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Chapter 17 – More Robbers
By the sounds of rejoicing among the feathered folks of the Old Orchard Johnny Woodchuck knew that it was quite safe for him to come out. He was eager to tell Skimmer the Tree Swallow how glad he was that Mr. Blacksnake had been driven away before he could get Skimmer’s eggs. As he poked his head out of his doorway he became aware that something was still wrong in the Old Orchard. Into the glad chorus there broke a note of distress and sorrow. Johnny instantly recognized the voices of Welcome Robin and Mrs. Robin. There is not one among his feathered neighbors who can so express worry and sorrow as can the Robins.
Johnny was just in time to see all the birds hurrying over to that part of the Old Orchard where the Robins had built their home. The rejoicing suddenly gave way to cries of distress. It appeared that there was just as much excitement over there as there had been when Mr. Black Snake had been discovered trying to rob Skimmer and Mrs. Skimmer. It couldn’t be Mr. Black Snake again, because Farmer Brown’s boy had chased him in quite another direction.
“What is it now?” asked Johnny of Skimmer, who was still excitedly discussing with Mrs. Skimmer their recent fright.
“I don’t know. I’ll go find out,” replied Skimmer and darted away.
Johnny Woodchuck waited patiently. The excitement and chattering among the birds seemed to increase and grow louder. The voices of Welcome and Mrs. Robin were mournful, as if they were heartbroken.
Presently Skimmer came back to tell Mrs. Skimmer the news.
“The Robins have lost their eggs!” he cried excitedly. “All four have been broken and eaten. Mrs. Robin left them to come over here to help drive away Mr. Black Snake, and while she was here someone ate those eggs. Nobody knows who it could have been, because all the birds of the Old Orchard were over here at that time. It might have been Chatterer the Red Squirrel, or it might have been Sammy Jay, or it might have been Creaker the Grackle, or it might have been Clever the Crow. Whoever it was just took that chance to sneak over there and rob that nest when there was no one to see him.”
Just then from over towards the Green Forest sounded a mocking “Caw, caw, caw!” Instantly the noise in the Old Orchard ceased for a moment. Then it broke out afresh. There wasn’t a doubt now in any one’s mind. Clever the Crow was the robber.
“Caw, caw, caw!” shouted Clever from the distance.
All the birds were busy chattering as they gathered around Welcome and Mrs. Robin trying to comfort them and it was some time before they broke up and returned to their own homes and duties. Almost at once there was another cry of distress. Mr. and Mrs. Chebec had been robbed of their eggs! While they had been tending to the home of the Robins, a thief had taken the chance to steal their eggs and get away.
Of course all the birds hurried over to sympathize with the Chebecs now too. They knew it couldn’t have been Clever this time because they had heard Clever cawing over on the edge of the Green Forest. In the midst of the excited discussion as to who did this, Weaver the Orchard Oriole spied a blue and white feather on the ground just below Chebec’s nest.
“It was Sammy Jay! There is no doubt about it, it was Sammy Jay!” he cried.
At the sight of that telltale feather all the birds knew that Weaver was right, and led by Scrapper the Kingbird they began a noisy search of the Old Orchard for the sneaky robber. However Sammy wasn’t to be found, and they soon gave up the search, none daring to stay longer away from his own home lest something should happen there. Welcome and Mrs. Robin continued to cry mournfully, while little Mr. and Mrs. Chebec bore their trouble almost silently.
“There is one thing about it,” said Mr. Chebec to his sorrowful little wife, “that egg of Sally’s went with the rest, and we won’t have to raise that orphan.”
“That’s true,” she said. “There is no use crying over what can’t be helped. Come on, Chebec, let’s look for a place to build another nest. Next time I won’t leave the eggs for a minute.”
Meanwhile Jenny Wren’s tongue was fairly flying as she chattered to Peter Rabbit, who had come up in the midst of the excitement and of course had to know all about it.
“Clever the Crow and his cousin Sammy Jay belong to a family of robbers,” declared Jenny.
“Wait a minute,” cried Peter. “Do you mean to say that Clever the Crow and Sammy Jay are cousins?”
“Yes, they are cousins,” exclaimed Jenny. “They don’t look much alike, however they belong to the same family. How Sammy Jay can do such a thing as eating another’s eggs I don’t understand. He does do a lot of good by eating caterpillars and other bugs. Also there are no sharper eyes anywhere than those of Sammy Jay, and I’ll have to say this for him, that whenever he discovers any danger he always gives us warning. He has saved the lives of a good many of us feathered folks in this way. If it wasn’t for this habit of stealing our eggs I wouldn’t have a word to say against him. They say Clever the Crow does some good by eating white grubs and some other bugs, however he is also just as fond of young birds as he is of eggs.”
Remembering her household duties, Jenny Wren disappeared inside her house in her usual abrupt fashion. Peter, meanwhile, stayed for a bit and then finding no one who had the time to talk to him he suddenly decided to go over to the Green Forest to look for some of his friends there. He had gone only a little way in the Green Forest when he caught a glimpse of a blue form stealing away through the trees. He knew it in an instant, for there is no one with such a coat as Sammy Jay. Peter glanced up from where Sammy had flown and there he saw a nest in the fork of a tree halfway up. “I wonder,” thought Peter, “if Sammy was stealing eggs there, or if that is his own nest.” Then he started after Sammy as fast as he could go, lipperty-lipperty-lip. As he ran he happened to look back and was just in time to see Mrs. Jay slip on to the nest. Then Peter knew that he had discovered Sammy’s home. He chuckled as he ran.
“I’ve found out your secret, Sammy Jay!” cried Peter when at last he caught up with Sammy.
“Then I hope you’ll be kind enough to keep it to yourself,” said Sammy, looking not at all pleased.
“Certainly,” replied Peter. “I wouldn’t think of telling anyone.”
Peter sat studying Sammy Jay for a moment noticing that he is just a bit bigger than Welcome Robin. His back is grayish-blue. His tail is a bright blue-crossed with little black bars and edged with white. His wings are blue with white and black bars. His throat and breast are a soft grayish-white, and he wears a collar of black. On his head he wears a pointed cap, a very convenient cap, for at times he draws it down so that it is not pointed at all.
“Why did you steal Mrs. Chebec’s eggs?” asked Peter abruptly.
Sammy didn’t look the least bit put out. “Because I like eggs,” he replied promptly. “If people will leave their eggs unguarded they must expect to lose them. How did you know I took those eggs?”
“Never mind, Sammy; never mind. A little bird told me,” Peter said mischievously.
Sammy opened his mouth for a sharp reply and then instead he uttered a cry of warning. “Run, Peter! Run! Here comes Reddy Fox!” he cried.
Peter shot under a great pile of brush. There he was quite safe. While he waited for Reddy Fox to go away he thought about Sammy Jay. “It’s funny,” he mused, “how so much good and so much bad can be mixed together. Sammy Jay stole Chebec’s eggs, and then he saved my life. I just know he would have done as much for Mr. and Mrs. Chebec, or for any other feathered neighbor. He can only steal eggs for a little while in the spring. I guess on the whole he does more good than harm.”
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 – Blue Jay
- Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – American Crow
- Nature journal coloring pages at Cornell Common Feeder Birds FREE (page W38 Blue Jay + W40 American Crow).
- Q/A –Questions with answers to keep this conversation going are available for the American Crow (p. 124-127) ) 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 some colored pencils to complete the drawings of a Blue Jay (p5) and a Common Crow (p16).
- Also a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America Coloring Book by Paul E. Kennedy with a Blue Jay on page 22.
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.