Bird BOOK LOOK – Chapter 4 – Chipping + Vesper Sparrows


Missed Chapter 1? Begin HERE



Chapter 4 – Chippy + Sweetvoice


For a while Jenny Wren was too busy with Mr. Wren building their nest to stop and chat. To Peter it seemed as if they were trying to fill that entire tree trunk. “I should think they had enough stuff in there for half a dozen nests,” muttered Peter. “I do believe they are carrying it in for the fun of working.” And Peter wasn’t far off in this thought, as he was to discover a little later in the season when he found Mr. Wren building another nest for which he had no use.

Finding that for the time being he could get nothing more from Jenny Wren, Peter hopped over to visit Johnny Chuck, whose home was between the roots of an old apple tree in the far corner of the Old Orchard. Peter was still thinking of the Sparrow family; what a big family it was, yet how seldom any of them, excepting Billy the House Sparrow, were to be found in the Old Orchard.

“Hello, Johnny Chuck!” cried Peter, as he discovered Johnny sitting on his doorstep. “You’ve lived in the Old Orchard a long time, perhaps you could tell me something I want to know. Why is it that none of the Sparrow family, excepting Billy, build in the trees of the Old Orchard?”

Johnny Chuck shook his head. “Peter,” he said, “let’s use your ears to solve this one.”

Peter looked confused.

Johnny grinned. “Listen!” said Johnny. And Peter listened. From a tree just a little way off came a clear “Chip, chip, chip, chip.” Peter didn’t need to be told to look. He knew without looking who was over there. He knew that voice to be that of one of his oldest and best friends in the Old Orchard, a little fellow with a red-brown cap, brown back with feathers streaked with black, brownish wings and tail, a gray waistcoat and black bill, and a little white line over each eye. It was Chippy, as everybody calls the Chipping Sparrow, the smallest of the family.

“I forgot all about Chippy,” said Peter. “Now I think of it, I have found Chippy here in the Old Orchard ever since I can remember. I never have seen his nest because I never happened to think about looking for it. Does he build a nest with trash like his cousin, Billy?”

Johnny Chuck laughed. “I should say not!” he exclaimed. “Twice Chippy and Mrs. Chippy have built their nest in this very old apple tree. There is no trash in their nest, I can tell you! It is just as dainty as they are, and not a bit bigger than it has to be. It is made mostly of little fine, dry roots, and it is lined inside with horsehair.”

“What’s that you say?” Peter’s voice sounded as it he suspected that Johnny
Chuck was trying to fool him.

“It’s a fact,” said Johnny, nodding his head gravely. “Goodness knows where they find it these days, and yet find it they do. Here comes Chippy himself; ask him.”


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


Chippy and Mrs. Chippy came flitting from tree to tree until they were on a branch right over Peter and Johnny. “Hello!” cried Peter. “You folks seem very busy. Have you finished building your nest yet?”

“Nearly,” replied Chippy. “It is all done save the horsehair. We are on our way up to Farmer Brown’s barnyard now to look for some. You haven’t seen any around anywhere, have you?”

Peter and Johnny shook their heads, and Peter confessed that he wouldn’t know horsehair if he saw it. He often had found hair from the coats of Reddy Fox and Old Man Coyote and Digger the Badger and Lightfoot the Deer, however hair from the coat of a horse was altogether another matter.

“It isn’t hair from the coat of a horse that we want,” cried Chippy, as he prepared to fly after Mrs. Chippy. “It is long hair from the tail or mane of a horse that we must have. It makes the very nicest kind of lining for a nest.”

Chippy and Mrs. Chippy were gone a long time, and when they did return each was carrying a long black hair. They had found what they wanted, and Mrs. Chippy was in high spirits because, as she took pains to explain to Peter, that little nest would soon be ready for the four beautiful little blue eggs with black spots on one end that she meant to lay in it.


Tree Sparrow by Louis Agassiz Fuertes


As they watched their two little feathered friends putting the finishing touches to their little nest far out on a branch of one of the apple trees Johnny asked Peter “Did you know that they are sometimes called Tree Sparrows?”

“No,” said Peter, “I didn’t.”

“I suppose it is because they so often build their nests in trees,” replied Johnny.

“Chippy shouldn’t be called Tree Sparrow, because he has a cousin by that name,” said Peter.

Johnny Chuck looked as if he doubted that, “I have never heard of him,” he grunted.

Peter grinned. Here was a chance to tell Johnny Chuck something, and Peter never is happier than when he can tell folks something they don’t know.

“You’d know him if you didn’t sleep all winter,” said Peter with a chuckle. “Dotty the Tree Sparrow spends the winter here. He left for his home in the Far North about the time you were ready to wake up.”

“Why do you call him Dotty?” asked Johnny Chuck.

“Because he has a little round black dot right in the middle of his breast,” replied Peter. “I don’t know why they call him Tree Sparrow; he doesn’t spend his time in the trees the way Chippy does, and I see him much more often in low bushes or on the ground. I think Chippy has much more right to the name of Tree Sparrow than Dotty has. Now I think of it, I’ve heard Dotty called the Winter Chippy.”

“Gracious, what a mix-up!” exclaimed Johnny Chuck. “With Chippy being called a Tree Sparrow and a Tree Sparrow called Chippy, I should think folks would get all tangled up.”

“Perhaps they would,” replied Peter, “if both were here at the same time, however Chippy comes just as Dotty goes, and Dotty comes as Chippy goes. That’s a pretty good arrangement, especially as they look very much alike, excepting that Dotty is quite a little bigger than Chippy and always has that black dot, which Chippy does not have. Goodness gracious, it is time I was back in the dear Old Briar-patch! Goodbye, Johnny Chuck.”


Vesper Sparrow by Louis Agassiz Fuertes


And away went Peter Rabbit, lipperty-lipperty-lip, heading for the dear Old Briar-patch. Out of the grass just ahead of him flew a rather pale, streaked little brown bird, and as he spread his tail Peter saw two white feathers on the outer edges. Those two white feathers were all Peter needed to recognize another little friend of whom he is very fond. It was Sweetvoice the Vesper Sparrow, the only one of the Sparrow family with white feathers in his tail.

“Come over to the dear Old Briar-patch and sing to me, would you Sweetvoice?” cried Peter.

Sweetvoice dropped down into the grass again, and when Peter came up, was very busy getting a mouthful of dry grass. “I can’t,” mumbled Sweetvoice. “Not now, Peter Rabbit. I’m too busy. It is high time our nest was finished, and Mrs. Sweetvoice will lose her patience if I don’t get this grass over there pretty quick.”

“Where is your nest? In a tree?” asked Peter innocently.

“That’s telling,” declared Sweetvoice. “Not a living soul knows where that nest is, excepting Mrs. Sweetvoice and myself. This much I will tell you, Peter: it isn’t in a tree. And I’ll tell you this much more: it is in a hoof print of Bossy the Cow.”

“In a what?” cried Peter.

“In a hoof print of Bossy the Cow,” repeated Sweetvoice, chuckling softly. “You know when the ground was wet and soft early this spring, Bossy left deep footprints wherever she went in the Green Meadows. One of these makes the nicest kind of a place for a nest. Now run along, Peter Rabbit. I’ve got much to do. Perhaps I’ll come over to the edge of the dear Old Briar-patch and sing to you a while just after jolly, round, red Mr. Sun goes to bed behind the Purple Hills. I just love to sing then.”

“I’ll be watching for you,” replied Peter. “I love to hear you sing and that is the best time of all the day in which to hear singing.”

That night, sure enough, just as the Dark Purple Shadows came creeping out over the Green Meadows, Sweetvoice, perched on the top of a bramble bush over Peter’s head, sang over and over again the sweetest little song and kept on singing even after it was quite dark. Something Peter didn’t know was that this habit of singing in the evening is what has given Sweetvoice his name of Vesper Sparrow.


Dark Purple Shadows in the night sky


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 –  Chipping Sparrow
  • Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS –  Tree Sparrow
  • Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – Vesper Sparrow
  • Nature journal coloring pages at Cornell Common Feeder Birds FREE Chipping Sparrow page W59 + Tree Sparrow page W58.
  • Have you ever wondered if you see so many birds in your yard, or in a nearby park or playground, why you haven’t seen equally as many nests? Keep an eye out, especially this time of year when there are few leaves on the trees, to see if you can spot any bird homes from last year or in the making.
  • What shape is the Chipping Sparrow’s beak? Do all sparrows have this shaped beak? What is it best designed for eating?
  • As a great garden helper what bugs does the Chipping Sparrow like to eat?

Some of these questions have been inspired by the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock. More to learn about the Chipping Sparrow on pages 86-89 of this classic offered FREE online HERE.

  • Another option is to get a copy of Fifty Favorite Birds Coloring Book by Lisa Bonforte and color the Chipping Sparrow on page 14 (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!

Bird BOOK LOOK – Chapter 3 – Sparrows


Missed Chapter 1? Begin HERE



Chapter 3 – Jenny Has a Good Word For Some Sparrows


The morning after Jenny and Mr. Wren had a few words with Billy the House Sparrow found Peter Rabbit in the Old Orchard again. He was so curious to know what Jenny Wren would do now for a new house that nothing other than some great danger could have kept him away from there. Truth to tell, Peter was afraid that not being able to have their old house, Jenny and Mr. Wren would decide to leave the Old Orchard altogether. So it was with a great deal of relief that as he hopped over a low place in the old stone wall he heard Mr. Wren singing with all his might.

The song was coming from quite the other side of the Old Orchard from where Billy and Mrs. Sparrow had set up housekeeping. Peter hurried over. He found Mr. Wren right away, although at first saw nothing of Jenny. He was just about to ask after her when he caught sight of her with a tiny stick in her bill. Peter watched her and saw her disappear in a little hole in a big branch of one of the old apple trees. Hardly had she popped in than she popped out again. This time her mouth was free, and so was her tongue.

“You’d better stop singing and help me,” she said to Mr. Wren pointedly. Mr. Wren immediately stopped singing and began to hunt for a tiny little twig such as Jenny had taken into that hole.

“Well!” exclaimed Peter. “It didn’t take you long to find a new house, did it?”

“Certainly not,” said Jenny “We can’t afford to sit around.”

“Are you afraid that Billy will try to take over that house too?” Peter ventured.

“No” said Jenny. “That new doorway’s too small for him to get more than his head in.”

“Agreed” said Peter.

“I can’t stop to talk to you any more right now, Peter Rabbit, as I’m busy setting up our new home. Mr. Wren, that stick looks too big.” Jenny plucked it out of Mr. Wren’s mouth and dropped it on the ground, while Mr. Wren went back out to hunt for another. Jenny joined him, and as Peter watched them he understood why Jenny is often considered a busy bird.


An apple tree in the Old Orchard beginning to blossom.


For some time Peter Rabbit watched Jenny and Mr. Wren carry sticks and straws into that little hole until it seemed to him they were trying to fill the whole inside of the tree. Just watching them made Peter positively tired. Mr. Wren would stop every now and then to sing, however Jenny didn’t waste a minute. In spite of that she managed to talk just the same.

“I suppose Little Friend the Song Sparrow got here some time ago,”she said.

Peter nodded. “Yes,” he said. “I saw him only a day or two ago over by the Laughing Brook, and although he wouldn’t say so, I’m sure that he has a nest and eggs already.”

Jenny Wren jerked her tail and nodded her head vigorously. “I suppose so,” she said. “He doesn’t have to make as long a journey as we do, so he gets here sooner. Everyone seems to enjoy Little Friend, don’t you think so?”

Once more Peter nodded. “That’s right,” he said. “It makes me feel sort of all glad inside just to hear him sing. I guess it makes everybody feel that way. I wonder why we so seldom see him up here in the Old Orchard.”

“Because he likes damp places with plenty of bushes better,” replied Jenny Wren. “It wouldn’t do for everybody to like the same kind of a place. He isn’t a tree bird, anyway. He likes to be on or near the ground. You will never find his nest much above the ground, not more than a foot or two. Quite often it is on the ground. Although I prefer Mr. Wren’s song, I must admit that Little Friend has one of the happiest songs of any one I know. He is often shy and retiring, content to make all the world glad with his song, and prefers to keep out of sight as much as possible. ”

Jenny chattered on as she hunted for some more material for her nest. “I suppose you’ve noticed,” she said, “that he and his wife dress very much alike. They don’t go in for bright colors any more than we Wrens do. I like the little brown caps they wear, and the way their breasts and sides are streaked with brown. Then, too, they are such useful folks. I suppose they stay rather later than we do in the fall.”

“Yes,” replied Peter. “They don’t go until Jack Frost pushes them along.”


Song Sparrow by Louis Agassiz Fuertes


“Speaking of the Sparrow family, did you see anything of Whitethroat?” asked Jenny Wren, as she rested for a moment in the doorway of her new house and looked down at Peter Rabbit.

Peter’s face brightened. “I should say I did!” he exclaimed. “He stopped for a few days on his way north. I only wish he would stay here all the time. He seems to think there is no place like the Great Woods of the North and always hurries along to get there. I could listen all day to his song. Do you know what he always seems to be saying?”

“What would that be?” asked Jenny.

“I live happ-i-ly, happ-i-ly, happ-i-ly,” replied Peter. “I guess he must too, because he makes other people so happy.”

Jenny nodded in her usual emphatic way. “I don’t know him as well as I do some of the others,” she said, “however when I have seen him down in the South he always has appeared to me to be a perfect gentleman. He is social, too; he likes to travel with others.”

“I’ve noticed that,” said Peter. “He almost always has company when he passes through here. Some of those Sparrows are so much alike that it is hard for me to tell them apart, though I can always tell Whitethroat because he is one of the largest of the familyl and has such a lovely white throat. He really is handsome with his black and white cap and that bright yellow spot before each eye. I am told that he is very dearly loved up in the North where he makes his home. They say he sings all the time.”

“I suppose Scratcher the Fox Sparrow has been along too,” said Jenny. “He also started sometime before we did.”

“Yes,” replied Peter. “He spent one night in the dear Old Briar-patch. He is fine looking too, the biggest of all the Sparrow family, and how he can sing. The only thing I don’t like about him is the color of his coat. It always reminds me of Reddy Fox, and I don’t like anything that reminds me of that fellow. When he visited us I discovered something about Scratcher which I don’t believe you know.”

“Oh? Do tell,” said Jenny.

“That when he scratches among the leaves he uses both feet at once,” announced Peter triumphantly. “It’s funny to watch him.”

“Actually, yes, I did know that,” said Jenny and she ducked back into her house.


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 – Song Sparrow 
    • Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS –  White-throated Sparrow  
    • Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS –  Fox Sparrow
    • Q/A –Questions with answers to keep this conversation going are available for Song Sparrow (p. 89-91) in the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock offered FREE online HERE.
    • Ever Wonder . . .?  Have you ever step outside your door into your yard and simply listened to the sounds of nature? The gentle breeze whistling in your ear, a bee buzzing, or perhaps a bird calling in the distance? Did you ever wonder what the bird was saying? Perhaps you could take a moment and try listening to your local birds and create your own phrases to match their call just like Peter did with Whitethroat’s “I live happ-i-ly, happ-i-ly, happ-i-ly” song.
    • Curious? If you’d like to take it one step further you could research some of the calls that bird scientists (ornithologists) and naturalists have labeled and recorded in bird ID books for folks to use as a common way to get to know birds better.
    • Another option is to get a copy of Fifty Favorite Birds Coloring Book by Lisa Bonforte and color the Song Sparrow on page 38 (colored pencils recommended).
      • Also a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America Coloring Book by Paul E. Kennedy with a Fox Sparrow on page 34 and a White-throated Sparrow on page 35.

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!