A tale of no tail

By Jim McGuire - Contributing columnist

A bobtail wren recently showed up in my dooryard.

Whoa! You birding zealots need to calm yourselves down. This isn’t a rare bird alert. No need to go thumbing through that well-worn copy of Peterson’s, or whipping out a life list as you salivate about adding a new checkmark.

I didn’t glimpse some hitherto unrecorded wren species. We’re talking a bird victim. An otherwise ordinary Carolina wren who, due to some unfortunate twist of fate — attack or accident — had been rendered almost unrecognizable.

Admittedly, I was a bit nonplussed when I first spotted this most unwrenlike bird. Then I realized what I was seeing … and tried not to snicker. (Yeah, I know, not exactly an admirable admission from a nature scribe — but hey, the little guy was kinda funny!)

Carolina wrens are regular visitors hereabouts. They appear daily around the cottage, generally in pairs. About all I have to do to spot a wren is step outside or look out the nearest window. There’s usually a Carolina wren or two flitting amongst the tangles on the steep hillside which runs up to the road. Or a pair bouncing about in the forsythias which border the driveway coming down.

Wrens regularly poke about under the cedars along the south fence. They work the limbs and bark rubble below the old and mostly dead mulberry on the north corner. And they like to pop in and out of the exposed root maze of the massive sycamores which line the 200 feet of riverbank that constitutes my front yard.

Though basically ground or near-ground foragers who prefer insects to seeds, Carolina wrens still persistently check out my various hanging feeders. But they much prefer to poke about the compost pile, seeking whatever beetles, grubs, or tasty-crawly tidbits they can uncover. And you can always bet on finding a couple of wrens busily investigating every bug-harboring nook and cranny within the stacked racks of split firewood.

Sometimes a wren or two will show up on the window ledge that’s just inches beyond my desk. More curious than afraid, they tap on the glass and affix me with a quizzical, distracting stare. Their dark eyes sparkle like bits of ebony.

Wrens, wrens, and more wrens — spring, summer, fall, winter. Welcome companions throughout the seasons.

Being typical Carolina wrens, they sing, LOUDLY! Packing more decibels in their scant three-quarter ounce body than birds twenty times bigger! A delightfully spirited “sweet-‘tater, sweet-‘tater, sweet-‘tater, sweet!” that’s rendered at simply incredible volume!

Too, the bubbly Carolina wren sings its catchy, full-fortissimo song frequently, all year around. As cheery on a post-blizzard January morning as the brightest day in June.

Wrens are also feathered sprites of vociferous dynamite who often decide to deliver their rousing songs from the rosebush just beyond my bedroom wall. Not that I mind. Though trust me, sleeping is impossible when a nearby wren is singing! ​ ​ But I dearly love Carolina wrens, even when they awaken me at the crack of dawn. Loud, ebullient, and just a tad on the temperamental side, I count them one of my two favorite birds

Still, if you know anything about wrens, you understand a bobtailed wren is preposterous. That long, upward-cocked tail is their pride and joy, a well-employed banner, bouncing up and down like an animated weathervane to the little bird’s actions and moods.

I almost felt embarrassed witnessing the little wren who’d been robbed of this most distinctly resplendent feature.

It’s easy to conjure up some dramatic scenario where a stalking fox or lurking coyote—or perhaps a fast-flying Cooper’s hawk, if you prefer aerial theatrics — sneaked, pounced or swooped upon our hapless wren … gleaming fangs almost, but not quite grasping and catching the quick-fleeing wren.

That’s how Disney would film it. The hero wren a bit shorn but otherwise safe. His inept predator left spitting out a mouthful of empty feathers.

Reality was probably rather more prosaic. More likely the little wren unwittingly jammed his tailfeathers into some crack or crevice—a split in an old board or chunk of firewood, the underpart on an overhanging eave. Uh-oh! The more he pulled, the tighter they wedged … and the more frightened and frantic he became. Finally, he pulled so hard he inadvertently yanked them out.

Just a guess, obviously. But the good news is the bobtailed wren didn’t appear in the least handicapped. Part of a pair, he kept up with his mate — flitting and flying, between bushes and low limbs, working the rough-barked trunk of a nearby hackberry, popping deep into a bushy white pine, then bouncing in a series of quick hops across the ground. Whether leading or following, the wren seemed as quick and nimbly adapt as his long-tailed companion.

A bit fat, fluffy, and odd-looking, but really no worse for wear. And in time he’ll fledge new feathers.

A no-tail tale that ends well.



By Jim McGuire

Contributing columnist

Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at [email protected]

Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at [email protected]

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