Bird BOOK LOOK – Chapter 4 – Chipping + Vesper Sparrows


Missed Chapter 1? Begin HERE



Chapter 4 – Chippy + Sweetvoice


For a while Jenny Wren was too busy with Mr. Wren building their nest to stop and chat. To Peter it seemed as if they were trying to fill that entire tree trunk. “I should think they had enough stuff in there for half a dozen nests,” muttered Peter. “I do believe they are carrying it in for the fun of working.” And Peter wasn’t far off in this thought, as he was to discover a little later in the season when he found Mr. Wren building another nest for which he had no use.

Finding that for the time being he could get nothing more from Jenny Wren, Peter hopped over to visit Johnny Chuck, whose home was between the roots of an old apple tree in the far corner of the Old Orchard. Peter was still thinking of the Sparrow family; what a big family it was, yet how seldom any of them, excepting Billy the House Sparrow, were to be found in the Old Orchard.

“Hello, Johnny Chuck!” cried Peter, as he discovered Johnny sitting on his doorstep. “You’ve lived in the Old Orchard a long time, perhaps you could tell me something I want to know. Why is it that none of the Sparrow family, excepting Billy, build in the trees of the Old Orchard?”

Johnny Chuck shook his head. “Peter,” he said, “let’s use your ears to solve this one.”

Peter looked confused.

Johnny grinned. “Listen!” said Johnny. And Peter listened. From a tree just a little way off came a clear “Chip, chip, chip, chip.” Peter didn’t need to be told to look. He knew without looking who was over there. He knew that voice to be that of one of his oldest and best friends in the Old Orchard, a little fellow with a red-brown cap, brown back with feathers streaked with black, brownish wings and tail, a gray waistcoat and black bill, and a little white line over each eye. It was Chippy, as everybody calls the Chipping Sparrow, the smallest of the family.

“I forgot all about Chippy,” said Peter. “Now I think of it, I have found Chippy here in the Old Orchard ever since I can remember. I never have seen his nest because I never happened to think about looking for it. Does he build a nest with trash like his cousin, Billy?”

Johnny Chuck laughed. “I should say not!” he exclaimed. “Twice Chippy and Mrs. Chippy have built their nest in this very old apple tree. There is no trash in their nest, I can tell you! It is just as dainty as they are, and not a bit bigger than it has to be. It is made mostly of little fine, dry roots, and it is lined inside with horsehair.”

“What’s that you say?” Peter’s voice sounded as it he suspected that Johnny
Chuck was trying to fool him.

“It’s a fact,” said Johnny, nodding his head gravely. “Goodness knows where they find it these days, and yet find it they do. Here comes Chippy himself; ask him.”


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


Chippy and Mrs. Chippy came flitting from tree to tree until they were on a branch right over Peter and Johnny. “Hello!” cried Peter. “You folks seem very busy. Have you finished building your nest yet?”

“Nearly,” replied Chippy. “It is all done save the horsehair. We are on our way up to Farmer Brown’s barnyard now to look for some. You haven’t seen any around anywhere, have you?”

Peter and Johnny shook their heads, and Peter confessed that he wouldn’t know horsehair if he saw it. He often had found hair from the coats of Reddy Fox and Old Man Coyote and Digger the Badger and Lightfoot the Deer, however hair from the coat of a horse was altogether another matter.

“It isn’t hair from the coat of a horse that we want,” cried Chippy, as he prepared to fly after Mrs. Chippy. “It is long hair from the tail or mane of a horse that we must have. It makes the very nicest kind of lining for a nest.”

Chippy and Mrs. Chippy were gone a long time, and when they did return each was carrying a long black hair. They had found what they wanted, and Mrs. Chippy was in high spirits because, as she took pains to explain to Peter, that little nest would soon be ready for the four beautiful little blue eggs with black spots on one end that she meant to lay in it.


Tree Sparrow by Louis Agassiz Fuertes


As they watched their two little feathered friends putting the finishing touches to their little nest far out on a branch of one of the apple trees Johnny asked Peter “Did you know that they are sometimes called Tree Sparrows?”

“No,” said Peter, “I didn’t.”

“I suppose it is because they so often build their nests in trees,” replied Johnny.

“Chippy shouldn’t be called Tree Sparrow, because he has a cousin by that name,” said Peter.

Johnny Chuck looked as if he doubted that, “I have never heard of him,” he grunted.

Peter grinned. Here was a chance to tell Johnny Chuck something, and Peter never is happier than when he can tell folks something they don’t know.

“You’d know him if you didn’t sleep all winter,” said Peter with a chuckle. “Dotty the Tree Sparrow spends the winter here. He left for his home in the Far North about the time you were ready to wake up.”

“Why do you call him Dotty?” asked Johnny Chuck.

“Because he has a little round black dot right in the middle of his breast,” replied Peter. “I don’t know why they call him Tree Sparrow; he doesn’t spend his time in the trees the way Chippy does, and I see him much more often in low bushes or on the ground. I think Chippy has much more right to the name of Tree Sparrow than Dotty has. Now I think of it, I’ve heard Dotty called the Winter Chippy.”

“Gracious, what a mix-up!” exclaimed Johnny Chuck. “With Chippy being called a Tree Sparrow and a Tree Sparrow called Chippy, I should think folks would get all tangled up.”

“Perhaps they would,” replied Peter, “if both were here at the same time, however Chippy comes just as Dotty goes, and Dotty comes as Chippy goes. That’s a pretty good arrangement, especially as they look very much alike, excepting that Dotty is quite a little bigger than Chippy and always has that black dot, which Chippy does not have. Goodness gracious, it is time I was back in the dear Old Briar-patch! Goodbye, Johnny Chuck.”


Vesper Sparrow by Louis Agassiz Fuertes


And away went Peter Rabbit, lipperty-lipperty-lip, heading for the dear Old Briar-patch. Out of the grass just ahead of him flew a rather pale, streaked little brown bird, and as he spread his tail Peter saw two white feathers on the outer edges. Those two white feathers were all Peter needed to recognize another little friend of whom he is very fond. It was Sweetvoice the Vesper Sparrow, the only one of the Sparrow family with white feathers in his tail.

“Come over to the dear Old Briar-patch and sing to me, would you Sweetvoice?” cried Peter.

Sweetvoice dropped down into the grass again, and when Peter came up, was very busy getting a mouthful of dry grass. “I can’t,” mumbled Sweetvoice. “Not now, Peter Rabbit. I’m too busy. It is high time our nest was finished, and Mrs. Sweetvoice will lose her patience if I don’t get this grass over there pretty quick.”

“Where is your nest? In a tree?” asked Peter innocently.

“That’s telling,” declared Sweetvoice. “Not a living soul knows where that nest is, excepting Mrs. Sweetvoice and myself. This much I will tell you, Peter: it isn’t in a tree. And I’ll tell you this much more: it is in a hoof print of Bossy the Cow.”

“In a what?” cried Peter.

“In a hoof print of Bossy the Cow,” repeated Sweetvoice, chuckling softly. “You know when the ground was wet and soft early this spring, Bossy left deep footprints wherever she went in the Green Meadows. One of these makes the nicest kind of a place for a nest. Now run along, Peter Rabbit. I’ve got much to do. Perhaps I’ll come over to the edge of the dear Old Briar-patch and sing to you a while just after jolly, round, red Mr. Sun goes to bed behind the Purple Hills. I just love to sing then.”

“I’ll be watching for you,” replied Peter. “I love to hear you sing and that is the best time of all the day in which to hear singing.”

That night, sure enough, just as the Dark Purple Shadows came creeping out over the Green Meadows, Sweetvoice, perched on the top of a bramble bush over Peter’s head, sang over and over again the sweetest little song and kept on singing even after it was quite dark. Something Peter didn’t know was that this habit of singing in the evening is what has given Sweetvoice his name of Vesper Sparrow.


Dark Purple Shadows in the night sky


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 –  Chipping Sparrow
  • Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS –  Tree Sparrow
  • Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – Vesper Sparrow
  • Nature journal coloring pages at Cornell Common Feeder Birds FREE Chipping Sparrow page W59 + Tree Sparrow page W58.
  • Have you ever wondered if you see so many birds in your yard, or in a nearby park or playground, why you haven’t seen equally as many nests? Keep an eye out, especially this time of year when there are few leaves on the trees, to see if you can spot any bird homes from last year or in the making.
  • What shape is the Chipping Sparrow’s beak? Do all sparrows have this shaped beak? What is it best designed for eating?
  • As a great garden helper what bugs does the Chipping Sparrow like to eat?

Some of these questions have been inspired by the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock. More to learn about the Chipping Sparrow on pages 86-89 of this classic offered FREE online HERE.

  • Another option is to get a copy of Fifty Favorite Birds Coloring Book by Lisa Bonforte and color the Chipping Sparrow on page 14 (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!