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
Betsy Bounce, The Rock Wren
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
EARLY, early this morning, long before a single direct ray of the sun had brightened the rock-ribbed hills or desert sands, the rock wren was abroad as restless as a chipmunk, singing her shrill, chippering, tinkling song and ceaselessly darting in and out among the rock ledges looking for insects. And now that the sun is really up and the spiders are at rest, and the gauzy-winged insects are coming out of their hiding, she is busier than ever.
When I go out to watch her she has a funny way of standing still on a rock and bobbing up and down as if she were dropping me a curtsy, or were ever deciding to leap into air and then concluding, when half off, not to go quite so soon, but to watch me a minute longer. And in this particular she reminds me of the rollicking, sweet-voiced water ouzel of our mountain streams, or of her nearer relative, the trumpeting caņon wren. As she continues her funny, restless bobbing antics she gives me a yet more funny song which, once heard, can never be forgotten, and which has been well characterized by Florence Merriam Bailey as "the most unbirdlike of machine-made tinklings," a shrill, metallic twitter, " Kree - kree - kree - kree." She has such pretty speckles on the breast of her grayish brown body and such a well-defined and prominent streak of white over the eye that you cannot, having seen her movements and heard her song, ever mistake her for any other bird. The bill, too, is distinctive, being exceptionally long (equaling the length of the head) for so plump and tiny a bird. It is slightly decurved at the tip and well adapted to pull the spiders, beetles, and day-hiding moths from the deep cracks in the rocks.
The rock wren is among our most widely distributed of Western birds, choosing her home amidst a variety of environmental conditions that puts her in a class by herself. This restless little rock-dweller makes herself as much at home among the sun-scorched rocks of the silent desert wildernesses as on the boulder-strewn hills of the moist coastal slopes; she finds as happy a domicile on the very pinnacles of our highest mountains as on the fog-drenched lowlands bordering the ocean - a cosmopolite, indeed, and everywhere a happy bird. Those living on the higher mountains go to lower levels during the winter, but the desert-dwellers make no vertical migrations during the year, remaining in their arid, sun-bleached home through the intense heat of summer as well as the pleasant days of winter.
The rock wren, like the mountain junco, is an agreeably sociable little bird, coming about one's quarters and making herself at home if given the least encouragement. My little Betsy Bounce, as I love to call the fidgety little rock wren that has made herself so familiar about my home, comes regularly each morning to the door to pick up the crumbs which I throw down for her, and when all is quiet she comes inside the house and, after crumbing the floor, hunts in every crack and cranny from floor to ceiling for insects. Not the tiniest crack escapes her sharp, watchful eye, though sometimes it takes her fully fifteen minutes of constant search to finish her task of routing out the spiders. Often after completing her search inside she goes over the outside of the many-cracked shanty as care-fully as she has gone over the inside. But I am confident she finds it unprofitable labor; for, since my house is, in true desert fashion, only one board thick, she must peer into the same cracks from the outside that she has already searched through from the inside.
As soon as I open my door in the morning I find Betsy seated on the rock just outside, fidgeting, bowing, and bobbing, and waiting for me to quiet down so that she can come in to get her crumbs and insects. If I am too long at getting my breakfast over, her bobbing motion takes on a more determined manner and she fidgets more than ever, showing her impatience, and vociferously protesting because I have kept her so long outside. I can almost hear her say : "Hurry up! Hurry up! I've been waiting on you a whole hour already!"
A long search among the rock ledges during March and April if you are on the desert, or later if in the mountains, may bring you to the nest situated in some deep rock nook or crevice. If the rock wrens have found it possible they will have hidden it so deeply that it will be quite out of sight, and it may take considerable work on your part even to get a peep at it. But the nest or its situation is the least interesting feature. It is the unique paved entrance that most engages the attention. During the building season the birds become connoisseurs of flat and pretty stones, and these they scatter together with a few sticks about the dooryard of the nest. And these stones are not small ones either. Stones a quarter of an inch thick and an inch and a half long are the average-sized ones in the nests I have seen, but even larger ones are not infrequent. The quantity may be several handfuls. Sometimes in the vicinity of the coastal villages the rock wrens gather,shells, pieces of china, and even bits of shining black coal to use in decorating the nest's en-trance. Why such elaborate pains should be taken to decorate and " fix up" the tiny bird home is difficult to explain on other grounds than the bird's aesthetic sense a taste possessed by many birds and animals. Mr. French Gilman tells me that one spring, in the vicinity of the Sacaton Indian Reservation in Arizona, he found many of the newly made nests of the Abert towhees, Bendire thrashers, and in one instance the nest of the cactus wren, covered with the brilliant yellow blossoms of Baer a, or Sunshine. He was able to find no satisfactory explanation other than that the birds had been attracted by the highly colored flowers and had been induced by their sense of decoration thus to adorn their homes.
It is always easy to know when the time of nest-building is near, for the cock wren, who all the winter long has been rather monotonously keeping to one little ditty, now bursts out into the full melody of his courting song - a song insistent, positive, confident, and full of good cheer, and so different in quality and style from that which formerly came from his throat during winter that it is difficult to believe that a new songster has not appeared with the breezes of spring. All through the year the sprightly rock wrens are about the first birds up in the morning and with the towhees the last to retire at night, and now that they are especially noisy in song you are more than ever aware of their early risings and late retirings. The nesting season begins late in February and lasts through to May and June, varying, of course, in a bird of such wide zonal distribution according to the locality. The desert birds have nested and reared their young before the mountain birds have laid the first eggs.
If there are any small birds that show them-selves more concerned over the approach of an intruder toward the nest I am not aware of it. Such bobbings and screechings and restless flights and fidgety dashes as they engage in, fill one with both pity and amusement; pity, because of their deep concern and nervousness; amusement, because of their funny motions and calls.