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Chapter 30 – Jenny Wren’s Cousins
Peter Rabbit never will forget his surprise when Jenny Wren asked him one spring morning if he had seen anything of her big cousin. Peter hesitated. As a matter of fact, he couldn’t think of any big cousin of Jenny Wren. All the cousins he knew anything about were very nearly Jenny’s own size.
“Have you seen anything of my big cousin? It is high time for him to be here,” declared Jenny.
“To be quite honest, I don’t know him,” replied Peter.
“Oh yes you do, I mean Brownie the Thrasher!” boomed Jenny.
In his surprise Peter fairly jumped right off the ground. “What’s that?” he exclaimed. “Since when was Brownie the Thrasher related to the Wren family?”
“Ever since there have been any Wrens and Thrashers,” proclaimed Jenny. “Brownie belongs to one branch of the family and I belong to another, and that makes him my second cousin.”
“And here I have always supposed he belonged to the Thrush family,” Peter uttered. “He certainly looks like a Thrush.”
“Looking like one doesn’t make him one though,” observed Jenny. “And so do you know if he has he arrived yet?”
“Yes,” said Peter. “I saw him only yesterday on the edge of the Old Pasture. He was fussing around in the bushes and on the ground and jerking that long tail of his up and down and side wise as if he couldn’t decide what to do with it. I’ve never seen anybody twitch their tail
around the way he does.”
Jenny Wren giggled. “That’s just like him,” said she. “It is because he thrashes his tail around so much that he is called a Thrasher. And I suppose he was wearing his new spring suit.”
“Well, I don’t know whether it was a new suit or not, however it was good looking,” replied Peter. “I just love that beautiful reddish-brown of his back, wings and tail, and it certainly does set off his white and buff waistcoat with those dark streaks and spots. You must admit, Jenny Wren, that any one seeing him dressed so much like the Thrushes is to be excused for thinking him a Thrush.”
“I suppose so,” admitted Jenny. “However, none of the Thrushes have such a bright brown coat. Did you notice what a long bill he has?”
Peter nodded. “And I noticed that he had two white bars on each wing,” he said.
“Did you hear him sing?” asked Jenny.
“Did I hear him sing? Oh yes!” cried Peter, his eyes shining at the memory. “He sang especially for me. He flew up to the top of a tree, tipped his head back and sang as few birds I know of can sing. He has a wonderful voice. And when he’s singing he acts as if he enjoyed it himself and knows what a good singer he is. I noticed that long tail of his hung straight down the same way Mr. Wren’s does when he sings.”
“Yes,” agreed Jenny. “That is a family trait and the tails of both my other big cousins do the same thing.”
“What’s that? Have you got more big cousins?” cried Peter in disbelief.
“Certainly,” reassured Jenny. “Mocker the Mockingbird and Kitty the Catbird belong to Brownie’s family, so they are my second cousins.”
Such a funny expression as there was on Peter’s face. He felt that Jenny Wren was telling the truth, and yet it was surprising news to him and so hard to believe that for a few minutes he couldn’t find his tongue to ask another question. Finally he ventured to ask, “Does Brownie imitate the songs of other birds the way Mocker and Kitty do?”
Jenny Wren shook her head. “No,” she said. “He’s perfectly satisfied with his own song.” Before she could add anything further the clear whistle of Glory the Cardinal sounded from a tree just a little way off. Instantly Peter forgot all about Jenny Wren’s relatives and scampered over to that tree. You see Glory is so beautiful that Peter never loses a chance to see him.
As Peter sat staring up into the tree, trying to get a glimpse of Glory’s beautiful red coat, the clear, sweet whistle sounded once more. It drew Peter’s eyes to one of the upper branches, and instead of the brilliant red coat of Glory the Cardinal he saw a bird about the size of Welcome Robin dressed in ashy-gray with two white bars on his wings, and white feathers on the outer edges of his tail. He was very trim and neat and his tail hung straight down after the manner of Brownie’s when he was singing. It was a long tail, although not as long as Brownie’s. Even as Peter blinked and stared in surprise the stranger opened his mouth and from it came Glory’s own beautiful whistle. Then the stranger looked down at Peter, and his eyes twinkled with mischief.
“Fooled you that time, didn’t I, Peter?” he chuckled. “You thought you were going to see Glory the Cardinal.”
Then without waiting for Peter to reply, this stranger gave such a concert as no one else in the world could give. From that wonderful throat poured out song after song and note after note of Peter’s familiar friends of the Old Orchard, and the performance wound up with a lovely song which was all the stranger’s own. Peter didn’t have to be told who the stranger was. It was Mocker the Mockingbird.
“Oh!” gasped Peter. “Oh, Mocker, how under the sun do you do it? I was sure that it was Glory whom I heard whistling. Never again will I be able to believe my own ears.”
Mocker chuckled. “You’re not the only one I’ve fooled, Peter,” he said. “I flatter myself that I can fool almost anybody if I set out to. It’s
lots of fun. I may not be much to look at, and yet when it comes to singing there’s no one I envy.”
“I think you are very nice looking indeed,” replied Peter politely. “I’ve just been finding out this morning that you can’t tell much about folks just by their looks.”
“And now you’ve learned that you can’t always recognize folks by their voices, haven’t you?” chuckled Mocker.
“Yes,” replied Peter. “Now I shall never be sure about any feathered folks unless I can both see and hear them. Would you sing for me again, Mocker?”
Mocker did. He sang and sang, for he clearly loves to sing. When he finished Peter had another question ready. “Somebody told me once that down in the South you are the most loved of all the birds. Is that so?”
“That’s not for me to say,” replied Mocker modestly. “I can tell you this, Peter, they do think a lot of me down there. There are many birds down there who are very beautifully dressed, birds who don’t come up here at all. Not one of them is loved as I am, and it is all on account of my voice. I would rather have a beautiful voice than a fine coat.”
“There’s Mrs. Goldy the Oriole over there,” said Mocker. “Watch me fool her.”
He began to call in exact imitation of Goldy’s voice when he is anxious about something. At once Mrs. Goldy came hurrying over to find out what the trouble was. When she discovered Mocker she lost her temper and scolded him; then she flew away a perfect picture of indignation. Mocker and Peter laughed, for they thought it a good joke.
Suddenly Peter remembered what Jenny Wren had told him. “Jenny said that you are a second cousin of hers. Are you really?” he asked.
Mocker nodded. “Yes,” he said, “we are relatives. We each belong to a branch of the same family.” Then he burst into Mr. Wren’s own song,
after which he excused himself and went to look for Mrs. Mockingbird. For, as he explained, it was time for them to be thinking of a nest.
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 – Brown Thrasher
- Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – Northern Mockingbird
- Q/A –Questions with answers to keep this conversation going are available for both Mockingbird (p. 91-94) 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 Brown Thrasher (p8) and a Mockingbird (p27).
- Also a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America Coloring Book by Paul E. Kennedy with a Brown Thrasher on page 38.
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.