Denizens Of The Desert:
California Road Runner
Neotomas, Or Pack Rats, Of The Desert
Billy Bob-tail, The Hermit Wood Rat
Spiny Pocket Mice
Catherpes, The Canon Wren
Betsy Bounce, The Rock Wren
Round-tailed Ground Squirrel And Near Relatives
Eleodes, The Beetle That Stands On His Head
Read More Articles About: Denizens Of The Desert
Catherpes, The Canon Wren
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
(Cather pes mexicanus conspersus)
OF all our sweet-singing Western birds, it seems to me without a doubt that the canon wren is the most finished and pleasing musician. All birddom hardly shows a song so full of glad hurry, so sweet and artistically controlled. Whether bursting upon the still, herb-scented air from out a deep-walled canon, or echoed and reechoed from the rocky mountain cliffs, it is a song that always arouses the whole soul to rapture. There is first the hurried silvery trill and then the well-modulated descending scale of eight to eleven joyous, liquid notes. It is a song varied at times, but always well worth learning by heart; for by imitating the birds you can induce them to sing again and again, and answer you back from over the caņon depths. It is in the early morning hours before and immediately after sunrise that the song is at its best, most vibrant and clear. As the morning advances, the songs become more infrequent until during midday we seldom hear a sound from the little throats; but when evening comes again, the notes of the matin song which ceased with the warm hours are again taken up with ardor.
In many ways the caņon wrens and rock wrens are very much alike. They are birds of about the same size, they have similar bobbing motions, and both are rupestrine (rock-dwelling) species, living on similar food. However, the caņon wren possesses little of the friendly curiosity that her inquisitive and polite sister has. Few birds are more shy and retiring than these little sprites of the caņon solitudes. Try as you will you can seldom approach sufficiently near to see them. Just as you think you are upon them they slip away, and after a few moments of silence sing you their scale song from far, far away. And so it happens that most of us must be content to know the sweet singers only by their songs.
However, those who will to know the caņon wren have much to repay their efforts when once through persistent seeking they locate, slip up close to one, and catch a glimpse of this bird of their desires; for caņon wrens, though not so attractive in appearance as some of their highly colored feathered cousins, are really handsome little birds. The body is a beautiful reddish or rusty brown color, rather inconspicuously speckled with black and whitish spots and with an almost white, shield-shaped throat and breast patch that immediately attracts attention. The old vernacular name, "white-throated wren," was not so bad after all; for it pointed out this very prominent field mark which is so useful to the novice observer.
Remaining deaf to the " seductive summons " which call so many of the other birds to the warm tropic lands during winter, the caņon wrens stay with us throughout the year to sing their spirit-moving strains. Their range includes all that territory from the Sierra Nevadas on the west to the eastern boundaries of the Rockies, and from Idaho south to Aguas Calientes, Mexico.1
The breeding range of the dotted caņon wren runs from the cool, rocky gorges close to the desert floors up to the upper limits of the yellow-pine belt. The nesting-site is very similar to that of the rock wrens, being generally a niche in the rock ledges, though records are given of nests being constructed about buildings and even in tunnels.
When once a caņon wren takes up his residence in a certain place you may be quite certain that you will hear him about in that vicinity through many seasons; for these birds, like the rock wrens, are a home-loving species. Four years ago a caņon wren chose a little gorge behind my house for its domicile, and every year since in autumn, winter, spring, and summer I have heard almost daily his sweet song ringing out clearly on the morning and evening air.
It seems strange, but this shy little bird will sometimes frequent the habitations of man. Dr. Chapman mentions the Mexican species of Catherpes singing on the housetops of Guadalajara, and, at Palm Springs on the Colorado Desert I every once in a while find them coming into the village, in some instances even entering the crudely built wickiups of the Indians in search of insects and crumbs. At Sacaton, Arizona, Mr. French Gilman found one building its nest in a slot machine on the porch of the hotel.
Besides the musical-scale song, Catherpes has another little song, the idler's song I like to call it, which is iterated again and again when there is little else to do and he is just sitting still and bobbing. As though to give added emphasis to what he has to say, he always gives his head a decided down-jerk as he sings it out, reminding one of the scolding Johnny owls. The rock wren's idler's song is a tinkling trill, but the caņon wren's note given under similar circumstances is a shorter utterance and lacks much of the resonance and metallic quality of the former.
Practically all of the wrens have what we might characterize as a scolding note, a sort of harsh gritty "skee-eep" uttered as a protest against intruders or as an alarm note. The caņon wren's peppery temper often induces him to utter just such a rasping note, a sound so much in contrast to the regular vibrant, clear, ringing scale song that it is a surprise to hear it coming from the same gifted throat. But with the lizards and the nest-plundering jays to watch and the ever-annoying snakes and hawks to fear, who could keep from getting bad-tempered and from scolding and protesting once in a while? Often it seems that the whole programme of bird life has resolved itself into a war between the eaters and the eaten. Seeing as one does this tragedy of the world of small creatures, one sometimes wonders how birds can be as happy as they are or develop any incentive for song.
Almost the instant after escape from imminent danger, birds in most cases seem to return to their former state of apparent tranquillity and joy. Only thus could they endure to live in their world of constant danger. Evidently they carry lightly the load of worry, if they carry it at all, and the dread of life's dangers exists in their minds only at the time of their being engaged by force of circumstances to realize them. Did man live in such a world and retain his present mental tendency to worry, he would wear himself to a near if not a true insanity of fear.