relative size of our perching birds. To help, I placed a penny on a stick often used by my resident pair of House wrens and waited for a landing.
Weight? The hard working adult wren can tip the scales at around 12 grams, just shy of four cents worth. (3.1 grams per one pre-1982 copper penny)
In contrast, a mature Rose-breasted grosbeak weighs in at about 21 cents. You get the picture!
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