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Chapter 8 – Old Clothes and Old Houses
“I can’t stop to talk to you any longer now, Peter Rabbit,” said Jenny Wren. “If you will come over here bright and early tomorrow morning, while I am out to get my breakfast, I will tell you about Cresty the Flycatcher and why he wants the castoff clothes of some of the Snake family. Perhaps I should say what he wants of them instead of why he wants them, for why any one should want anything to do with snakes is more then I can understand.”
With this Jenny Wren disappeared inside her house, and there was nothing more for Peter to do then start for the dear Old Briar-patch. On his way he couldn’t resist the temptation to run over to the Green Forest, which was just beyond the Old Orchard. He just had to find out if there was anything new over there. Hardly had he reached it when he heard a plaintive voice crying, “Pee-wee! Pee-wee! Pee-wee!” Peter chuckled happily. “I declare, there’s Pee-wee,” he cried. “He usually is one of the last of the Flycatcher family to arrive. I didn’t expect to find him yet. I wonder what has brought him up so early.”
It didn’t take Peter long to find Pewee. He just followed the sound of that voice and presently saw Pewee fly out and make the same kind of a little circle as the other members of the family make when they are hunting flies. It ended just where it had started, on a dead twig of a tree in a shady part of the Green Forest. Almost at once he began to call his name in a rather sad, plaintive tone, “Pee-wee! Pee-wee! Pee-wee!” However he wasn’t sad, as Peter well knew. It was his way of expressing how happy he felt. He was a little bigger than his cousin, Chebec, and looked very much like him. There was a little notch in the end of his tail. The upper half of his bill was black and the lower half was light. Peter could see on each wing two whitish bars, and he noticed that Pewee’s wings were longer than his tail, which wasn’t the case with Chebec. However, no one could ever mistake Pewee for any of his relatives, for the simple reason that he keeps repeating his own name over and over.
“Are you here early?” asked Peter.
Pewee nodded. “Yes,” said he. “It has been unusually warm this spring, so I hurried a little and came up with my cousins, Scrapper and Cresty. And that is something I don’t often do.”
“If you please,” Peter inquired politely, “why do folks call you Wood Pewee?”
Pewee chuckled happily. “It must be,” he said, “because I am so very fond of the Green Forest. It is so quiet and restful. Mrs. Pewee and I are very retiring. We do not like too many near neighbors.”
“You won’t mind if I come to see you once in a while, will you?” asked Peter as he prepared to start on again for the dear Old Briar-patch.
“Come as often as you like,” replied Pewee. “The oftener the better.”
Back in the Old Briar-patch Peter thought over all he had learned about the Flycatcher family, and as he recalled how they were forever catching all sorts of flying insects it suddenly struck him that they must be very useful little people in helping Old Mother Nature take care of her trees and other growing things which insects so dearly love to destroy.
Most of all Peter thought about that odd request of Cresty’s, and a dozen times that day he found himself peeping under old logs in the hope of finding a castoff coat of Mr. Black Snake. It was such a funny thing for Cresty to ask for that Peter’s curiosity would allow him no peace, and the next morning he was up in the Old Orchard before jolly Mr. Sun had kicked his bedclothes off. Jenny Wren was as good as her word. While she flitted and hopped about this way and that way, getting her breakfast, she talked.
“Did you find any old clothes of the Snake family?” she asked. Then as Peter shook his head her tongue ran on without waiting for him to reply. “Cresty and his wife always insist upon having a piece of Snake skin in their nest,” said she. “Why they want it, goodness knows! However, they do want it and never can seem to settle down to housekeeping unless they have it. Perhaps they think it will scare robbers away.”
“By the way, do you know where Cresty builds?” asked Peter.
“Yes actually, in a hole in a tree” replied Jenny Wren promptly.
Peter looked quite as surprised as he felt. “Does Cresty make the hole?” he asked.
“Goodness gracious, no!” exclaimed Jenny Wren. “Flycatchers do not have a bill that can cut wood!” Jenny rattled on, “It is a good thing for a lot of us that the Woodpecker family are so fond of new houses. Look! There is Downy the Woodpecker hard at work on a new house this very minute. That’s good. I like to see that. It means that next year there will be one more house for someone here in the Old Orchard. For myself I prefer old houses. I’ve noticed there are a number of my neighbors who feel the same way about it. There is something settled about an old house. It doesn’t attract attention the way a new one does. So long as it has got reasonably good walls, and the rain and the wind can’t get in, the older it is the better it suits me. And the Woodpeckers seem to like new houses best, which, as I said before, is a very good thing for the rest of us.”
“Who is there besides you and Cresty and Billy the House Sparrow whouse these old Woodpecker houses?” asked Peter.
“Winsome Bluebird” said Jenny Wren.
Peter grinned. “Of course,” said he. “I forgot all about Winsome.”
“And Skimmer the Tree Swallow,” added Jenny.
“That’s so; I ought to have remembered him,” exclaimed Peter. “I’ve noticed that he is very fond of the same house year after year. Is there anybody else?”
Again Jenny Wren nodded. “Yank-Yank the Nuthatch uses an old house, I’m told, although he usually goes up North for his nesting,” said she. “DeeDee the Chickadee sometimes uses an old house. Then again he and Mrs. Chickadee sometimes make a house for themselves. Yellow Wing the Flicker, who really is a Woodpecker, often uses an old house, and quite often makes a new one. Then there are Killee the Sparrow Hawk and Spooky the Screech Owl.”
Peter looked surprised. “I didn’t suppose they nested in holes in trees!” he exclaimed.
“They certainly do,” replied Jenny. “Yes, an old house of Yellow Wing the Flicker suits either of them. Killee always uses one that is high up, and comes back to it year after year. Spooky isn’t particular so long as the house is big enough to be comfortable. He lives in it more or less the year around. Now I must get back to those eggs of mine. I’ve talked quite enough for one morning.”
“Oh, Jenny,” cried Peter, as a sudden thought struck him.
Jenny paused, jerked her tail impatiently, and asked “Well, what is it now?”
“Have you got two homes?” asked Peter.
“Goodness gracious, no!” exclaimed Jenny. “What do you suppose I want of two homes? One is all I can take care of.”
“Then why,” asked Peter, “does Mr. Wren work all day carrying sticks and straws into a hole in another tree? It seems to me that he has carried enough in there to build two or three nests.”
Jenny Wren’s eyes twinkled, and she laughed softly. “Mr. Wren just has to be busy about something, bless his heart,” said she. “He’s building that nest to take up his time and keep out of mischief. Besides, if he fills that hollow up nobody else will take it, and you know we might want to move some time. Goodbye, Peter.” With a final jerk of her tail Jenny Wren flew to the little round doorway of her house and popped inside.
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 – Eastern Wood Pewee
- Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – Bird HOMES + Nesting Materials
- Another option is to get a copy of Fifty Favorite Birds Coloring Book by Lisa Bonforte and color the Eastern Wood Pewee on page 44 (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.
*Start watching out your window to see where the birds are drawn to in your yard or beyond. Next time you head outdoors take a peek in those areas to see if there has been any home building or nesting going on (without disturbing any of the birds!).
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.