October 30, 2020

The wren loses the race for bird of the year | Culture

The wren loses the race for bird of the year | Culture

I voted for the royal shrike in the traditional popular contest (until the next day 15) that calls SEO / Bird Life to choose the bird of the year 2019 and in which the trio of finalists complete the patinegro plover and the Montagu's harrier (which obviously has difficulty).

I have a weakness for the shrike, with that habit of serial killer of impaling their prey in skewers and thorns to store them, but who would really like to vote, and who has not been bird of the year in any of the 28 editions, is the wren. I imagine that his shocking name, which makes him prone to cachondeo out of ornithological circles (and inside too), has set him apart these years of the race for the prestigious title. And that "SEO rewards the wren", gives a striking headline.

The wren (Troglodytes troglodytes), that proliferates in our gardens, is news, precisely, by the publication of a splendid monograph on it, written by the British naturalist Stephen Moss, one of the great disseminators of ornithology and with whom I had the privilege of intimacy two years ago during the Delta Birding Festival, the great event of birdwatching in the Ebro Delta, Although he was very surprised at my inability to distinguish a phalarope from a chicken to l'ast.

Why the British call him wren, which has allowed to be mentioned without blush by poets like Dryden, John Clare and Blake, and by Shakespeare himself on numerous occasions, and we are a mystery.

Fortunately, it avoids many misunderstandings and easy jokes, especially when talking about species such as the Socorro wren (endemic to that island), the passerine bird is not named in English, but wren. Why they call you wren, which has allowed it to be mentioned without blush by poets like Dryden, John Clare and Blake, and Shakespeare himself on numerous occasions (including King Lear, Richard III, The Merchant of Venice Y Macbeth), and we wren is a mystery.

In his book (The wren: a biography, Square Peg, 2018), a work full of fascinating things, with a lot of emphasis on the cultural dimension, on those little birds, which are among the smallest in Europe (only the wrens are smaller), since they measure ten centimeters and weigh barely ten grams (like two sheets of A4 paper), Moss points out that the term wren It has some salacious connotations.

Wren, of course, to the restless readers of adventures sounds like P. C. Wren, the author of Beau Geste, Fortunately, his name was not called P.C. Chochín, since his stories would have developed perhaps more in the Château de Roissy than in Fort Zinderneuf.

Two copies of a wren, on a sheet by William MacGillivray.
Two copies of a wren, on a sheet by William MacGillivray.

Anyway, he said that the friend Moss explains that at the time of the Crimean War it was known as wrens to the prostitutes because, like the bird, they made a nest in the bushes. But above all, and that is very surprising, the bird is mostly related in the Anglo-Saxon world, paradoxically, with the male sex. This is due to its characteristic tail lift, one of its most conspicuous hallmarks. In fact in the past the wren was named in England stumpy-dick, something like, and excuse the vulgarity, which must be attributed of course to the old English and not to me, "stocky cock." The American anthropologist Elizabeth Arwood Lawrence, an authority cited by Moss, and who has studied especially the folklore associated with the wolves, considers that the name, not a wren, of course, but wren, It has obvious male sexual connotations, linking its characteristic tail high with a human erection.

All of which makes it more intriguing why he is known in Spanish as a wren. I have not got a clear answer about it. My head ornithologist, José Luis Copete, who has worked in the former Handbook of Western paleartic passerines, among other reference works, cites in this regard the Dictionary of vernacular names of birds by Francisco Bernis (Gredos, 1994) that refers the term originally to chorchín, a diminutive of chorcha, proper name of the woodcock, the woodcock, to which our bird "resembles its brown plumage," I do not know … In Catalan it is called cargolet, so there is no problem, and in Basque it is txepetxa.mignon) has also been called "La poulette a bon Dieu" They live only two years (better not to get attached) and they are polygamous. It is tradition that killing them gives bad luck, that their feathers protect the sailors from drowning and that it is a bird incapable of feeling melancholy.

Despite its tiny size and discreet appearance – although with a very powerful and bright song (poetically compared to "a rainbow dance") – it is a tremendously vivacious and active bird: the maximum time that has been timed in Rest is three minutes, and that's only because there was a cat nearby. He is looking for the small insects that he consumes in a daily proportion equivalent to a human being going to 150 Big Macs. Moss describes it as "fast and furious"And the father of British birding, Ian Wallace, called it"tiny, restless and pugnacious" It does not seem that the temperament has to do with the name of the wren, but perhaps a clue provides it, according to the naturalists, the nest, which is closed and mossy.

I have moved Stephen Moss (in an English mail that I assure you has no waste) my questions about the bird. And I am waiting for if he can throw definite light on this enigmatic subject. I'll keep you updated.


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