Plate 195

Ruby crowned Wren

The history of this diminutive bird is yet in a great measure unknown; and, although I have met with it in places where it undoubtedly breeds, I have not succeeded in finding its nest. 

On the 27th of June, 1833, while some of my party and myself were rambling over the deserts of Labrador, the notes of a warbler came on my ear, and I listened with delight to the harmonious sounds that filled the air around, and which I judged to belong to a species not yet known to me. The next instant I observed a small bird perched on the top of a fir tree, and on approaching it, recognised it as the vocalist that had so suddenly charmed my ear and raised my expectations. We all followed its quick movements, as it flew from tree to tree backwards and forwards without quitting the spot, to which it seemed attached. At last, my son JOHN raised his gun, and, on firing, brought down the bird, which fell among the brushwood, where we in vain searched for it. 

The next day we chanced to pass along the same patch of dwarf wood, in search of the nests of certain species of ducks. of which I intend to speak on another occasion. We were separated from the woods by a deep narrow creek; but the recollection of the loss of the bird, which I was sure had been killed, prompted me to desire my young friends to dash across and again search for it. In an instant six of us were on the opposite shore, and dispersed among the woods. My son was so fortunate as to find the little Regulus among the moss near the tree from which it had fallen, and brought it to me greatly disappointed. Not so was I; for I had never heard the full song of the Ruby-crowned Wren, and as I looked at it in my hand, I could not refrain from exclaiming. "And so this is the tiny body of the songster from which came the loud notes I heard yesterday!" When I tell you that its song is fully as sonorous as that of the Canary-bird, and much richer, I do not come up to the truth, for it is not only as powerful and clear, but much more varied and pleasing to the ear. We looked for its mate and its nest, but all around us was silent as death, or only filled with the hum of millions of insects. I made a drawing of it in its full spring plumage. A month later, the young of this species were seen feeding among the bushes. 

The Ruby-crowned Wren is found in Louisiana and other Southern States, from November until March. Near Charleston, in January, they are sometimes very abundant. The old birds are easily distinguished from the young, without shooting them, on account of the curious difference in their habits, for while the latter keep together among the lowest bushes, the former are generally seen on the top branches of high trees. I have not observed a similar difference in Regulus tricolor. The rich vermilion spot on the head in the present species was wanting in the young, that part being of the same plain colour as the back. I have found this bird in Kentucky also during winter, but generally in southern exposures, and usually in company with the Brown Creeper and the Titmouse. 

The little bird of which I speak appears to feed entirely on small insects and their larvae; and I have often thought it wonderful that there should seem to be no lack of food for it even during weather sometimes too cold for the birds themselves. It appears to migrate during the day only, and merely by passing from one bush to another, or hopping among the twigs, until a large piece of water happens to come in its way, when it rises obliquely to the height of above twenty yards, and then proceeds horizontally in short undulations. It emits a feeble chirp at almost every motion. So swiftly, however, does it perform its migration from Louisiana to Newfoundland and Labrador, that although it sometimes remains, in the first of these countries until late in March, it has young in the latter by the end of June; and the brood is able to accompany the old birds back to the south in the beginning of August. 

The pair before you are placed on a plant which occurs in abundance from Maine to Labrador. 

RUBY-CROWNED WREN, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. i. p. 83. 
REGULUS CALENDULA, Bonap. Syn., p. 91. 
RUBY-CROWNED WREN, Sylvia Calendula, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 415. 
RUBY-CROWNED REGULUS, Regulus Calendula, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. ii. p. 546. 

Adult Male, in summer plumage. 

Bill short, straight, subulate, very slender, compressed, with inflected edges; upper mandible nearly straight in its dorsal outline, the edges scarcely notched close upon the slightly declinate acute tip; lower mandible straight, acute. Nostrils basal, elliptical, half-closed above by a membrane, covered over by the feathers. The whole form is slender, although the bird looks somewhat bulky, on account of the loose texture of the feathers. Legs rather long; tarsus slender, longer than the middle toe, much compressed, covered anteriorly with a few indistinct scutella; toes scutellate above, the lateral ones nearly equal and free; hind toe stouter; claws weak, compressed, arched, acute. 

Plumage very loose and tufty. Short bristles at the base of the bill. Feathers of the head elongated, silky. Wings of ordinary length, the third and fourth primaries longest. Tail of twelve feathers, emarginate, of ordinary length. 

Bill black, yellow at the base of the lower, and on the edges of the upper mandible. Iris light brown. Feet yellowish-brown, the under parts yellow. The general colour of the upper parts is dull olivaceous, lighter behind. The eye is encircled with greyish-white. of which colour also are the tips of the wing-coverts. Quills and tail dusky, edged with greenish-yellow. The silky feathers of the crown of the head vermilion. The under parts greyish-white. 

Length 4 1/4 inches, extent of wings 6; bill 1/3; tarsus 3/4. 

Adult Female, in summer plumage. 

The female resembles the male, but the tints are in general duller, especially the greenish-yellow of the wings. 


KALMIA ANGUSTIFOLIA, Willd., Sp. Pl., vol. ii. p. 601. Pursch, Fl. Amer.,vol. i. p. 296.--DECANDRIA MONOGYNIA, Linn.--RHODODENDRA, Juss. 

This species is characterized by its petiolate, ternate, cuneato-oblong leaves, which are obtuse and tinged with red beneath. The corymbs of beautiful deep rose-coloured flowers are lateral; the peduncles and calyx downy, and the bracteae smooth. It grows to the height of two or even sometimes four feet, and is common in the Northern States and British Provinces; flowers from the end of June to the middle of August.

For more on this species, see its entry in the Birds of North America Field Guide.