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Chapter 5 – Peter Learns Something He Hadn’t Guessed
Running over to the Old Orchard very early in the morning for a little chat with Jenny Wren and his other friends there had become a regular thing with Peter Rabbit. He was learning a great many things, and some of them were most surprising.
Two of Peter’s oldest and best friends in the Old Orchard were Winsome Bluebird and Welcome Robin. Every spring they arrived pretty nearly together, though Winsome Bluebird usually was a few days ahead of Welcome Robin. This year Winsome had arrived while the snow still lingered in patches. He was, as he always is, the herald of sweet Mistress Spring. And when Peter had heard for the first time Winsome’s soft, sweet whistle, which seemed to come from nowhere in particular and from everywhere in general, he had kicked up his long hind legs from pure joy. Then, when a few days later he had heard Welcome Robin’s joyous message of “Cheer-up! Cheer-up! Cheer-up! Cheer-up! Cheer!” from the tiptop of a tall tree, he had known that Mistress Spring really had arrived.
Peter loves Winsome Bluebird and Welcome Robin and he had known them so long and so well that he thought he knew all there was to know about them.
“Those cousins don’t look much alike, do they?” remarked Jenny Wren, as
she poked her head out of her house to chat with Peter.
“What cousins?” asked Peter, staring very hard in the direction in which Jenny Wren was looking.
“Those two sitting on the fence over there,” replied Jenny with a nod of her head.
Peter stared harder than ever. On one post sat Winsome Bluebird, and on another post sat Welcome Robin. “I don’t see anybody save Winsome and Welcome, and they are not even related,” replied Peter with a little puzzled frown.
“Tut, tut, tut!” exclaimed Jenny Wren. “They most certainly are related. They are cousins. They belong to the same family that Melody the Thrush and all the other Thrushes belong to. That makes them all cousins.”
“Really, are you sure?” inquired Peter, looking as if he didn’t believe a word of what Jenny Wren had said. Jenny repeated, and still Peter looked doubtful.
“Well, you could go ask one of them yourself,” Jenny said, and disappeared inside her house.
The more he thought of it, the more this struck Peter as good advice. So he hopped over to the foot of the fence post on which Winsome Bluebird was sitting. “Jenny Wren says that you and Welcome Robin are cousins. Are you really?” asked Peter.
Winsome chuckled. It was a soft, gentle chuckle. “Yes,” said he, nodding his head, “we are. Welcome and I may not look much alike, however we are cousins just the same. Don’t you think Welcome is looking unusually fine this spring?”
“Not a bit finer than you are yourself, Winsome,” replied Peter politely. “I just love that sky-blue coat of yours. What is the reason that Mrs. Bluebird doesn’t wear as bright a coat as you do?”
“Go ask Jenny Wren,” chuckled Winsome Bluebird, and before Peter could say another word he flew over to the roof of Farmer Brown’s house.
Back scampered Peter to tell Jenny Wren that he was sorry he had doubted her.
Then he pleaded with Jenny to tell him why it was that Mrs. Bluebird was not as brightly dressed as was Winsome.
“Mrs. Bluebird, like most mothers, is altogether too busy to spend much time taking care of her clothes; and fine clothes need a lot of care,” replied Jenny. “Besides, when Winsome is about he attracts all the attention and that gives her a chance to slip in and out of her nest without being noticed. Peter Rabbit, do you know where Winsome’s nest is?”
Peter had to admit that he did not know, although he had tried his best to find out by watching Winsome. “I think it’s over in that little house put up by Farmer Brown’s boy,” he ventured. “I saw both Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird go in it when they first came, and I’ve seen Winsome around it a great deal since, so I guess it is there.”
“Well, as a matter of fact, it is in one of those old fence posts,” said Jenny Wren. “Which one however I am not going to tell you. I will leave that for you to find out. Mrs. Bluebird certainly shows good sense and knows a good house when she sees it. The hole in that post is one of the best holes anywhere around here. It has stout walls and a doorway just big enough to get in and out of comfortably. If I had arrived here early enough I would have taken it myself. However, Mrs. Bluebird already had her nest built in it and four eggs there, so there was nothing for me to do but come over here.”
Peter nodded quite as if he understood all about the advantages of a house with walls. “That reminds me,” said he. “The other day I saw Welcome Robin getting mud and carrying it away. Pretty soon he was joined by Mrs. Robin, and she did the same thing. They kept it up till I got tired of watching them.”
“Jenny, what were they doing with that mud?” asked Peter.
“They are building their nest,” said Jenny. How they build the kind of a home they do is more than I can understand. Mr. Wren and I build our nest with just sticks and clean straws. And before I lay my eggs I see to it that my nest is lined with feathers.”
“Welcome Robin and Mrs. Robin make the foundation of their nest of mud, simply plain, common, ordinary mud. They cover this with dead grass, and sometimes there is mighty little of this over the inside walls of mud. I know because I’ve seen the inside of their nest often. More than once I’ve known them to have their nest washed away in a heavy rain, or have it blown down in a high wind. Nothing like that ever happens to Winsome Bluebird or to me.”
Jenny disappeared inside her house, and Peter waited for her to come out again. Welcome Robin, with his black head, beautiful russet breast, black and white throat and yellow bill, flew down on the ground, ran a few steps, and then stood still with his head on one side as if listening. Then he reached down and tugged at something, and presently out of the ground came a long, wriggling angleworm. Welcome gulped it down and ran on a few steps, then once more paused to listen. This time he turned and ran three or four steps to the right, where he pulled another worm out of the ground.
“He acts as if he heard those worms in the ground,” said Peter, speaking aloud without thinking.
“He does,” said Jenny Wren, poking her head out of her doorway just as Peter spoke. “How do you suppose he would find them when they are in the ground if he didn’t hear them?”
“Can you hear them?” asked Peter.
“I’ve never tried and I don’t intend to,” replied Jenny. “Welcome Robin may enjoy eating them, however for my part I want something smaller and daintier, like young grasshoppers, tender young beetles, small caterpillars, bugs and spiders.”
Peter had to turn his head aside to hide the wry face he just had to make at the mention of such things as food. “Is that all Welcome Robin eats?” he asked innocently.
“I should say not,” laughed Jenny. “He eats a lot of other kinds of worms, and he just dearly loves fruit like strawberries and cherries and all sorts of small berries. And by the way, I must mention, Welcome is a fine singer too.”
“Well, I can’t stop here talking any longer,” said Jenny. “However, I will tell you a secret before I go, Peter, if you’ll promise not to tell.”
Of course Peter promised, and Jenny leaned so far down that Peter wondered how she could keep from falling as she whispered, “I’ve got seven eggs in my nest, so if you don’t see much of me for the next week or more, you’ll know why. I’ve just got to sit on those eggs and keep them warm.”
Visit P.L.A.Y. Pinterest BIRD Board to see the Wiggle Worm in action HERE!
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 – American Robin
- Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – Eastern Bluebird
- Nature journal coloring pages at Cornell Common Feeder Birds FREE American Robin page W51.
- Q/A –Does the Robin begin to sing as soon as it comes North? At what time of day does the Robin sing? Is it likely to sing before a rain? How many songs does it sing?
- Q/A – Does a Robin run or walk or hop? Does the Robin really hear earthworms?
- Q/A – Can you describe the Bluebirds song? Does it sing all summer? Where do Bluebirds spend the winter?
- Some of these questions have been inspired by or quoted from the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock. More about the Robin and Bluebird on pages 57-65 of this classic offered FREE online HERE.
- Fifty Favorite Birds Coloring Book by Lisa Bonforte offers pages for both the Robin (36) and the Bluebird (4). Colored pencil use recommended
- Audubon’s Birds of America Coloring Book by Paul E. Kennedy also offers pages for both the Eastern Bluebird (3) and an American Robin (33). Colored pencil use recommended.
*Both of these coloring books are inexpensive, easy to find, and excellent companions to this bird story series.
Source for Chapter 5: 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
Feathered Friend BONUS!
“When our American Robin comes out of the turquoise blue egg that his devoted mother has warmed into life, he usually finds three or four baby brothers and sisters huddled within the grassy cradle. In April, both parents worked hard to prepare this home for them. Having brought coarse grasses, roots, and a few leaves or weed stalks for the foundation, and pellets of mud in their bills for the inner walls (which they cleverly managed to smooth into a bowl shape without a mason’s trowel), and fine grasses for the lining of the nest, they saddled it on to the limb of an old apple tree. Robins prefer low-branching orchard or shade trees near our homes to the tall, straight shafts of the forest. Some have the courage to build among the vines or under the shelter of our piazzas. I know a pair of robins that reared a brood in a little clipped bay tree in a tub next to a front door, where people passed in and out continually.
And suppose your appetite were so large that you were compelled to eat more than your weight of food every day, and suppose you had three or four brothers and sisters, just your own size, and just as ravenously hungry. These are the conditions in every normal robin family, so you can easily imagine how hard the father and mother birds must work to keep their fledglings’ crops filled. No wonder robins like to live near our homes where the enriched land contains many fat grubs, and the smooth lawns, that they run across so lightly, make hunting for earth worms comparatively easy. It is estimated that about fourteen feet of worms (if placed end to end) are drawn out of the ground daily by a pair of robins with a nest full of babies to feed.” ~Birds Every Child Should Know by Neltje Blanchan Copyright 1907
“Young bluebirds are far less wild and noisy than robins, however their very sharp little claws discourage handling. These pointed hooks on the ends of their toes help them to climb out of the tree hollow, that is their natural home, into the big world that their presence makes so cheerful.
Bluebirds hunt for a cavity in a fence rail, or a hole in some old tree, preferably in the orchard, shortly after their arrival, and proceed to line it with grass. From three to six pale blue eggs are laid. At first the babies are blind, helpless, and almost naked. Then they grow a suit of dark feathers with speckled, thrush-like vests similar to their cousin’s, the baby robin’s; and it is not until they are able to fly that the lovely deep blue shade gradually appears on their grayish upper parts. Then their throat, breast, and sides turn rusty red. While creatures are helpless, a prey for any enemy to pounce upon, Nature does not dress them conspicuously, you may be sure. Adult birds, that are able to look out for themselves, may be very gaily dressed, however their children must wear somber clothes until they grow strong and wise.” ~Birds Every Child Should Know by Neltje Blanchan Copyright 1907