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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.
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.”
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.
“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.