Bird BOOK LOOK – Chapter 28 – Rose-breasted Grosbeak + Scarlet Tanager


Missed Chapter 1? Begin HERE



Chapter 28 – Peter Sees Rosebreast and Finds Redcoat


“Who is that?” Peter Rabbit pricked up his long ears and stared up at the tops of the trees of the Old Orchard.

Instantly Jenny Wren popped her head out of her doorway. She cocked her head to one side to listen.

Just then there were two or three rather sharp, squeaky notes from the top of one of the trees. “There!” cried Peter. “Did you hear that, Jenny?”

“Peter, that’s Rosebreast the Grosbeak. He and Mrs. Grosbeak have been here for quite a little while,” said Jenny, “Just listen to that song!”

Peter listened. There were many songs, for it was a very beautiful morning and all the singers of the Old Orchard were pouring out the joy that was within them. One song was a little louder and clearer than the others because it came from a tree very close at hand, the very tree from which those squeaky notes had come just a few minutes before. Peter suspected that that must be the song Jenny Wren meant. He was puzzled. “Do you mean Welcome Robin’s song?” he asked.

“No” said Jenny. “That song may sound something like Welcome Robin’s, and yet it isn’t Welcome Robin singing. Welcome Robin’s song is one of good cheer, and this one is of pure happiness.”

“Now you speak of it, Jenny, that song is quite different from Welcome Robin’s,” agreed Peter.

“That is Rosebreast singing right up in the top of that tree,” Jenny pointed out.


Rose-breasted Grosbeak by Louis Agassiz Fuertes


Peter looked up to see a bird a little smaller than Welcome Robin. His head, throat and back were black. His wings were black with patches of white on them. And it was his breast that made Peter catch his breath with a little gasp of admiration, for that breast was a beautiful rose-red. The rest of him underneath was white.

“Isn’t he lovely!” cried Peter, and added in the next breath, “Who is that with him?”

“Mrs. Grosbeak” replied Jenny.

“I would never have guessed it,” said Peter. “She doesn’t look the least bit like him.”

This was quite true. There was no rose color about Mrs. Grosbeak. She was dressed chiefly in brown and grayish colors with a little buff here and there and with dark streaks on her breast. Over each eye was a whitish line. Altogether she looked more as if she might be a big member of the Sparrow family than the wife of Rosebreast. While Rosebreast sang, Mrs. Grosbeak was very busily picking buds and blossoms from the tree.

“What is she doing that for?” inquired Peter.

“For the same reason that you bite off sweet clover blossoms and leaves,” replied Jenny Wren.

“Do you mean to say that they live on buds and blossoms?” asked Peter.

“Tut, tut, tut! Buds and blossoms don’t last long enough,” said Jenny. “They eat a few just for variety, and then mostly live on bugs and insects. You ask Farmer Brown’s boy who helps him most in his potato patch, and he’ll tell you it’s the Grosbeaks. They certainly do love potato bugs. They eat some fruit, however on the whole they are about as useful around a garden as any one I know. Now it is time to run along, Peter Rabbit.”


Buds and blossoms on an apple tree.


Seeing Farmer Brown’s boy coming through the Old Orchard Peter decided that it was high time for him to depart. So he scampered for the Green Forest, lipperty-lipperty-lip. Just within the edge of the Green Forest he caught sight of something which for the time being put all thought of Farmer Brown’s boy out of his head. Fluttering on the ground was a bird about the size of Redwing the Blackbird. His wings and tail were pure black and all the rest was a beautiful scarlet. It was Redcoat the Tanager. At first Peter had eyes only for the wonderful beauty of Redcoat. Never before had he seen Redcoat so close at hand. Then quite suddenly it came over Peter that something was wrong with Redcoat, and he hurried forward to see what the trouble might be.

Redcoat heard the rustle of Peter’s feet among the dry leaves and at once began to flap and flutter in an effort to fly away, and yet he could not get off the ground. “What is it, Redcoat? Has something happened to you? It is just Peter Rabbit. You don’t have anything to fear from me,” Peter said.

The look of terror which had been in the eyes of Redcoat died out, and he stopped fluttering and simply lay panting.

“Oh, Peter,” he gasped, “you don’t know how glad I am that it is only you. I’ve had a terrible accident, and I don’t know what I am to do. I can’t fly, and if I have to stay on the ground some predator will be sure to get me. What shall I do, Peter?”

Right away Peter wanted to help. “What kind of an accident was it, Redcoat, and how did it happen?” he asked.

“Broadwing the Hawk tried to catch me,” sobbed Redcoat. “In dodging him among the trees I did not see just where I was going. I struck a sharp-pointed dead twig and drove it right through my right wing.”

Redcoat held up his right wing and sure enough there was a small stick projecting from both sides close up to the shoulder. The wing was bleeding a little.

“Oh, dear, whatever shall I do, Peter Rabbit?” sobbed Redcoat.


Scarlet Tanager by Louis Agassiz Fuertes


“Does it pain you dreadfully?” asked Peter.

Redcoat nodded. “I don’t mind the pain,” he hastened to say. “It is the thought of what may happen to me.”

Meanwhile Mrs. Tanager was flying about in the tree tops near at hand and calling anxiously. She was dressed almost wholly in light olive-green and greenish-yellow. She looked no more like Redcoat than did Mrs. Grosbeak like Rosebreast.

“Can’t you fly up just a little way so as to get off the ground?” she cried anxiously. “Isn’t it dreadful, Peter Rabbit, to have such an accident? We’ve just got our nest half built, and I don’t know what Ishall do if anything happens to Redcoat. Oh dear, here comes somebody! Hide, Redcoat! Hide!” Mrs. Tanager flew off a short distance to one side and began to cry as if in the greatest distress. Peter knew instantly that she was crying to get the attention of whoever was coming.

Poor Redcoat, with the old look of terror in his eyes, fluttered along, trying to find something under which to hide. There was nothing under which he could crawl, and there was no hiding that wonderful red coat. Peter heard the sound of heavy footsteps, and looking back, saw that Farmer Brown’s boy was coming. “Don’t be afraid, Redcoat,” he whispered. “It’s Farmer Brown’s boy and I’m sure he won’t hurt you. Perhaps he can help you.” Then Peter scampered off for a short distance and sat up to watch what would happen.

Of course Farmer Brown’s boy saw Redcoat. He saw, too, by the way Redcoat was acting, that he was in great trouble. As Farmer Brown’s boy drew near and Redcoat saw that he was discovered, he tried his hardest to flutter away. Farmer Brown’s boy understood instantly that something was wrong with one wing, and running forward, he caught Redcoat.

“You poor, beautiful little creature,” said Farmer Brown’s boy softly as he saw the twig sticking through Redcoats’ shoulder. “We’ll have to get that out right away,” continued Farmer Brown’s boy, stroking Redcoat ever so gently.

Somehow with that gentle touch Redcoat lost much of his fear, and a little hope sprang in his heart. He saw, too, that this was a friend. Farmer Brown’s boy took out his knife and carefully cut off the twig on the upper side of the wing. Then, doing his best to be careful and to hurt as little as possible, he worked the other part of the twig out from the under side. Carefully he examined the wing to see if any bones were broken. None were, and after holding Redcoat a few minutes he carefully set him up in a tree and withdrew a short distance. Redcoat hopped from branch to branch until he was halfway up the tree. Then he sat there for some time as if fearful of trying that injured wing. Meanwhile Mrs. Tanager came and fussed about him and talked to him and coaxed him and made as much of him as if he were a baby.

Peter remained right where he was until at last he saw Redcoat spread his black wings and fly to another tree. From tree to tree he flew, resting a bit in each until he and Mrs. Tanager disappeared in the Green Forest.

“I knew Farmer Brown’s boy would help him, and I’m so glad he found him,” Peter pronounced happily and started for 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 –  Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS –  Scarlet Tanager
  • Q/A –Questions with answers to keep this conversation going are available for the Old Orchard filled with Apple Trees (p.661-668 ) in the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock offered FREE online HERE.
  • A copy of Audubon’s Birds of America Coloring Book by Paul E. Kennedy with a Rose-breasted Grosbeak coloring page (p18) and a Scarlet Tanager on page 37.

FYI -This coloring book is 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!

Bird BOOK LOOK – Chapter 25 – More Warblers


Missed Chapter 1? Begin HERE



Chapter 25 – Three Cousins Quite Unlike


As Peter Rabbit passed one of the apple trees in the Old Orchard, a thin, wiry voice hailed him. “Hello, Peter Rabbit,” said the voice.

Peter, who had been hopping along rather fast, stopped abruptly to look up. Running along a limb just over his head, now on top and now underneath, was a little bird with a black and white striped coat and a white waistcoat. Just as Peter looked it flew down to near the base of the tree and began to run straight up the trunk, picking things from the bark here and there as it ran. Its way of going up that tree trunk reminded Peter of one of his winter friends, Seep-Seep the Brown Creeper.

“It is a wonder that you haven’t greeted me yet after I traveled all this way from South America,” said the little black and white bird with twinkling eyes.

“Oh, Creeper, I didn’t know you were here!” cried Peter. “I’m so glad to see you, just as glad as can be. You are such a quiet fellow I’m afraid I shouldn’t have seen you at all if you hadn’t spoken. You know it’s always been hard work for me to believe that you are really and truly a Warbler.”

“Why so?” asked Creeper the Black-and-white Warbler, for that is the name by which he is commonly known. “Don’t I look like a Warbler?”

“Well, yes,” said Peter slowly. “You look like one however you don’t act like one.”

“In what way do I not act like one?” questioned Creeper.

“Well,” replied Peter, “all the rest of the Warblers can’t seem to keep still a minute. They are forever flitting about this way and that way. It tires me just to watch them. And you are not a bit that way. Also the way you run up tree trunks and along the limbs isn’t a bit Warbler like. Why is it you don’t flit and dart about as the others do?”


Old Orchard apple tree with plenty of insects and such on the trunk and branches for Warbler’s to dine on.


Creeper’s bright eyes sparkled. “I don’t have to,” he said. “I’m going to let you into a little secret, Peter. The rest of them get their living from the leaves and twigs and in the air, however I’ve discovered an easier way. I’ve found out that there are lots of little worms and insects and eggs on the trunks and big limbs of the trees and that I can get the best kind of a living there without flitting about. I don’t have to share them with anybody except the Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, and DeeDee the Chickadee.”

“That reminds me,” said Peter. “Those folks you have mentioned nest in holes in trees; do you?”

“Oh, I should say not,” remarked Creeper. “I don’t know of any Warbler who does. I build on the ground and I nest in the Green Forest. Sometimes I make my nest in a little hollow at the base of a tree; sometimes I put it under a stump or rock or tuck it in under the roots of a tree that has been blown over.”

And so Creeper continued on up the trunk of the tree, picking here and picking there. Just then Peter caught sight of another friend whom he could always tell by the black mask he wore. It was Mummer the Yellow-throat. He had just darted into the thicket of bushes along the old stone wall. Peter promptly hurried over there to look for him.

When Peter reached the place where he had caught a glimpse of Mummer, no one was to be seen. Peter sat down, uncertain which way to go. Suddenly Mummer popped out right in front of Peter, seemingly from nowhere at all.

His throat and breast were bright yellow and his back wings and tail a soft olive-green. And the most remarkable thing about him was the mask of black right across his cheeks, eyes and forehead. At least it looked like a mask, although it really wasn’t one.

“Hello, Mummer!” Peter called out.

“Hello yourself, Peter Rabbit!” Mummer answered and then disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared.

Peter blinked and looked in vain all about.


Toppled tree with a root ball as an option for a Warbler’s nest.


“Looking for someone?” asked Mummer, suddenly popping into view where Peter least expected him.

“For goodness sake,” Peter pronounced, “how do you expect a fellow to talk to you when he can’t keep his eyes on you more than two seconds at a time!”

“You wanted to talk to me?” responded Mummer, and popped out of sight. Two seconds later he was back again and his bright little eyes fairly shone with mischief. Then before Peter could say a word Mummer burst into a pleasant little song. He was so full of happiness that Peter couldn’t be cross with him.

“There is something I like about you, Mummer,” declared Peter, “and that is that I never get you mixed up with anybody else. I should know you just as far as I could see you because of that black mask across your face. Has Mrs. Yellow-throat arrived yet?”

“Certainly,” replied another voice, and Mrs. Yellow-throat flitted across right in front of Peter. For just a second she sat still, long enough for him to have one good look at her. She was dressed very like Mummer save that she did not wear the black mask.

Peter was just about to say something polite and pleasant when from just back of him there sounded a loud, very emphatic, “Chut! Chut!” Peter whirled about to find another old friend. It was Chut-Chut the Yellow-breasted Chat, the largest of the Warbler family. He was so much bigger than Mummer that it was hard to believe that they were own cousins. Although Peter knew they were, and he also knew that he could never mistake Chut-Chut for any other member of the family because of his big size, which was that of some of the members of the Sparrow family. His back was a dark olive-green, and his throat and breast were a beautiful bright yellow. There was a broad white line above each eye and a little white line underneath. Below his breast he was all white.

To have seen him you would have thought that he suspected Peter might do him some harm, or at least he acted that way. If Peter hadn’t known him so well he might have been offended. Peter knew that there is no one among his feathered friends more cautious than Chut-Chut the Chat. He never takes anything for granted. He appears to be always on the watch for danger, even to the extent of suspecting his very best friends.


Bramble tangles in the winter clearly seen without their foliage.


When he had decided in his own mind that there was no danger, Chut-Chut came out to talk for a bit. And like all the rest of the Warblers he couldn’t keep still. Right in the middle of the story of his travels from far away Mexico he flew to the top of a little tree, began to sing, then flew out into the air with his legs dangling and his tail wagging up and down in the funniest way, and there continued his song as he slowly dropped down into the thicket again. It was a beautiful song and Peter hastened to tell him so.

Chut-Chut was pleased. He showed it by giving a little concert all by himself. It seemed to Peter that he never had heard such a variety of whistles and calls and songs as came from that yellow throat. When it was over Chut-Chut abruptly said goodbye and disappeared. Peter could hear his sharp “Chut! Chut!” farther along in the thicket as he hunted for worms among the bushes.

“I wonder,” said Peter, speaking out loud as he was thinking, “where he builds his nest. I wonder if he builds it on the ground, the way Creeper does.”

“No,” declared Mummer, who all the time had been darting about close at hand. “He doesn’t, although I do. Chut-Chut puts his nest near the ground, however, usually within two or three feet. He builds it in bushes or briars. Sometimes if I can find a good tangle of briars I build my nest in it several feet from the ground, and as a rule I would rather have it on the ground under a bush or in a clump of weeds. Have you seen my cousin Sprite the Parula Warbler, yet?”

“Not yet,” said Peter, and he started for home.


P.L.A.Y. in Place Projects


Try these activities to extend your bird story adventures:


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!

Bird BOOK LOOK – Chapter 13 – Orchard Oriole + Bobolink


Missed Chapter 1? Begin HERE



Chapter 13 – More of the Blackbird Family


Peter Rabbit was dozing. Yes indeed, Peter was dozing. He didn’t mean to doze, however whenever Peter sits still for a long time and tries to think he is pretty sure to go to sleep. By and by he wakened with a start. At first he didn’t know what had wakened him, then as he sat there blinking his eyes, he heard a few rich notes from the top of the nearest apple tree. “It’s Goldy the Oriole,” thought Peter, and peeped out to see.

Though he looked and looked he couldn’t see Goldy anywhere, however he did see a stranger. It was someone of about Goldy’s size and shape. In fact he was so like Goldy, except for the color of his suit, that at first Peter almost thought Goldy had somehow changed his clothes. Of course he knew that this couldn’t be, and yet it seemed as if it must be, for the song the stranger was singing was something like that of Goldy’s. The stranger’s head and throat and back were black, just like Goldy’s, and his wings were trimmed with white in just the same way. The rest of his suit, instead of being the beautiful orange of which Goldy is so proud, was a beautiful chestnut color.

Peter blinked and stared very hard. “Now who can this be?” he said, speaking aloud without thinking.

“Don’t you know him?” asked a voice so close to Peter that it made him jump. Peter whirled around. There sat Striped Chipmunk grinning at him from the top of the old stone wall. “That’s Weaver the Orchard Oriole,” Striped Chipmunk rattled on. “He is one of the very nicest persons in the Old Orchard. I just love to hear him sing.”

“Is he related to Goldy?” asked Peter somewhat doubtfully.

“Yes,” replied Striped Chipmunk. “He’s first cousin to Goldy. There comes Mrs. Orchard Oriole. I do hope they’ve decided to build in the Old Orchard this year.”

“I’m glad you told me who she is because I never would have guessed it,” confessed Peter as he studied the newcomer. She did not look at all like Weaver. She was dressed in olive-green and dull yellow, with white markings on her wings. Peter couldn’t help thinking how much easier it must be for her than for her husband to hide among the green leaves.


Spring time grasses appearing in the Green Meadow and nearby leaves and buds appearing on the trees of the Old Orchard.


As he watched she flew down to the ground and picked up a long piece of grass. “They are building here, as sure as you live!” cried Striped Chipmunk. “I’m glad of that. Did you ever see their nest, Peter? Their nest is a wonder. It really is. It is made almost all of fine grass and they weave it together in the most wonderful way.”

“Do they have a hanging nest like Goldy’s?” asked Peter.

“Not such a deep one,” replied Striped Chipmunk. “They hang it between the twigs near the end of a branch. They bind it more closely to the branch and it isn’t deep enough to swing as Goldy’s does.”

Peter had just opened his mouth to ask another question when there was a loud sniffing sound farther up along the old stone wall. He didn’t wait to hear it again. He knew that Bowser the Hound was coming.

“Goodbye, Striped Chipmunk – this is no place for me,” whispered Peter and started for the dear Old Briar-patch. He was in such a hurry to get there that on his way across the Green Meadows he almost ran into Jimmy Skunk before he saw him.

“What’s your hurry, Peter?” asked Jimmy

“Bowser the Hound almost found me up in the Old Orchard,” panted Peter. “It’s a wonder he hasn’t found my tracks. I expect he will any minute. I’m glad to see you, Jimmy, however I’d best be moving along.”

“Don’t be in such a hurry, Peter,” replied Jimmy, who himself never hurries. “Stop and talk a bit. Bowser won’t bother you as long as you are with me.”

Peter hesitated. He wanted to chat, and yet he still felt nervous about Bowser the Hound. However, as he heard nothing of Bowser’s great voice, telling all the world that he had found Peter’s tracks, he decided to stop a few minutes. “What are you doing down here on the Green Meadows?” he inquired.

Jimmy grinned. “I’m looking for grasshoppers and grubs, if you must know,” he said. “And I’ve just got a notion I may find some fresh eggs. I don’t often eat them, although once in a while one tastes good.”

“If you ask me, it’s a funny place to be looking for eggs down here on the Green Meadows,” replied Peter. “When I want a thing; I look for it where it is likely to be found.”

“Just so, Peter; just so,” Jimmy Skunk responded, nodding his head with approval. “That’s why I am here.”

Peter looked puzzled. He was puzzled. Before he could ask another question a rollicking song caused both of them to look up. There on quivering wings in mid-air was the singer. He was dressed very much like Jimmy Skunk himself, in black and white, save that in places the white had a tinge of yellow, especially on the back of his neck. It was Bubbling Bob the Bobolink. And how he did sing! It seemed as if the notes fairly tumbled over each other.

Jimmy Skunk raised himself on his hind legs a little to see just where Bubbling Bob dropped down in the grass.

Then Jimmy began to move in that direction. Suddenly Peter understood. He remembered that Bubbling Bob’s nest is always on the ground. It was his eggs that Jimmy Skunk was looking for.

“By the way, you haven’t happened to have seen Mrs. Bob anywhere around here, have you Peter?” Jimmy asked.


Bobolink by Louis Agassiz Fuertes


“No,” replied Peter. “If I had I wouldn’t tell you where. You ought think twice, Jimmy Skunk, to think of robbing such a beautiful singer as
Bubbling Bob.”

“Oh pooh!” retorted Jimmy. “What’s the harm? If I find those eggs he and Mrs. Bobolink could simply build another nest and lay some more. They won’t be any the worse off, and I will have had a good breakfast.”

“Yes, and think of all the work they would have to do to build another nest,” replied Peter.

“Oh and I should worry,” replied Jimmy Skunk. “Any one who can spend so much time singing can afford to do a little extra work.”

“Jimmy Skunk, I hope you won’t find a single egg,” said Peter.

With this, Peter once more headed for the dear Old Briar-patch, while Jimmy Skunk continued toward the place where Bubbling Bob had disappeared in the long grass. Peter went only a short distance and then sat up to watch. Just before Jimmy reached the place where Bubbling Bob had disappeared, the latter mounted into the air again, pouring out his rollicking song as if there were no room in his heart for anything except happiness.

Then he saw Jimmy Skunk and became very much excited. He flew down in the grass a little farther on and then up again, and began to scold. It looked very much as if he had gone down in the grass to warn Mrs. Bobolink.

Evidently Jimmy thought so, for he at once headed that way. When Bubbling Bob did the same thing all over again. Peter grew anxious. He knew just how patient Jimmy Skunk could be, and he very much feared that Jimmy would find that nest. Presently he grew tired of watching and started on for the dear Old Briar-patch. Just before he reached it a brown bird ran across the path in front of him and then flew up to the top of last year’s mullein stalk. It was Mrs. Bobolink. Peter knew her well, for he and she were very good friends.


A closer look at Peter Rabbit’s dear Old Briar-Patch along the edge of the Green Meadows, Old Orchard, and Green Forest.


“Oh!” cried Peter. “What are you doing here? Don’t you know that Jimmy Skunk, is hunting for your nest over there? Aren’t you worried to death? I would be if I were in your place.”

Mrs. Bobolink chuckled. “Isn’t he a dear? And isn’t he smart?” she said, meaning Bubbling Bob, of course, and not Jimmy Skunk. “Just see him lead that black-and-white robber away.”

Peter stared at her for a full minute. “Do you mean to say,” he said “that your nest isn’t over there at all?”

Mrs. Bobolink chuckled harder than ever. “Of course it isn’t over there,” she said.

“Then where is it?” asked Peter.

“That’s telling,” replied Mrs. Bobolink. “It isn’t over there, and it isn’t anywhere near there. Where it is is Bob’s secret and mine, and we intend to keep it. Now I must go get something to eat,” and with a hasty farewell Mrs. Bobolink flew over to the other side of the dear Old Briar-patch.

Peter remembered that he had seen Mrs. Bob running along the ground before she flew up to the old mullein stalk. He went back to the spot where he had first seen her and hunted all around in the grass, without success. You see, Mrs. Bobolink had been quite as clever in fooling Peter as Bubbling Bob had been in fooling Jimmy Skunk.


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 –  Orchard Oriole
  • Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS –  Bobolink
  • Q/A –Questions with answers to keep this conversation going are available for songs of birds (p. 42-43) and the migration of birds (p. 35-37) in the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock offered FREE online HERE.

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!

Bird BOOK LOOK – Chapter 2 – House Sparrow


Missed Chapter 1? Begin HERE



Chapter 2 – Billy in the Old Orchard


Peter Rabbit’s eyes twinkled when Jenny Wren said that she must look her old house over to see if it was fit to live in.

“Oh, well, I can tell you that your old house is already occupied,” replied Peter. “Billy the House Sparrow has been living in it for the last two months. In fact, he already has a good size family there.”

“What?” exclaimed Jenny and Mr. Wren together. Then without even saying goodbye to Peter, they flew to see it with their own eyes. Presently he heard them chattering as fast as their tongues could go, and this is very fast indeed.

“They will have to find a new house this year,” said Peter. “Billy the House Sparrow and Mrs. Sparrow won’t budge from their new home. My, my, my, just hear that racket! I think I’ll go over and see what is going on.”

So Peter hopped to a place where he could get a good view of Jenny Wren’s old home and still not be too far from the safety of the old stone wall. Jenny’s old home had been in a hole in one of the old apple trees. Looking over to it, Peter could see Mrs. Sparrow sitting in the little round doorway and quite filling it. She was chattering excitedly. Hopping and flitting from twig to twig close by were Jenny and Mr. Wren, their tails pointing almost straight up to the sky, and chattering as fast as they could make their tongues go. Flying at one and then at the other, and almost drowning their voices with his own harsh cries, was Billy himself. All this noise had brought all the other birds in the Old Orchard to see what was going on.

By ruffling up his feathers and raising his wings slightly as he hopped about, Billy managed to make himself appear much bigger than he really was. He was perhaps one fourth larger than Mr. Wren, although he looked half again as big.

His new spring suit was very dirty, due to his fondness for taking dust baths. His back was more or less of an ashy color with black and chestnut stripes. His wings were brown with a white bar on each. His throat and breast were black, and below that he was of a dirty white. The sides of his throat were white and the back of his neck chestnut.


House Sparrow (bottom left) and Chipping Sparrow (top right) by Lous Agassiz Fuertes


Billy the House Sparrow is also a born challenger. He never is happier than when he is in the midst of a challenge or a fuss of some kind. The fact that his neighbors disagreed with him today didn’t bother Billy in the least.

“Hey -that’s my house, and the sooner you get out of it the better!” yelled Jenny Wren, jerking her tail with every word as she hopped about just out of reach of Billy.

“It may have been your house once and it is mine now!” said Billy. “You didn’t make this house and you deserted it when you went south last fall. It is our turn now.”

Peter Rabbit nodded. “He’s right there,” muttered Peter. “It is true that he has a perfect right to that house. If folks leave things for half a year and fly south they can’t expect to find them just as they left them if or when they come back. My, my, my what a racket you are all making!”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Sparrow sat in the little round doorway. She knew that as long as she sat there it would be impossible for either Jenny or Mr. Wren to get in.

All the time Billy was darting back and forth in agitation. “Mrs. Sparrow and I are in the Old Orchard to stay!” declared Billy. The rest of the birds just watched and talked amongst themselves as Mr. Wren and Jenny Wren sat in frustration discussing the situation.


An apple tree in the Old Orchard beginning to blossom.


How long that squabble in the Old Orchard would have lasted had it not been for something which happened, no one knows. Right in the midst of it someone discovered Black Shadow, the cat who lives in Farmer Brown’s house, stealing up through the Old Orchard, her tail twitching and her yellow eyes glaring eagerly. She had heard that dreadful racket and suspected that in the midst of such excitement she might have a chance to catch one of the feathered folks. You can always trust Black Shadow to be on hand at a time like that.


Black Shadow the cat watching the birds in the Old Orchard.


No sooner was she discovered than everything else was forgotten. With Billy in the lead, and Jenny and Mr. Wren close behind him, all the birds turned their attention to Black Shadow. She was the predator of all, and they straight away forgot their own quarrel. Only Mrs. Sparrow remained where she was, in the little round doorway of her house. She intended to take no chances, and simply added her voice to the general racket. How those birds did shriek and scream! They darted down almost into the face of Black Shadow, and none went nearer than Billy the English Sparrow and Jenny Wren.

Now Black Shadow does not like to be the center of so much attention. She knew that, now that she had been discovered, there wasn’t a chance in the world for her to catch one of those feathered folks in the Old Orchard. So, with tail still twitching angrily, she turned and, with such dignity as she could, left the Old Orchard. Clear to the edge of the orchard the birds followed, shrieking and screaming after her.

When finally she disappeared towards Farmer Brown’s barn, those angry voices changed. It was such a funny change that Peter Rabbit laughed right out. Instead of anger there was triumph in every note as everybody returned to attend to their own affairs. Jenny and Mr. Wren seemed to have forgotten all about Billy and his wife in their old house.

They flew to another part of the Old Orchard to talk it all over and rest and get their breath. Peter Rabbit waited to see if they would come over near enough to him to chat a bit more. They didn’t and finally Peter started for his home in the dear Old Briar-patch to settle in the shade for a bit of rest.


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 – HOUSE SPARROW (aka English Sparrow)
  • House Sparrow nature journal coloring page at Cornell Common Feeder Birds FREE (*page W75).
  • Q/A –Questions with answers to keep this conversation going are available for both House Sparrow (p. 83-86) in the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock offered FREE online HERE.
  • Imagine . . . what if . . .  you arrived home from your trip “down south” just like Jenny and Mr. Wren and you found other folks who had moved into the home that you had left empty for 6 months. What would you do? Write about it in your P.L.A.Y. nature journal. Ask your friends and family the same “What if” question and hear their response. Think about how humans and animals handle this differently, or do they?
  • Another option is to get a copy of Fifty Favorite Birds Coloring Book by Lisa Bonforte and color the House Sparrow on page 23 (colored pencils recommended).

    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.

P.L.A.Y. Time – Pass it on!