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Chapter 29 – The Constant Singers
Over in a maple tree on the edge of Farmer Brown’s door yard lived Redeye the Vireo and Mrs. Vireo. Peter Rabbit knew that they had a nest there because Jenny Wren had told him so. He would have guessed it anyway, because Redeye spent so much time in that tree during the nesting season. No matter what hour of the day Peter visited the Old Orchard he heard Redeye singing over in the maple tree. Peter used to think that if song is an expression of happiness, Redeye must be the happiest of all birds.
He was a little fellow about the size of one of the larger Warblers and quite as modestly dressed as any of Peter’s acquaintances. The crown of his head was gray with a little blackish border on either side. Over each eye was a white line. Underneath he was white. For the rest he was dressed in light olive-green. The first time he came down near enough for Peter to see him well Peter understood at once why he is called Redeye as his eyes were truly red.
However it wasn’t often that Redeye came down so near the ground that Peter could see his eyes. He preferred to spend most of his time in the tree tops, and Peter only got glimpses of him now and then. It was even less often that he actually heard him. “I don’t see when Redeye finds time to eat,” declared Peter as he listened to the seemingly unending song in the maple tree.
“Redeye believes in singing while he works,” said Jenny Wren. “For my part I should think he’d wear his throat out. When other birds sing they don’t do anything else versus Redeye sings all the time he is looking for his meals and only stops long enough to swallow a worm or a bug when he finds it. Just as soon as it is down he begins to sing again while he looks for another. And I must say for the Vireos that they are mighty good nest builders. Have you seen their nest over in that maple tree, Peter?”
Peter shook his head. “I don’t dare go over there except very early in the morning before Farmer Brown’s folks are awake,” he said, “so I haven’t had much chance to look for it.”
“You probably couldn’t see it, anyway,” declared Jenny Wren. “They have placed it rather high up from the ground and those leaves are so thick that they hide it. It’s a regular little basket fastened in a fork near the end of a branch and it is woven almost as nicely as is the nest of Goldy the Oriole. How anybody has the patience to weave a nest like that is beyond me.”
“What is it made of?” asked Peter.
“Strips of bark, plant down, spider’s web, grass, and pieces of paper!” replied Jenny. “That’s a funny thing about Redeye; he dearly loves a piece of paper in his nest. He’s as fussy about having a scrap of paper as Cresty the Flycatcher is about having a piece of snake skin. I had just a peep into that nest a few days ago and unless I am greatly mistaken Sally the Cowbird has managed to impose on the Verios. I am certain I saw one of her eggs in that nest.”
A few mornings after this talk with Jenny Wren about Redeye the Vireo Peter once more visited the Old Orchard. No sooner did he come in sight than Jenny Wren’s tongue began to fly. “What did I tell you, Peter Rabbit? I knew it was so, and it is!” cried Jenny.
“What is so?” asked Peter, for he hadn’t the least idea what Jenny Wren was talking about.
“Sally the Cowbird did lay an egg in Redeye’s nest, and now it has hatched and I don’t know whatever is to become of Redeye’s own children!” cried Jenny, and hopped about and jerked her tail and worked herself into a small brown fury.
“The Vireos are working themselves to feathers and bone feeding that young Cowbird while their own babies aren’t getting half enough to eat,” continued Jenny. “One of them has died already. He was kicked out of the nest by that young Cowbird.”
“Oh my!” cried Peter. “If he does things like that I should think the Vireos would throw him out of the nest.”
“They’re too soft-hearted,” declared Jenny. “They say it isn’t his fault that he’s there, and that he’s nothing but a helpless baby, and so they just take care of him.”
“Then why don’t they feed their own babies first and give him what’s left?” Peter wondered.
“Because he’s twice as big as any of their own babies and so strong that he simply snatches the food out of the very mouths of the others. Because he gets most of the food, he’s growing twice as fast as they are. He might kick all the rest of them out before he gets through. Mr. and Mrs. Vireo are dreadfully distressed about it, and yet they will feed him because they say it isn’t his fault.”
“Speaking of the Vireos, Redeye seems to be the only member of his family around here,” remarked Peter.
“Hold on, listen!” said Jenny Wren. “Do you hear that warbling song way over in the big elm in front of Farmer Brown’s house where Goldy the Oriole has his nest?”
Peter listened. At first he didn’t hear it, and then he did. The voice was not unlike that of Redeye, the song was smoother though, more continuous and sweeter. Peter’s face lit up. “I do hear it,” he cried.
“That’s Redeye’s cousin, the Warbling Vireo,” said Jenny. “He sings from the time jolly Mr. Sun gets up in the morning until he goes to bed at night. He sings when it is so hot that the rest of us are glad to keep still for comfort’s sake. I don’t know of anybody more fond of the tree tops than he is. He doesn’t seem to care anything about the Old Orchard, he just stays over in those big trees along the road. He’s got a nest over in that big elm and it is as high up as that of Goldy the Oriole; I haven’t seen it myself, Goldy told me about it.”
“Somehow I don’t remember just what Warble looks like,” Peter confessed.
“He looks a lot like his cousin, Redeye,” replied Jenny. “His coat is a little duller olive-green and underneath he is a little bit yellowish instead of white. Of course he doesn’t have red eyes, and he is a little smaller than Redeye. The whole family looks pretty much alike anyway.”
“They get me all mixed up,” declared Peter. “If only some of them had some bright colors it would be easier to tell them apart.”
“One has,” replied Jenny Wren. “He has a bright yellow throat and breast and is called the Yellow-throated Vireo. There isn’t the least chance of mistaking him.”
“Is he a singer, too?” asked Peter.
“Oh yes,” replied Jenny. “Every one in that family loves to sing. It’s a family trait. Now I must get on with my day, goodbye Peter.”
“Goodbye Jenny!” Peter called out as he hopped away to the dear Old Briar-patch.
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-eyed Vireo
- Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – Yellow-throated Warbler
- Q/A –Questions with answers to keep this conversation going are available for both Maple Tree + Elm Tree (p. 628-637 ) 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 Yellowthroat (p45) and a Red-eyed Vireo (p33).
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.
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.