Bird BOOK LOOK – Chapter 35 – Loggerhead Shrike + Hummingbird


Missed Chapter 1? Begin HERE



CHAPTER 35 – A Butcher and a Hummer


Not far from the Old Orchard grew a thorn tree which Peter Rabbit often passed. He never had paid particular attention to it. One morning he stopped to rest under it. Happening to look up, he saw a most astonishing thing. Fastened on the sharp thorns of one of the branches were three big grasshoppers, a big moth, two big caterpillars, a lizard, a small mouse and a young House Sparrow. Peter thought he must be seeing things. He couldn’t imagine how those creatures could have become fastened on those long sharp thorns. Somehow it gave him an uncomfortable feeling and he hurried on to the Old Orchard, to tell someone of the strange thing he had seen in the thorn tree.

As he entered the Old Orchard in the far corner he saw Johnny Chuck sitting on his doorstep and hurried over to tell him the strange news. Johnny listened until Peter was through, then told him quite frankly that never had he heard of such a thing.

Meanwhile, Skimmer the Swallow lived in a hole in a tree just above the entrance to Johnny Chuck’s house. He had been sitting where he could hear all that Peter had said.

“Skimmer could you explain this?” asked Johnny Chuck.

“Actually,” replied Skimmer, “Peter just happened to find the storehouse of Butcher the Loggerhead Shrike. It is a very unpleasant sight, however one must give Butcher credit for being smart enough to lay up a store of food when it is plentiful.”

“And who is Butcher the Shrike?” inquired Peter. “He’s a new one to me.”


Loggerhead Shrike by Louis Agassiz Fuertes


“He’s new to this location,” replied Skimmer, “and you probably haven’t noticed him. I’ve seen him in the South often. There he is now, on the tip top of that tree over yonder.”

Peter and Johnny looked eagerly. They saw a bird who at first glance appeared not unlike Mocker the Mockingbird. He was dressed all in black, gray and white. When he turned his head they noticed a black stripe across the side of his face and that the tip of his bill was hooked. These are enough to make them forget that otherwise he was like Mocker. While they were watching him he flew down into the grass and picked up a grasshopper. Then he flew with a steady, even flight, only a little above the ground, for some distance, suddenly shooting up and returning to the perch where they had first seen him. There he ate the grasshopper and resumed his watch for something else to catch.

“He certainly has keen eyes,” said Skimmer admiringly. “He must have seen that grasshopper way over there in the grass before he started after it, for he flew straight there. He doesn’t waste time and energy hunting aimlessly. He sits on a high perch and watches until he sees something he wants. Many times I’ve seen him sitting on top of a telephone pole. I understand that Billy the House Sparrow has become terribly nervous since the arrival of Butcher. He is particularly fond
of House Sparrows. I presume it was one of Billy’s children you saw in the thorn tree, Peter. I hope he’ll frighten Billy into leaving the Old Orchard as it would be a good thing for the rest of us.”

“I still don’t understand yet why he fastens his food on those long thorns,” said Peter.

“For two reasons,” replied Skimmer. “When he catches more grasshoppers and other insects than he can eat, he sticks them on those thorns so that later he may be sure of a good meal especially if it happens there are no more to be caught when he is hungry. Mice, sparrows, and things too big for him to swallow he sticks on the thorns so that he can pull them to pieces easier. You see his feet and claws are not big and stout enough to hold his food while he tears them to pieces with his hooked bill. Sometimes, instead of sticking them on thorns, he sticks them on the barbed wire of a fence and sometimes he wedges them into the fork of two branches.”

“Does he eat many birds?” asked Peter.

“Not many,” replied Skimmer, “and most of those he does eat are House Sparrows. The rest of us have learned to keep out of his way. He feeds mostly on insects, worms and caterpillars, and he is very fond of mice and he catches a good many. He is a good deal like Killee the Sparrow
Hawk in this respect. Hey! Now what’s happened?”

A great commotion had broken out not far away in the Old Orchard. Instantly Skimmer flew over to see what it was all about and Peter followed. He got there just in time to see Chatterer the Red Squirrel dodging around the trunk of a tree, first on one side, then on the other, to avoid the sharp bills of the angry feathered folk who had discovered him trying to rob a nest of its young.

Peter chuckled. “Chatterer is getting just what is due him, I guess,” he muttered. “It reminds me of the time I got into a Yellow Jacket’s nest. My,those birds are mad!”


Ruby-throated Hummingbird by Louis Agassiz Fuertes


Chatterer continued to dodge from side to side of the tree while the birds darted down at him, all shrieking at the top of their voices. Finally Chatterer saw his chance to run for the old stone wall. Only one bird was quick enough to catch up with him and that one was such a tiny fellow that he seemed hardly bigger than a big insect. It was Hummer the Hummingbird. He followed Chatterer clear to the old stone wall. A moment later Peter heard a humming noise just over his head and looked up to see Hummer himself alight on a twig, where he squeaked excitedly for a few minutes.

Often Peter had seen Hummer darting about from flower to flower and holding himself still in mid-air in front of each as he thrust his long bill into the heart of the blossom to get the tiny insects there and the sweet juices he is so fond of. This was the first time Peter had ever seen Hummer sitting still. He was such a mite of a thing that it was hard to realize that he was a bird. His back was a bright, shining green. His wings and tail were brownish with a purplish tinge. Underneath he was whitish. And his throat was a wonderful ruby-red that glistened and shone in the sun like a jewel.

Hummer lifted one wing and with his long needle like bill smoothed the feathers under it. Then he darted out into the air, his wings moving so fast that Peter couldn’t see them at all. Although he couldn’t see them he could hear them. You see they moved so fast that they made a sound very like the humming of Bumble the Bee. It is because of this that he is called the Hummingbird. A few minutes later he was back again and now he was joined by Mrs. Hummingbird. She was dressed very much like Hummer although without the ruby throat. She stopped only a minute or two, then darted over to what looked for all the world like a tiny cup of moss. It was their nest.

Just then Jenny Wren came along, and being quite worn out with the work of feeding her seven babies, she was content to rest for a few moments and chat. Peter told her what he had discovered about Hummer.

“Yes, Peter,” said Jenny in agreement, “that is the daintiest nest in the Old Orchard. It is made of plant down and covered on the outside with bits of that gray moss like stuff that grows on the bark of the trees called lichens. That is what makes that nest look like nothing more than a knot on the branch. Chatterer made a big mistake when he visited this tree. Hummer may be a tiny fellow however he isn’t afraid of anybody under the sun. That bill of his is so sharp and he is so quick that few folks ever bother him more than once. Why, there isn’t a single member of the Hawk family that Hummer won’t attack.”

“Does he go very far south for the winter?” asked Peter. “He is such a tiny fellow I don’t see how he can stand a very long journey.”

“Distance doesn’t bother Hummer any,” said Jenny Wren. “You needn’t worry about those wings of his. He goes clear down to South America. He has ever so many relatives down there. You ought to see his babies when they first hatch out. They are no bigger than bees. And they certainly do grow fast. Why, they are flying three weeks from the time they hatch. I’m glad I don’t have to pump food down the throats of my youngsters the way Mrs. Hummingbird has to down hers.”

Peter looked perplexed. “What do you mean by pumping food down their throats?” he asked.

“Mrs. Hummingbird sticks her bill right down their throats and then pumps up the food she has already swallowed,” assured Jenny. “I guess it is a good thing that the babies have short bills.”

“Do they?” asked Peter, opening his eyes very wide with surprise.

“Yes,” replied Jenny. “When they hatch out they have short bills, it doesn’t take them a great while to grow long.”

“How many babies does Mrs. Hummingbird usually have?” asked Peter.

“Just two,” replied Jenny, “that’s all that nest will hold ”. And with a jerk of her tail off flew Jenny, and Peter hurried back to tell Johnny Chuck all he had found out about Hummer the Hummingbird.


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 –  Loggerhead Shrike
  • Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS –  Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – Feeders for Hummingbirds
  • Nature journal coloring pages at Cornell Common Feeder Birds FREE (page W32 Ruby-throated Hummingbird).
  • Q/A –Questions with answers to keep this conversation going are available for Hummingbird (p. 115 -117)  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 Ruby-throated Hummingbird (p37).

  • Also a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America Coloring Book by Paul E. Kennedy with a Ruby-throated Hummingbird on page 21.

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.

P.L.A.Y. Time – Pass it on!

Toad BOOK LOOK #2: Tadpole Habitat + The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad (Annotated)

Where do you find those awesome toad egg strands?

I’ve had the most success finding toad egg strands for the past few years along the edges of our river once it becomes more shallow in mid-May and all the way through mid-June.

Often there are also side streams of water that form channels and large puddles and if the toads time it just right they can lay their egg strands, have the tadpoles hatch, and become toadlets all before the water dries up in the heat of the summer.

P.L.A.Y. Adventure – Curiosity Time – Part #1

  • Where are there toads, or frogs, in your area? How would you know?
  • Depending on the time of year you’ll need to be looking AND listening.
  • If you’re not sure, check out some resource guides for your local area and then plan a field trip to visit where toads hang out near you! You’re in for a toad-ally awesome treasure treat!

HINT: Be a patient observer and take your time looking along the water’s edge as often the toad egg strands are a bit camouflaged by the silty sand that has collected on them (unless they are freshly hatched strands!)

Where and when can you look for actual toad tadpoles?

P.L.A.Y. Adventure Time – Part #2

The tadpoles near to where I live in Massachusetts hatch in the water at the very end of May in late spring and continue to grow throughout the summer until late August when they change into toadlets and then exit the water heading for the woods as autumn approaches.

Visit this PINTEREST video HERE to see what key nature pieces need to be in place to make a suitable tadpole home (habitat) outdoors. Make a list of what you see by getting curious and asking questions:

  • Is the water moving or still?
  • What is on the bottom of the water area?
  • What is surrounding the pool of water?
  • Is it shaded or sunny?

Time to take a walk in the woods or in a local nature park on trails to see if you can spy the tadpole habitat near your home. And be sure to continue getting curious and ask even more questions:

  • What temperature is the air?
  • What temperature is the water?
  • Are the tadpoles actively swimming or sitting still?
  • What other animals are in the water? Salamanders? Snails? Small Fish?
  • Are their any bird or animal tracks near the water’s edge suggesting there are visitors?
  • What else did you observe? Record it!

 ~ ~ ~ BOOK LOOK ~ ~ ~


The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad (Annotated):

A P.L.A.Y. Nature Activity Story Book 

by Karen L. Willard

Join Peter Rabbit and friends on adventures discovering all about Old Mr. Toad and his days spent in and out of the water!

See sample story pages + purchase HERE

More Tadpoles + Toads in motion at PINTEREST HERE.

New – Toad BOOK LOOK series on Sunday’s

Two Toads . . . and . . .

Three Egg Strands . . .

and tons of Tadpoles!

This is just a sample of what we’ll cover of the life cycle happening down at the water’s edge in late spring and throughout the summer here in New England.

Be sure to tune in Sunday’s for this TOADally awesome P.L.A.Y. nature adventure series throughout June, July, and August!


~ ~ ~ BOOK LOOK ~ ~ ~


The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad (Annotated):

A P.L.A.Y. Nature Activity Story Book 

by Karen L. Willard

Join Peter Rabbit and friends on adventures discovering all about Old Mr. Toad and his days spent in and out of the water!

See sample story pages + purchase HERE

More Tadpoles + Toads in motion at PINTEREST HERE.

A Simple Gift: Babbling Brook


Passing forward this Simple Gift to inspire and encourage everyone on their

naturally curious and creative P.L.A.Y. journey. 🙂


Some of the simplest P.L.A.Y. gifts come in the form of time spent in nature.

A favorite spot when our kiddos had just reached double digits was a small pooling area that was a part of a babbling brook in our intentional farming community.

In late spring and throughout the summer we would visit this special spot to wade in and build dams and splash about.

There were plenty of opportunities to simply P.L.A.Y.

Building a dam meant figuring out how to put the rock puzzle pieces together, determining the integrity of the structure, watching the water level rise, and making adjustments as parts let go. It required weight lifting and knowing your own strength or considering the use of leverage.

A simple walking stick was used to discover the depth of the water before wading in to darker areas or to find the strength of the water flow. It could help leverage rocks for the dam or if broken be used in the making of the dam.

And when we’d return on another day these P.L.A.Y. moments would repeat themselves and be expanded upon again and again. 🙂

Years later this “smiling pool” at the brook now has a wonderful footbridge to cross over welcoming everyone to begin an adventure in the surrounding field, forest, ridge and river and to take some time out to simply P.L.A.Y.

Time to find your nook in nature, at the brook or beyond!

Sending Smiles,

Karen ;0)

Bonus Related Simple Gifts:

The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad (Annotated): A P.L.A.Y. Nature Activity Story Book by Karen L. Willard and others found HERE.

My love of children’s literature and being out in nature all came creatively together when I chanced upon the 100+ year old Thornton Burgess books with so many of his stories written in New England nature settings. The animal characters have their adventures throughout the Green Forest in plenty of familiar places like: Peter Rabbit with his home in the Old Briar-patch, Jenny Wren building a nest in the Old Orchard, and Old Mr. Toad visiting the Smiling Pool created by the nearby Laughing Brook. These nature scenes are found throughout the area I live in too and I visit these magical peaceful places daily to immerse in a “sense of wonder” and to make creative connections.

If you’d like to visit spaces like these in nature I’ve got great news, simply follow these two steps:

  1. Step out your door and get to know your surrounding nature spots be it in your neighborhood, local community, bordering towns, or beyond. There are so many hidden wonders to explore and adventures to be had throughout the seasons by setting aside time to connect with nature and local communities.
  2. I have started re-writing many books in the Thornton Burgess nature series. I have updated the stories for the 21st century family by keeping the same old nature settings and story line and giving the characters an opportunity to model compassionate communication and loving kindness.  I have also provided bonus materials to interact with the book such as nature photos taken here in New England, spaces for the reader to illustrate each chapter as they creatively see it, and curious question prompts for conversations with friends and family, and added resource suggestions to continue the adventure. Try a copy or gift it to a kiddo in your life or neighborhood, donate a copy to your local library or school, all simply by clicking on this link HERE. Thanks!