Bird BOOK LOOK – Chapter 2 – House Sparrow

Missed Chapter 1? Begin HERE

Chapter 2 – Billy in the Old Orchard

Peter Rabbit’s eyes twinkled when Jenny Wren said that she must look her old house over to see if it was fit to live in.

“Oh, well, I can tell you that your old house is already occupied,” replied Peter. “Billy the House Sparrow has been living in it for the last two months. In fact, he already has a good size family there.”

“What?” exclaimed Jenny and Mr. Wren together. Then without even saying goodbye to Peter, they flew to see it with their own eyes. Presently he heard them chattering as fast as their tongues could go, and this is very fast indeed.

“They will have to find a new house this year,” said Peter. “Billy the House Sparrow and Mrs. Sparrow won’t budge from their new home. My, my, my, just hear that racket! I think I’ll go over and see what is going on.”

So Peter hopped to a place where he could get a good view of Jenny Wren’s old home and still not be too far from the safety of the old stone wall. Jenny’s old home had been in a hole in one of the old apple trees. Looking over to it, Peter could see Mrs. Sparrow sitting in the little round doorway and quite filling it. She was chattering excitedly. Hopping and flitting from twig to twig close by were Jenny and Mr. Wren, their tails pointing almost straight up to the sky, and chattering as fast as they could make their tongues go. Flying at one and then at the other, and almost drowning their voices with his own harsh cries, was Billy himself. All this noise had brought all the other birds in the Old Orchard to see what was going on.

By ruffling up his feathers and raising his wings slightly as he hopped about, Billy managed to make himself appear much bigger than he really was. He was perhaps one fourth larger than Mr. Wren, although he looked half again as big.

His new spring suit was very dirty, due to his fondness for taking dust baths. His back was more or less of an ashy color with black and chestnut stripes. His wings were brown with a white bar on each. His throat and breast were black, and below that he was of a dirty white. The sides of his throat were white and the back of his neck chestnut.

House Sparrow (bottom left) and Chipping Sparrow (top right) by Lous Agassiz Fuertes

Billy the House Sparrow is also a born challenger. He never is happier than when he is in the midst of a challenge or a fuss of some kind. The fact that his neighbors disagreed with him today didn’t bother Billy in the least.

“Hey -that’s my house, and the sooner you get out of it the better!” yelled Jenny Wren, jerking her tail with every word as she hopped about just out of reach of Billy.

“It may have been your house once and it is mine now!” said Billy. “You didn’t make this house and you deserted it when you went south last fall. It is our turn now.”

Peter Rabbit nodded. “He’s right there,” muttered Peter. “It is true that he has a perfect right to that house. If folks leave things for half a year and fly south they can’t expect to find them just as they left them if or when they come back. My, my, my what a racket you are all making!”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Sparrow sat in the little round doorway. She knew that as long as she sat there it would be impossible for either Jenny or Mr. Wren to get in.

All the time Billy was darting back and forth in agitation. “Mrs. Sparrow and I are in the Old Orchard to stay!” declared Billy. The rest of the birds just watched and talked amongst themselves as Mr. Wren and Jenny Wren sat in frustration discussing the situation.

An apple tree in the Old Orchard beginning to blossom.

How long that squabble in the Old Orchard would have lasted had it not been for something which happened, no one knows. Right in the midst of it someone discovered Black Shadow, the cat who lives in Farmer Brown’s house, stealing up through the Old Orchard, her tail twitching and her yellow eyes glaring eagerly. She had heard that dreadful racket and suspected that in the midst of such excitement she might have a chance to catch one of the feathered folks. You can always trust Black Shadow to be on hand at a time like that.

Black Shadow the cat watching the birds in the Old Orchard.

No sooner was she discovered than everything else was forgotten. With Billy in the lead, and Jenny and Mr. Wren close behind him, all the birds turned their attention to Black Shadow. She was the predator of all, and they straight away forgot their own quarrel. Only Mrs. Sparrow remained where she was, in the little round doorway of her house. She intended to take no chances, and simply added her voice to the general racket. How those birds did shriek and scream! They darted down almost into the face of Black Shadow, and none went nearer than Billy the English Sparrow and Jenny Wren.

Now Black Shadow does not like to be the center of so much attention. She knew that, now that she had been discovered, there wasn’t a chance in the world for her to catch one of those feathered folks in the Old Orchard. So, with tail still twitching angrily, she turned and, with such dignity as she could, left the Old Orchard. Clear to the edge of the orchard the birds followed, shrieking and screaming after her.

When finally she disappeared towards Farmer Brown’s barn, those angry voices changed. It was such a funny change that Peter Rabbit laughed right out. Instead of anger there was triumph in every note as everybody returned to attend to their own affairs. Jenny and Mr. Wren seemed to have forgotten all about Billy and his wife in their old house.

They flew to another part of the Old Orchard to talk it all over and rest and get their breath. Peter Rabbit waited to see if they would come over near enough to him to chat a bit more. They didn’t and finally Peter started for his home in the dear Old Briar-patch to settle in the shade for a bit of rest.

P.L.A.Y. in Place Projects

Try these activities to extend your bird story adventures:

  • Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – HOUSE SPARROW (aka English Sparrow)
  • House Sparrow nature journal coloring page at Cornell Common Feeder Birds FREE (*page W75).
  • Q/A –Questions with answers to keep this conversation going are available for both House Sparrow (p. 83-86) in the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock offered FREE online HERE.
  • Imagine . . . what if . . .  you arrived home from your trip “down south” just like Jenny and Mr. Wren and you found other folks who had moved into the home that you had left empty for 6 months. What would you do? Write about it in your P.L.A.Y. nature journal. Ask your friends and family the same “What if” question and hear their response. Think about how humans and animals handle this differently, or do they?
  • Another option is to get a copy of Fifty Favorite Birds Coloring Book by Lisa Bonforte and color the House Sparrow on page 23 (colored pencils recommended).

    FYI -This coloring book is an excellent companion for this bird story series with most of the 50 birds represented as characters throughout the chapters.

Source: Burgess Bird Book for Children by Thornton Burgess

P.L.A.Y. has provided a new online version of all 45 chapters of this updated and annotated 100+ year old public domain classic to:

  • be suitable for the 21st century family by having the Thornton Burgess woodland characters evolve to model mindfulness and loving kindness
  • highlight and bring awareness to the New England nature settings and offer an opportunity to learn more about birds and other woodland animals through this story adventure
  • create story extension moments through P.L.A.Y. suggested activities and investigations for making new nature connections generated by the reader’s own curiosity
  • encourage families to keep their own nature notebooks for drawing, writing, painting, and recording their own local daily outdoor P.L.A.Y. adventures.

P.L.A.Y. Time – Pass it on!