Missed Chapter 1? Begin HERE
Chapter 7 – The Watchman of the Old Orchard
A few days after Chebec and his wife started building their nest in the Old Orchard Peter dropped around as usual for a very early call. He found Chebec very busy hunting for materials for that nest, because, as he explained to Peter, Mrs. Chebec is very particular indeed about what her nest is made of. Thankfully he had a little time to tell Peter a bit of news.
“My fighting cousin and my handsomest cousin arrived together yesterday, and now our family is very well represented in the Old Orchard,” said Chebec proudly.
Slowly Peter reached over his back with his long left hind foot and thoughtfully scratched his long right ear. He didn’t like to admit that he couldn’t recall those two cousins of Chebec’s. “Did you say your fighting cousin?” he asked in a hesitating way.
“That’s what I said,” replied Chebec. “He is Scrapper the Kingbird. The rest of us always feel safe when he is about.”
“Oh yes, I know him,” said Peter, his face clearing. “Where is he now?”
At that very instant a great racket broke out on the other side of the Old Orchard and in no time at all the feathered folks were hurrying from every direction, squawking at the top of their voices. Of course, Peter couldn’t be left out of anything like that, and he scampered for the scene of trouble as fast as his legs could take him. When he got there he saw Redtail the Hawk flying up and down and this way and that way, as if trying to get away from something or somebody.
For a minute Peter couldn’t think what was the trouble with Redtail, and then he saw. A white-throated, white-breasted bird, having a black cap and back, and a broad white band across the end of his tail, was darting at Redtail as if he meant to pull out every feather in the latter’s coat.
He was just a little smaller than Welcome Robin, and in comparison with him Redtail was a perfect giant. This seemed to make no difference to Scrapper, for that is who it was. He wasn’t afraid, and he intended that everybody should know it, especially Redtail. It is because of his fearlessness that he is called Kingbird. All the time he was squawking at the top of his lungs, calling Redtail a robber. None of the other birds, not even Billy the House Sparrow, was brave enough to join him in trying to drive off big Redtail.
When he had succeeded in driving Redtail far enough from the Old Orchard to suit him, Scrapper flew back and perched on a dead branch of one of the trees. Once there he assured his feathered neighbors that he didn’t intend to allow any of the Hawk family to be around the Old Orchard, especially while he lived there. Peter admired Scrapper for his courage.
As Peter looked up at Scrapper he saw that, like all the rest of the fly-catchers, there was just the tiniest of hooks on the end of his bill. Scrapper’s slightly raised cap seemed all black, however if Peter could have gotten close enough, he would have found that hidden in it was a patch of orange-red. While Peter sat staring up at him Scrapper suddenly darted out into the air, and his bill snapped in quite the same way Chebec’s did when he caught a fly. Actually, this was a bee. Peter saw it very distinctly just as Scrapper snapped it up. It reminded Peter that he had often heard Scrapper called the Bee Martin, and now he understood why.
“Do you live on bees altogether?” asked Peter.
“Bless your heart, Peter, no,” replied Scrapper with a chuckle. “There wouldn’t be any honey if I did. I like bees. I like them first rate. They form only a very small part of my food. Those that I do catch are mostly drones. I eat all kinds of insects that fly and some that don’t. I’m one of Farmer Brown’s most helpful friends. You can talk all you please about the wonderful eyesight of the members of the Hawk family, however if any one of them has better eyesight than I have, I’d like to know who it is. There’s a fly way over there beyond that old apple tree; watch me catch it.”
Peter knew better than to waste any effort trying to see that fly. He knew that he couldn’t have seen it had it been only one fourth that distance away. Although he couldn’t see the fly he could hear the sharp click of Scrapper’s bill, and he knew by the way Scrapper kept opening and shutting his mouth after his return that he had caught that fly and it had tasted good.
“Are you going to build in the Old Orchard this year?” asked Peter.
“Yes, I am,” declared Scrapper. “I–” Just then he spied Clever the Crow and dashed out to meet him. Clever saw him coming and was wise enough to suddenly appear to have no interest whatsoever in the Old Orchard, turning away toward the Green Meadows instead.
Peter didn’t wait for Scrapper to return. It was getting high time for him to scamper home to the dear Old Briar-patch and so he started along, lipperty-lipperty-lip. Just as he was leaving the far corner of the Old Orchard someone called him. “Peter! Oh, Peter Rabbit!” called the voice. Peter stopped abruptly, sat up very straight, looked this way, looked that way and looked the other way, every way but up.
“Look up over your head,” cried the voice.
Peter looked, then all in a flash it came to him who it was Chebec had meant by the handsomest member of his family. It was Cresty the Great Crested Flycatcher. He was a wee bit bigger than Scrapper the Kingbird, yet not quite so big as Welcome Robin, and more slender. His throat and breast were gray, shading into bright yellow underneath. His back and head were of a grayish-brown with a tint of olive-green. A pointed cap was all that was needed to make him quite distinguished looking. He certainly was the handsomest as well as the largest of the Flycatcher family.
“You seem to be in a hurry, so don’t let me detain you, Peter,” said Cresty, before Peter could find his tongue. “I just want to ask one favor of you.”
“What is it?” asked Peter, who is always glad to do anyone a favor.
“If in your roaming about you run across an old castoff suit of Mr. Black Snake, or of any other member of the Snake family, I wish you would remember me and let me know. Will you, Peter?” said Cresty.
“A–a–a–what?” stammered Peter.
“A castoff suit of clothes from any member of the Snake family,” replied Cresty. “Now don’t forget, Peter. I’ve got to go house hunting, and you can find me there or hereabouts, if it happens that you find one of those castoff Snake suits.”
Before Peter could say another word Cresty had flown away. Peter hesitated, looking first towards the dear Old Briar-patch and then towards Jenny Wren’s house. He just couldn’t understand about those castoff suits of the Snake family, and he felt sure that Jenny Wren could tell him. Finally curiosity got the best of him, and back he scampered, lipperty-lipperty-lip, to the foot of the tree in which Jenny Wren had her home.
“Jenny!” called Peter. “Jenny Wren! Jenny Wren!” No one answered him. He could hear Mr. Wren singing in another tree, he just couldn’t see him. “Jenny! Jenny Wren! Jenny Wren!” called Peter again. This time Jenny popped her head out, and her little eyes fairly snapped. “Didn’t I tell you the other day, Peter Rabbit, that I’m not to be disturbed? Didn’t I tell you that I’ve got seven eggs in here, and that I can’t spend any time chatting?”
“You certainly did, Jenny, and I’m sorry to disturb you,” replied Peter. “I wouldn’t have thought of doing such a thing, however I just didn’t know who else to go to.”
“Go to for what?” said Jenny Wren. “What is it you’ve come to me for?”
“Snake skins,” replied Peter.
“Snake skins! Snake skins!” shrieked Jenny Wren. “What are you talking about, Peter Rabbit? I never have anything to do with Snake skins and don’t want to. Ugh! It makes me shiver just to think of it.”
“You don’t understand,” cried Peter hurriedly. “What I want to know is, why should Cresty the Flycatcher ask me to please let him know if I found any castoff suits of the Snake family? He flew away before I could ask him why he wants them, and so I came to you, because I know you know so much about your neighbors.”
Jenny Wren looked as if she didn’t know whether to feel flattered or provoked. Since Peter looked so innocent she concluded that he was trying to say something nice.
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 – Least Flycatcher
- Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – Great Crested Flycatcher
- Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – Eastern Kingbird
- Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – BEAKS! If you haven’t already check out this video + 5 optional activities!
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.