Gateway to the Classics: Fairy Stories and Fables by James Baldwin
Fairy Stories and Fables by  James Baldwin

The Nest Builders

A very long time ago, before you or I can remember, the magpie was the only bird that knew much about nest building. One day the other birds came to her and asked her to teach them how to make nice nests like her own. She told them to stand in a circle all around her, and then she began to show them how it was done. The first thing she did was to get some mud and make a little round cake of it.

"How very easy!" said the thrush. "Now I know all that is to be learned about nest building." She flew away to her home in the meadows; and thrushes make their nests mostly of a cake of mud to this very day.

The magpie then took some slender twigs and laid them across and around the cake of mud.

"That is all I need to learn," said the blackbird, flying away in great haste. And blackbirds have never yet learned anything more.

Then the magpie put another layer of mud on top of the twigs.

"Oh, oh!" cried the owl. "Who, ah, who would need a better nest than that?" And no owl has ever tried to have a better nest.

But the magpie went on working. After beating down the mud into the right shape, she took some more twigs and wound them loosely around the outside.

"That suits me," said the sparrow; "and I'll go and make a nest just like it." And sparrows are still satisfied with untidy nests made of a daub of mud and a few sticks thrown around them.

Then the magpie brought straw and soft feathers and lined the nest with great care, so that it would be a nice pleasant place to sit in.

The starling was delighted, and cried out, "Good! good! Feathers and straw make the best nests!" And away she flew without taking much notice of the foundation of mud and the framework of twigs.

And so it happened that all the birds learned something from the magpie, but not one of them had the patience to stay until she had finished her lesson.

The last bird that came was the turtle dove, and she was so listless that she took no notice of what the magpie had been doing. While the magpie was putting the last touches to her beautiful nest, Mrs. Dove could do nothing but sit on a leafy twig above her and call out:—

"Take two, two, Toosy, take two!"

This made the magpie angry, and she stopped while placing a straw around the topmost edge of the nest, and said:—

"Only one, I tell you; only one!"

But the turtle dove kept on: "Take two, two, Toosy, take two!"

The magpie could stand it no longer: "One's enough for such as you!" she cried.

"Take two, two, Toosy, take two!" said the turtle dove, looking away off across the meadow, and hearing not a word.

This made the magpie so angry that she dropped the straw and flew away before she had ended her lesson.

"What's the use of trying to teach people who think they already know everything?" she said.

And that is how it happens that the different kinds of birds build their nests in so many different ways. The magpie never tried to teach them again; and, indeed, they were very well content; for each one believed that there was nothing more to be learned.


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