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CHAPTER 33 – A Royal Dresser and a Late Nester
Jenny and Mr. Wren were busy. If there were any busier little folks anywhere Peter Rabbit couldn’t imagine who they could be. You see, everyone of those seven eggs in the Wren nest had hatched, and seven mouths are a lot to feed, especially when every morsel of food must be hunted for and carried from a distance. There was little time for chatting now. Just as soon as it was light enough to see Jenny and Mr. Wren began feeding those always hungry babies, and they kept at it with hardly time for an occasional mouthful themselves, until the Dark Shadows came creeping out from the Purple Hills. Wren babies, like all other bird babies, grow very fast, and that means that each one of them must have a great deal of food every day. Each one of them often ate its own weight in food in a day and all their food had to be hunted for and when found carried back and put into the gaping little mouths. Hardly would Jenny Wren disappear in the little round doorway of her home with a caterpillar in her bill than she would hop out again, and Mr. Wren would take her place with a spider or a fly and then hurry away for something more.
Peter tried to keep count of the number of times they came and went and soon gave it up. He began to wonder where all the worms and bugs and spiders came from, and gradually he came to have a great deal of respect for eyes sharp enough to find them so quickly. So at last Peter gave up the idea of trying to find out from Jenny certain things he wanted to know, and hopped off to look for some one who was less busy. He had gone only a short distance when his attention was caught by a song so sweet and so full of little trills that he first stopped to listen, then went to look for the singer.
It didn’t take long to find him, for he was sitting on the very tip top of a fir tree in Farmer Brown’s yard. Peter didn’t dare go over there, for already it was broad daylight, and he had about made up his mind that he would have to content himself with just listening to that sweet singer when the latter flew over in the Old Orchard and alighted just over Peter’s head. “Hello, Peter!” he cried.
“Hello, Linnet!” cried Peter. “I was wondering who it could be who was singing like that. I ought to have known, you see though it has been so long since I’ve heard you sing that I couldn’t just remember your song. I’m so glad you came over here for I’m eager to talk to somebody.”
Linnet the Purple Finch, for this is who it was, laughed right out. “I see you’re still the same old Peter,” said he. “I suppose you’re just as full of curiosity as ever and just as full of questions. Well, here I am, so what shall we talk about?”
“You,” replied Peter. “Lately I’ve found out so many surprising things about my feathered friends that I want to know more. I’m trying to get it straight in my head who is related to who, and I’ve found out some things which have begun to make me feel that I know very little about my feathered neighbors. It’s getting so that I don’t dare to even guess who a person’s relatives are. And what family do you belong to Linnet?”
Linnet flew down a little nearer to Peter. “Look me over, Peter,” he said with twinkling eyes. “See if you can tell for yourself.”
Peter stared solemnly at Linnet. He saw a bird of Sparrow size most of whose body was a rose-red, brightest on the head, darkest on the back, and palest on the breast. Underneath he was whitish. His wings and tail were brownish, the outer parts of the feathers edged with rose-red. His bill was short and stout.
Before Peter could reply, Mrs. Finch appeared. There wasn’t so much as a touch of that beautiful rose-red about her. Her grayish-brown back was streaked with black, and her white breast and sides were spotted and streaked with brown. If Peter hadn’t seen her with Linnet he certainly would have taken her for a Sparrow. She looked so much like one that he ventured to say, “I guess you belong to the Sparrow family.”
“That’s pretty close, Peter.” declared Linnet. “We belong to the Finch branch of the family, which makes the Sparrows own cousins to us. Folks may get Mrs. Finch mixed with some of our Sparrow cousins, however they never can mistake me. There isn’t anybody else my size with a rose-red coat like mine. If you can’t remember my song, you can always tell me by the color of my coat. Hello! Here comes Cousin Chicoree. Did you ever see a happier fellow than he is? I’ll venture to say that he has been having such a good time that he hasn’t even yet thought of building a nest, and here half the people of the Old Orchard have grown families. I’ve a nest and eggs myself, however that fellow is just roaming about having a good time. Isn’t that so, Chicoree?”
“Isn’t what so?” asked Chicoree the Goldfinch, perching very near to where Linnet was sitting.
“Isn’t it true that you haven’t even begun thinking about a nest?” repeated Linnet. Chicoree flew down in the grass almost under Peter’s nose and began to pull apart a dandelion which had gone to seed. He snipped the seeds from the soft down to which they were attached and didn’t say a word till he was quite through. Then he flew up in the tree near Linnet, and while he dressed his feathers, answered Linnet’s question.
“It’s quite true,” he said. “For me there’s time enough to think about nest building and household cares later. Mrs. Goldfinch and I will begin to think about them about the first of July. Meanwhile we are making the most of this beautiful season to roam about and have a good time. For one thing we like thistledown to line our nest, and there isn’t any thistledown yet. Then, there is no sense in raising a family until there is plenty of the right kind of food, and you know we Goldfinches live mostly on seeds. I’ll venture to say that we are the greatest seed eaters anywhere around. Of course when the babies are small they have to have soft food, and one can find plenty of worms and bugs any time during the summer. Just as soon as the children are big enough to look for their own food they need seeds, so there is no sense in trying to raise a family until there are plenty of seeds for them when needed. How do you like my summer suit, Peter?”
“It’s beautiful,” declared Peter. “I wouldn’t know you for the same bird I see so often in the late fall and sometimes in the winter. I don’t know of anybody who makes a more complete change. That black cap certainly is very smart and becoming.”
Chicoree cocked his head on one side, the better to show off that black cap. The rest of his head and his whole body were bright yellow. His wings were black with two white bars on each. His tail also was black, with some white on it. In size he was a little smaller than Linnet. If Peter had known anything about Canaries, which of course he didn’t, because Canaries are always kept in cages, he would have understood why Chicoree the Goldfinch is often called the Wild Canary.
Mrs. Goldfinch now joined her mate and it was plain to see that she admired him quite as much as did Peter. Her wings and tail were much like his but were more brownish than black. She wore no cap at all and her back and head were a grayish-brown with an olive tinge. Underneath she was lighter, with a tinge of yellow. As Peter recalled Chicoree’s winter suit, it was very much like that now worn by Mrs. Goldfinch, save that his wings and tail were as they now appeared.
Chicoree kept up a continual happy twittering, breaking out every few moments into song. It was clear that he was fairly bubbling over with joy.
“Are you a member of the same family as Linnet the Purple Finch?” asked Peter.
“Yes, we do belong to the same family,” answered Chicoree, “and now I must go over to the Old Pasture to see how the thistles are coming on.”
Away he flew calling, “Chic-o-ree, per-chic-o-ree, chic-o-ree!” and Mrs. Goldfinch followed. As they flew, they rose and fell in the air in very much the same way that Yellow Wing the Flicker does.
“I’d know them just by that, even if Chicoree didn’t keep calling his own name,” thought Peter out loud. “It’s funny how they often stay around all winter yet are among the last of all the birds to set up housekeeping. As I once said to Jenny Wren, birds certainly are funny creatures.”
“Tut, tut, tut! It’s no such thing, Peter Rabbit. It’s no such thing,” said Jenny Wren as she flew past Peter on her way to hunt for another worm for her hungry babies.
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 – Purple Finch
- Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – Goldfinch
- Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – Goldfinches at bird feeder – molting
- Nature journal coloring pages at Cornell Common Feeder Birds FREE (page W70 Purple Finch).
- Q/A –Questions with answers to keep this conversation going are available for both Goldfinch (p. 53-57) 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 drawing of a Goldfinch (p19).
- Also a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America Coloring Book by Paul E. Kennedy with a Purple Finch on page 12 and an American Goldfinch on page 16.
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.