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CHAPTER 34 – Mourner the Dove and Cuckoo
A long lane leads from Farmer Brown’s barnyard down to his cornfield on the Green Meadows. It happened that very early one morning Peter Rabbit decided to run down that long lane to see what he might see. Now at a certain place beside that long lane was a gravelly bank into which Farmer Brown had dug for gravel to put on the roadway up near his house. As Peter was scampering past this place where Farmer Brown had dug he caught sight of some one very busy. Peter stopped short, then sat up to stare.
It was Mourner the Dove whom Peter saw, an old friend of whom Peter is very fond. His body was a little bigger than that of Welcome Robin, and his long slender neck, and longer tail and wings made him appear considerably larger. In shape he reminded Peter at once of the Pigeons up at Farmer Brown’s. His back was grayish-brown, varying to bluish-gray. The crown and upper parts of his head were bluish-gray. His breast was reddish-buff, shading down into a soft buff. His bill was black and his feet red. The two middle feathers of his tail were longest and of the color of his back. The other feathers were slate-gray with little black bands and tipped with white. On his wings were a few scattered black spots. Just under each ear was a black spot. However, it was the sides of his slender neck which were the most beautiful part of Mourner. When untouched by the Jolly Little Sunbeams the neck feathers appeared to be in color very like his breast, however the moment they were touched by the Jolly Little Sunbeams they seemed to be constantly changing, which is also known as iridescence.
However, it was not his appearance which made Peter stare, it was what he was doing. He was walking about and every now and then picking up something quite as if he were getting his breakfast in that gravel pit, and Peter couldn’t imagine anything good to eat down there. He knew that there were not even worms there. Besides, Mourner is not fond of worms as he lives almost altogether on seeds and many kinds of grains. So Peter was puzzled.
“Hello, Mourner!” he cried. “What under the sun are you doing in there? Are you getting your breakfast?”
“Hardly, Peter,” cooed Mourner in the softest of voices. “I’ve had my breakfast and now I’m picking up a little gravel for my digestion.” He picked up a tiny pebble and swallowed it.
“Well, of all things!” cried Peter. “The idea of thinking that gravel is going to help your digestion. I should say the chances are that it will work just the other way.”
Mourner laughed. It was the softest of little cooing laughs, very pleasant to hear. “I haven’t the least doubt that a breakfast of gravel would give you the worst kind of a stomach ache. However, you know I eat grain and hard seeds and not having any teeth I have to swallow them whole. One part of my stomach is called a gizzard and its duty is to grind and crush my food so that it may be digested. Tiny pebbles and gravel help grind the food and so aid digestion. I think I’ve got enough now for this morning, and it is time for a dust bath. There is a dusty spot over in the lane where I take a dust bath every day.”
“If you don’t mind,” said Peter, “I’ll go with you.”
Mourner said he didn’t mind, so Peter followed him over to the dusty place in the long lane. There Mourner was joined by Mrs. Dove, who was dressed very much like him. While they dusted themselves they chatted with Peter.
“I see you on the ground so much that I’ve often wondered if you build your nest on the ground,” said Peter.
“Oh no,” replied Mourner. “Mrs. Dove builds in a tree, usually not very far above the ground. Now if you’ll excuse us we must get back home. Mrs. Dove has two eggs to sit on and while she is sitting I like to be close at hand to keep her company and sing to her.”
The Doves shook the loose dust from their feathers and flew away. Peter watched to see where they went and lost sight of them behind some trees. Then he decided to run up to the Old Orchard. There he found Jenny and Mr. Wren as busy as ever feeding that growing family of theirs. Jenny could not stop an instant to chat. Peter was so brimful of what he had found out about Mr. and Mrs. Dove that he just had to tell some one. He heard Kitty the Catbird meowing among the bushes along the old stone wall, so hurried over to look for him. As soon as he found him Peter began to tell what he had learned about Mourner the Dove.
“Yes, I know all about Mourner and his wife,” said Kitty. “Have you seen their nest?”
Peter shook his head. “No,” he said, “I haven’t. What is it like?”
“It is made of a few little sticks,” said Kitty. “How they hold together is more than I can understand. I guess it is a good thing that Mrs. Dove doesn’t lay more than two eggs, and it’s a wonder to me that those two stay in the nest. Listen! There’s Mourner’s voice now. For one who is so happy he certainly does have the most mournful sounding voice. To hear him you’d think he was sorrowful instead of happy.”
“That’s true,” replied Peter, “and yet I like to hear him just the same. Hello! Who’s that?”
From one of the trees in the Old Orchard sounded a long, clear, “Kow-kow-kow-kow-kow-kow!” It was quite unlike any voice Peter had heard that spring.
“That’s Cuckoo,” said Kitty.
“Oh, I had forgotten the sound of his voice,” said Peter. “Tell me, Kitty, is it true that Mrs. Cuckoo is no better than Sally the Cowbird and goes about laying her eggs in the nests of other birds?”
“There isn’t a word of truth in it,” declared Kitty emphatically. “She builds a nest and she looks after her own children. As a matter of fact, they are mighty useful birds. Farmer Brown ought to be tickled to death that Mr. and Mrs. Cuckoo have come back to the Old Orchard this year.”
“Why?” inquired Peter.
“Do you see that cobwebby nest with all those hairy caterpillars on it and around it up in that tree?” asked Kitty.
Peter replied that he did and that he had seen a great many nests just like it, and had noticed how the caterpillars ate all the leaves near them.
“I’ll venture to say that you won’t see very many leaves eaten around that nest,” replied Kitty. “Those are called tent caterpillars, and they do an awful lot of damage. I can’t bear them myself because they are so hairy, and very few birds will touch them. Cuckoo likes them though. There he comes now, just watch him.”
A long, slim Dove like looking bird alighted close to the caterpillar’s nest. Above he was brownish-gray with just a little greenish tinge. Beneath he was white. His wings were reddish-brown. His tail was a little longer than that of Mourner the Dove. The outer feathers were black tipped with white, while the middle feathers were the color of his back. The upper half of his bill was black, and the under half was yellow, and from this he is called the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
Cuckoo made no sound and began to pick off the hairy caterpillars and swallow them. When he had eaten all those in sight he made holes in the silken web of the nest and picked out the caterpillars that were inside. Finally, having eaten his fill, he flew off as silently as he had come and disappeared among the bushes farther along the old stone wall. A moment later they heard his voice, “Kow-kow-how-kow-kow-kow-kow-kow!”
“I suppose some folks would think that it is going to rain,” remarked Kitty the Catbird. “They have the silly notion that Cuckoo only calls just before rain, and so they call him the Rain Crow. That isn’t
so at all. Well, Peter, I guess I’ve chatted enough for one morning. I must go see how Mrs. Catbird is getting along.”
Kitty disappeared and Peter, having no one to talk to, decided that the best thing he could do would be to go home 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 – Mourning Dove
- Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – Yellow-billed Cuckoo
- Nature journal coloring pages at Cornell Common Feeder Birds FREE (page W31 Mourning Dove).
- 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 Mourning Dove (p28).
- Also a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America Coloring Book by Paul E. Kennedy with a Mourning Dove on page 9.
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.