wryneck defined in 1930 yearwryneck - Wryneck;
wryneck - Upper parts reddish grey, irregularly spotted and lined with brown and black; a broad black and brown band from the back of the head to the back; under parts dull white, tinged with buff, and barred with dark brown, except on the breast and belly, where the markings become arrow-headed in form; outer web of the quills marked with rectangular, alternate black and yellowish red spots; tail-feathers barred with black zigzag bands; beak and feet olive-brown. Length, seven inches.
The wryneck is placed by anatomists next to the woodpeckers, and is like them in the form of its feet and the habit of perching vertically on the trunks of trees; but he does not dig into the wood with his beak, nor does he support himself with his tail, the feathers of which are soft, as in most perching birds. He is a singular bird, differing from all others in form, colouring, language, and habits. His variously coloured plumage, so curiously and beautifully barred and mottled, is most like that of the nightjar; but his beauty appears only when he is seen very near. At a distance of twenty-five or thirty yards he is obscure in colouring, and is more remarkable for his attitudes and gestures, when seen on a tree trunk deftly and rapidly picking up the small ants on which he feeds. When thus engaged he twists his neck, turning his head from side to side in a most singular manner; hence the name of wryneck. When taken in the hand he twists his neck about in the same manner, and hisses like a snake, as he also does when disturbed during incubation; and on this account he has been called snake-bird. When held in the hand he sometimes swoons, and appears to be dead until released, whereupon he quickly recovers and makes his escape. Even more characteristic than his contortions, hissings, and ' death feignings,' is his voice. It is an unmistakable and familiar sound of early spring, as distinctive as the shrill cry of the swift and the cuckoo's call - a clear, high-pitched, far-reaching note, reiterated many times - a sound that makes itself heard at a distance of a quarter of a mile. As a rule, this note is heard a few days before the cuckoo's call, and on this account the wryneck is known in the southern counties, where he is most common, as the cuckoo's mate, or messenger, or boder, and is also called the cuckoo's maid.
The wryneck feeds chiefly on ants and their larvae, and, like the green woodpecker, he goes to the anthills on commons and uncultivated grounds; the insects are taken with the long, retractile tongue, which is covered with an adhesive saliva, and which the bird, when feeding, darts out and withdraws with lightning rapidity.
A hole in the trunk of a tree, often near the roots, is a favourite nesting-place. The eggs are seven to ten in number, and are deposited, without any nest, on the rotten wood. They are pure white, and have glossy shells. The same breeding-hole is used year after year.
The wryneck is most common in the southern and south-eastern counties; in the West of England and in Wales it is rarer. In the northern counties of England it is also rare and local; in Scotland it does not breed, and in Ireland it is not known.
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