Sunday, May 18, 2008

This Wren Arrived With Style

The Carolina wren, South Carolina's state bird, has built a mansion somewhat on the order of Bill Gate's newest nest in a large hanging basket of Boston ferns on the edge of the patio.

The little architect had already bulldozed the site for the foundation when I first noticed the building project. He must have completed the job in one morning for the roots, stems, leaves and branched below the basket were a mess that could not have been overlooked for long.

I decided to let him have the basket. Ferns can be replaced. The joy and excitement of watching a sassy little mite build his love nest doesn't come so easily.

It is compared to Bill Gates' nest because it is the largest Carolina wren's nest I have ever observed. Country wrens, so say scientists, usually build larger nests than do those who hang around suburban homes. Could it be that the country cousin has come to town?

Half the fern was dumped out and a shallow depression was made in the dirt. I watched both male and female bring pine straw, small weed and flower stems, tissue paper, newspaper, small roots, tiny stems and dead leaves to be used in building the nest. It was lined with hair and several small feathers. When finished it was roofed over, mainly with pine straw, with the side opening in the nest facing the patio.

This plump and stumpy bird measures five and a half inches from its slender curved bill to the end of its crocked tail. Its rusty cap sets off the white stripe over his inquisitive brown eyes. The rich tones and earthy browns of his topcoat, the buffy-white of his underparts, with flanks washed in cinnamon-pink, blend with its natural habitats.

Its russet wings and tail are finely barred with black. The wren has strong legs, big feet and long claws, equipping it to do its thing . . . destroying insects.

Watching the activity of these energetic birds brought to mind how citizens of South Carolina had to fight to get the Carolina wren legally declared the official bird of South Carolina.

In 1930, the Carolina wren and the mourning dove were voted on by school children, civic club members and the public for state bird. The Carolina wren won by a substantial margin and was declared the state bird by popular vote. The legislature was asked by the State Garden Club to make it official. That body, however, postponed the issue for nine years until some of its members decided the mockingbird would be a more likely representative of the state.

In 1939, the mockingbird was designated the official bird of the state by the legislature. Now the General Assembly thought naming the State Bird was a "done deal."

But wait! Feathers flew. A fight ensued between the legislature and garden club members, school children, Audubon Societies and the public at large. Another campaign was waged by the people of the state.

Finally, the pressure was so great the General Assembly backed down. They decided this high honor should rightfully go to the Carolina wren.

The mockingbird was booted down the capitol steps in Columbia and the 1939 act designating the mockingbird as the state bird was repealed.

In 1948, the Carolina wren was officially declared South Carolina's State Bird. The fight that had raged for 18 years was over!

The mockingbird apparently doesn't hold grudges, for he still sings as beautifully in South Carolina as he does in Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas; the five other states that have chosen him as their State Bird.