willow-wren defined in 1930 yearwillow-wren - Willow-Wren;
willow-wren - Upper plumage bright olive-green; a narrow streak of yellow over the eye; under parts yellowish white, palest in the middle; feathers of the legs yellow. Length, nearly five inches.
The willow-wren, or willow-warbler, is one of the earliest of our summer songsters to arrive, usually following the chiffchaff - which it resembles in size and general appearance - by a few days. During the last week of March, if the weather be not too cold, its delicate strain may be heard in sheltered situations in the southern parts of England, and by the second week in April it is one of the most frequently heard songs throughout the length and breadth of the land. Not only is this species very much more generally diffused than its two nearest relations - the chiffchaff and wood-wren - but it is met with in a much greater variety of situations - on commons, in hedgerows, gardens, woods, and plantations. Yet, in spite of its abundance and wide distribution, it is nowhere a familiar bird to the country people; the small, delicate voice does not compel attention and is well-nigh lost in the summer concert that has so many loud, jubilant strains in it.
The willow-wren is a pretty little bird, although without any bright colour in its plumage, which at a short distance looks of a soft greenish yellow tint. He is best seen when the trees are opening their buds, before the thickening foliage hides his tiny, restless, flitting form from sight. He is the least shy of the warblers, his trustfulness being in strong contrast to the suspicious manner and love of concealment of the blackcap and whitethroat. He will unconcernedly continue his hunt for minute insects, and utter his melody at intervals, within a few feet of a person, sitting or standing, quietly observing him. The song, although a small one, both as to duration and power, has a singular charm: not merely the charm of association experienced in a voice long absent and heard once more - a voice of the spring, that comes before the loud call of the cuckoo and the familiar, joyous twitter of the swallow; it is in itself a beautiful sound, one of the sweetest bird-songs heard in our country. ' A song which is unique among British birds,' says Mr. Warde Fowler, whose description of it is, perhaps, the most perfect which we have. Beginning with a high and tolerably full note, he drops it both in force and pitch in a cadence short and sweet, as though he were getting exhausted with the effort.... This cadence is often perfect; by which I mean that it descends gradually, not, of course, on the notes of our musical scale,... but through fractions of one, or perhaps two, of our tones, and without returning upward at the end; but still more often, and especially, as I fancy, after they have been here a few weeks, they take to finishing with a note nearly as high in pitch as that with which they began.'
After this it is interesting to read Mr. J. Burroughs's impressions of the willow-wren's song. He writes: 'The most melodious strain I heard, and the only one that exhibited to the full the best qualities of the American songsters, proceeded from a bird quite unknown to fame - in the British Islands, at least. I refer to the willow-warbler.... "White says it has a "sweet, plaintive note," which is but half the truth. It has a long, tender, delicious warble, not wanting in strength and volume, but eminently pure and sweet - the song of the chaffinch refined and idealised.... The song is, perhaps, in the minor key, feminine and not masculine, but it touches the heart.
' That strain again; it had a dying fall.
' The song of the willow-warbler has a dying fall; no other bird- song is so touching in this respect. It mounts up round and full, then runs down the scale, and expires upon the air in a gentle murmur.'
The willow-wren breeds early, making a circular domed nest on the ground, among the long grass and weeds, under a hedge or beneath a bramble bush on a bank, and occasionally at a distance from sheltering bushes in the grass of a field. It is made of dry grass, and lined with rootlets and horsehair, and, lastly, with feathers. The eggs are six or seven in number, pure white, the yolk showing through the frail shell, and giving it a faint yellow tinge; they are blotched and spotted with reddish brown. "When the nest is approached the parent birds display the greatest anxiety, hopping and flitting about close to the intruder, and uttering low, plaintive notes.
The willow-wren stays longer with us than any migratory warbler except the chiffchaff, and its song is, without exception, the most persistent. From the time of its arrival in March, or early in April, it sings without ceasing until July; then for a few weeks its song is heard only in the early morning, and it ceases at the end ol August, during the moult, but is renewed a little later, and is then continued until the bird's departure at the end of September.
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