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Chapter 24 – The Warblers Arrive
If there is one family of feathered friends which perplexes Peter Rabbit more than another, it is the Warbler family.
“So many of them come together and they move about so constantly that a fellow doesn’t have a chance to look at one long enough to recognize him,” Peter mentioned to Jenny Wren one morning when the Old Orchard was fairly alive with little birds no bigger than Jenny Wren herself.
And such restless little folks they were! They were not still an instant, flitting from tree to tree, twig to twig, darting out into the air and all the time keeping up an endless chattering mingled with little snatches of song. Peter would no sooner fix his eyes on one than another entirely different in appearance would take its place. Occasionally he would see one whom he recognized, one who would stay for the nesting season. The majority of them would stop only for a day or two, being bound farther north to make their summer homes.
Jenny was a little fearful these birds would not leave enough for her to get her own meals easily as there were so many of them and they were so busy catching all kinds of small insects.
“I don’t see what they have to stop here for,” uttered Jenny. “They could just as well go somewhere else where they would not be taking the food out of the mouths of folks who are here to stay all summer.”
As for Peter, he was thoroughly enjoying this visit of the Warblers, despite the fact that he was having no end of trouble trying to tell who was who. Suddenly one darted down and snapped up a fly almost under Peter’s very nose and was back up in a tree before Peter could get his breath.
“It’s Zee Zee the Redstart!” cried Peter joyously.
“I would know Zee Zee anywhere. Do you know who he reminds me of, Jenny Wren?” asked Peter.
“Who?” Jenny inquired.
“Goldy the Oriole,” Peter replied . “Only of course he’s ever so much smaller. He’s all black and orange-red and white as Goldy is, only there isn’t quite so much orange on him.”
For just an instant Zee Zee sat still with his tail spread. His head, throat and back were black and there was a black band across the end of his tail and a black stripe down the middle of it. The rest was bright orange-red. On each wing was a band of orange-red and his sides were the same color. Underneath he was white tinged more or less with orange.
It was only for an instant that Zee Zee sat still; then he was in the air, darting, diving, whirling, going through all sorts of antics as he caught tiny insects too small for Peter to see. Peter began to wonder how he kept still long enough to sleep at night. And his voice was quite as busy as his wings. “Zee, zee, zee, zee!” he would cry. This was only one of many notes. At times he would sing a beautiful little song and then again it would seem as if he were trying to imitate other members of the Warbler family.
“I do hope Zee Zee is going to stay here,” said Peter. “I just love to watch him.”
“I don’t imagine he’ll stay in the Old Orchard” Jenny thought out loud. “He and Mrs. Redstart will probably make their home on the edge of the Green Forest. They seem to like it better over there. There’s Mrs. Redstart now. Just notice that where Zee Zee is bright orange-red she is yellow, and instead of a black head she has a gray head and her back is olive-green with a grayish tinge. She lets Zee Zee do the singing and the showing off and she does the work. I expect she’ll build that nest with almost no help at all from him. Zee Zee is a good father as he’ll do his share in feeding their babies.”
Just then Peter caught sight of a bird all in yellow. He was about the same size as Zee Zee and was flitting about among the bushes along the old stone wall. “There’s Sunshine!” cried Peter, and without even bidding Jenny Wren farewell, he scampered over to where he could see the one he called Sunshine flitting about from bush to bush.
“Oh, Sunshine!” he cried, as he came within speaking distance, “I’m ever so glad to see you back. I do hope you and Mrs. Sunshine are going to make your home somewhere near here where I can see you every day.”
“Hello, Peter! I am just as glad to see you as you are to see me,” cried Sunshine the Yellow Warbler. “Yes, indeed, we certainly intend to stay here if we can find just the right place for our nest. It is lovely to be back here again. We’ve journeyed so far that we don’t want to go a bit farther if we can help it. Have you seen Sally the Cowbird around here this spring?”
Peter nodded. “Yes,” he said, “I have.”
“I’m sorry to hear it,” declared Sunshine. “She made us a lot of trouble last year. We fooled her though.”
“How did you fool her?” asked Peter.
Sunshine paused to pick a tiny worm from a leaf. “Well,” he said, “she found our nest just after we had finished it and before Mrs. Sunshine had had a chance to lay an egg. Of course you know what she did.”
“I can guess,” replied Peter. “She laid one of her own eggs in your nest.”
Sunshine stopped to pick two or three more worms from the leaves. “Yes,” he said. “She did just that. And it didn’t do her a bit of good. That egg never hatched. We fooled her and that’s what we’ll do again if she repeats that trick this year.”
“What did you do, throw that egg out?” asked Peter.
“No,” replied Sunshine. “Our nest was too deep for us to get that egg out. We just made a second bottom in our nest right over that egg and built the sides of the nest a little higher. Then we took good care that she didn’t have a chance to lay another egg in there.”
“Then you had a regular two story nest, didn’t you?” Peter exclaimed, opening his eyes very wide.
Sunshine nodded. “Yes, sir,” he said, “and it was a mighty fine nest, if I do say it. If there’s anything Mrs. Sunshine and I pride ourselves on it is our nest. Our babies have a soft cozy home.”
“What do you make your nest of?” asked Peter.
“Fine grasses and soft fibers from plants, some hair when we can find it, and a few feathers. And we always use a lot of that nice soft fern cotton. There is nothing softer that I know of.”
All the time Peter had been admiring Sunshine and thinking how wonderfully well he was named. At first glance he seemed to be all yellow, as if somehow he had managed to catch and hold the sunshine in his feathers. There wasn’t a white feather on him. When he came very close Peter could see that on his breast and underneath were little streaks of reddish brown and his wings and tail were a little blackish. Otherwise he was all yellow.
Presently he was joined by Mrs. Sunshine. She was not as bright yellow as was Sunshine, having an olive-green tint on her back. Underneath she was almost clear yellow without the reddish-brown streaks. She too was glad to see Peter although she couldn’t stop to chat, for already, as she informed Sunshine, she had found just the place for their nest. Of course Peter begged to be told where it was.
The two little folks in yellow snapped their bright eyes at him and told him that that was their secret and they didn’t propose to tell a living soul.
Perhaps if Peter had not been so curious and eager to get acquainted with other members of the Warbler family he would have stayed and done a little spying. As it was, he promised himself to come back to look for that nest after it had been built; then he scurried back among the trees of the Old Orchard to look for other friends among the busy little Warblers who were making the Old Orchard such a lively place that morning.
“There’s one thing about it,” cried Peter. “Any one can tell Zee Zee the Redstart by his black and flame colored suit. There is no other like it. And anyone can tell Sunshine the Yellow Warbler because there isn’t anybody else who seems to be all yellow. My, what a lively, lovely lot these Warblers are!”
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 – Amercan Restart
- Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – Yellow Warbler
- Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – A fascinating story of a Yellow Warbler tracked from Columbia, South America to NY, USA (here).
- Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – A map and explanation of when Yellow Warblers migrate back to your area (here).
- Another option is to get a copy of Fifty Favorite Birds Coloring Book by Lisa Bonforte and some colored pencils to complete the drawing of a Yellow Warbler (p46).
- Also a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America Coloring Book by Paul E. Kennedy with an American Redstart on page 32.
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.