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Chapter 10 – Redwing and Yellow Wing
Peter had come over to the Smiling Pool especially to pay his respects to Redwing the Blackbird, so as soon as he could, without being impolite, he left Mrs. Sandpiper sitting on her eggs, and Teeter himself bobbing and bowing in the friendliest way, and hurried over to where the bulrushes grow. In the very top of the Big Hickory tree, a little farther along on the bank of the Smiling Pool, sat someone who at that distance appeared to be dressed all in black. He was singing as if there were nothing other than joy in all the great world. “Quong-ka-reee! Quong-ka-reee! Quong-ka-reee!” he sang. Peter would have known from this song alone that it was Redwing the Blackbird, for there is no other song quite like it.
As soon as Peter appeared in sight Redwing left his high perch and flew down to light among the broken down bulrushes. As he flew, Peter saw the beautiful red patch on the bend of each wing, from which Redwing gets his name. “No one could ever mistake him for anybody else,” thought Peter, “For there isn’t anybody else with such beautiful shoulder patches.”
“What’s the news, Peter Rabbit?” cried Redwing, coming over to sit very near Peter.
“There isn’t much,” replied Peter, “excepting that Teeter the Sandpiper has four eggs just a little way from here. And I suppose,” said Peter continuing, “that you will be building a nest pretty soon yourself, Redwing.”
Redwing chuckled softly. It was a happy, contented sort of chuckle. “No, Peter,” said he. “I am not going to build a nest.”
“What?” exclaimed Peter, and his two long ears stood straight up with astonishment.
“No,” replied Redwing, still chuckling. “I’m not going to build a nest, and if you want to know a little secret, we have four as pretty eggs as ever were laid.”
Peter fairly bubbled over with interest and curiosity. “How splendid!” he cried. “Where is your nest, Redwing? I would just love to see it. I suppose it is because she is sitting on those eggs that I haven’t seen Mrs. Blackbird. It was very silly of me not to guess that folks who come as early as you do would be among the first to build a home. Where is it, Redwing? Do tell me.”
Redwing’s eyes twinkled.
“A secret which is known by three, full soon will not a secret be,” said he. “It isn’t that I don’t trust you, Peter. I know that you wouldn’t intentionally let my secret slip out. You might do it by accident. What you don’t know, you can’t tell.”
“That’s right, Redwing. I am glad you have so much sense,” said another voice, and Mrs. Blackbird alighted very near to Redwing.
Mrs. Blackbird was a little bit smaller than her husband and had a plain little body. It was hard to realize that she was a Blackbird at all. In the first place she wasn’t black. She was dressed all over in grayish-brown with streaks of darker brown which in places were almost black. She wore no bright colored shoulder patches like her husband. In fact, there wasn’t a bright feather on her anywhere. Peter wanted to ask why it was that she was so plainly dressed, however he was too polite and decided to wait until he should see Jenny Wren. She would be sure to know. Instead, he exclaimed, “How do you do, Mrs. Blackbird? I’m ever so glad to see you. I was wondering where you were. Where did you come from?”
“Straight from my home,” replied Mrs. Blackbird. “And if I do say it is the best home we’ve ever had.”
Redwing chuckled. He was full of chuckles. You see, he had noticed how eagerly Peter was looking everywhere.
“This much I will tell you, Peter,” said Redwing, “our nest is somewhere in these bulrushes, and if you can find it we won’t say a word, even if you don’t keep the secret.”
Then Redwing chuckled again and Mrs. Blackbird chuckled with him. You see, they knew that Peter doesn’t like water, and that nest was hidden in a certain clump of brown, broken down rushes, with water all around. Suddenly Redwing flew up in the air with a harsh cry. “Run, Peter! Run!” he screamed. “Here comes Reddy Fox!”
Peter didn’t wait for a second warning. He knew by the sound of Redwing’s voice that Redwing wasn’t joking. There was just one place of safety, and that was an old hole of Grandfather Chuck’s between the roots of the Big Hickory tree. Peter didn’t waste any time getting there, and he was none too soon, for Reddy was so close at his heels that he pulled some white hairs out of Peter’s tail as Peter plunged headfirst down that hole. It was a lucky thing for Peter that that hole was too small for Reddy to follow and the roots prevented Reddy from digging it any bigger.
For a long time Peter sat in Grandfather Chuck’s old house, wondering how soon it would be safe for him to come out. For a while he heard Mr. and Mrs. Blackbird scolding sharply, and by this he knew that Reddy Fox was still about.
By and by they stopped scolding, and a few minutes later he heard Redwing’s happy song. “That means,” thought Peter, “that Reddy Fox has gone away, however I think I’ll sit here a while longer to make sure.”
Now Peter was sitting right under the Big Hickory tree. After a while he began to hear faint little sounds, little taps, and scratching sounds as of claws. They seemed to come from right over his head, however he knew that there was no one in that hole except himself. He couldn’t understand it at all.
Finally Peter decided it would be safe to peek outside. Very carefully he poked his head out. Just as he did so, a little chip struck him right on the nose. Peter pulled his head back hurriedly and stared at the little chip which lay just in front of the hole. Then two or three more little chips fell. Peter knew that they must come from up in the Big Hickory tree, and right away his curiosity was aroused. Redwing was singing so happily that Peter felt sure no danger was near, so he hopped outside and looked up to find out where those little chips had come from. Just a few feet above his head he saw a round hole in the trunk of the Big Hickory tree. While he was looking at it, a head with a long stout bill was thrust out and in that bill were two or three little chips. Peter’s heart gave a little jump of glad surprise.
“Yellow Wing!” he cried. “My goodness, how you startled me!”
The chips were dropped and the head was thrust farther out. The sides and throat were a soft reddish-tan and on each side at the beginning of the bill was a black patch. The top of the head was gray and just at the back was a little band of bright red. There was no mistaking that head. It belonged to Yellow Wing the Flicker beyond a doubt.
“Hello, Peter!” exclaimed Yellow Wing, his eyes twinkling. “What are you doing here?”
“Nothing,” replied Peter, “although I want to know what you are doing. What are all those chips?”
“I’m fixing up this old house of mine,” replied Yellow Wing promptly. “It wasn’t quite deep enough to suit me, so I am making it a little deeper. Mrs. Flicker and I haven’t been able to find another house to suit us, so we have decided to live here again this year.” He came all the way out and flew down on the ground near Peter. When his wings were spread, Peter saw that on the under sides they were a beautiful golden-yellow, as were the under sides of his tail feathers. Around his throat was a broad, black collar. From this, clear to his tail, were black dots. When his wings were spread, the upper part of his body just above the tail was pure white.
“My,” exclaimed Peter, “you are a handsome fellow!”
Yellow Wing looked pleased. Perhaps he felt a little flattered. “I am glad you think so, Peter,” he said. “I am rather proud of my suit, myself. I don’t know of any member of my family with whom I would change coats.”
A sudden thought struck Peter. “What family do you belong to?” he asked abruptly.
“The Woodpecker family,” replied Yellow Wing proudly.
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 – Red-winged Blackbird
- Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – Northern Flicker
- Nature journal coloring pages at Cornell Common Feeder Birds FREE (pages W66 Red-winged Blackbird + W37 Northern Flicker).
- Q/A –Questions with answers to keep this conversation going are available for both Red-winged Blackbird (p. 117- 119) and Flicker (p. 77-79) in the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock offered FREE online HERE.
- Another option is to get a copy of Fifty Favorite Birds Coloring Book by Lisa Bonforte and color the Flicker on page 18 and Red-winged Blackbird on page 35 (colored pencils recommended).
- Also a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America Coloring Book by Paul E. Kennedy with a Red-winged Blackbird on page 2.
FYI -These coloring books are an excellent companion for this bird story series.
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.