Gateway to the Classics: The Burgess Bird Book for Children by Thornton W. Burgess
The Burgess Bird Book for Children by  Thornton W. Burgess

The Warblers Arrive

I F there is one family of feathered friends which perplexes Peter Rabbit more than another, it is the Warbler family.

"So many of them come together and they move about so constantly that a fellow doesn't have a chance to look at one long enough to recognize him," complained Peter to Jenny Wren one morning when the Old Orchard was fairly alive with little birds no bigger than Jenny Wren herself.

And such restless little folks as they were!

They were not still an instant, flitting from tree to tree, twig to twig, darting out into the air and all the time keeping up an endless chattering mingled with little snatches of song. Peter would no sooner fix his eyes on one than another entirely different in appearance would take its place. Occasionally he would see one whom he recognized, one who would stay for the nesting season. But the majority of them would stop only for a day or two, being bound farther north to make their summer homes.

Apparently, Jenny Wren did not look upon them altogether with favor. Perhaps Jenny was a little bit envious, for compared with the bright colors of some of them Jenny was a very homely small person indeed. Then, too, there were so many of them and they were so busy catching all kinds of small insects that it may be Jenny was a little fearful they would not leave enough for her to get her own meals easily.

"I don't see what they have to stop here for," scolded Jenny. "They could just as well go somewhere else where they would not be taking the food out of the mouths of honest folk who are here to stay all summer. Did you ever in your life see such uneasy people? They don't keep still an instant. It positively makes me tired just to watch them."

Peter couldn't help but chuckle, for Jenny Wren herself is a very restless and uneasy person. As for Peter, he was thoroughly enjoying this visit of the Warblers, despite the fact that he was having no end of trouble trying to tell who was who. Suddenly one darted down and snapped up a fly almost under Peter's very nose and was back up in a tree before Peter could get his breath. "It's Zee Zee the Redstart!" cried Peter joyously. "I would know Zee Zee anywhere. Do you know who he reminds me of, Jenny Wren?"

"Who?" demanded Jenny.

"Goldy the Oriole," replied Peter promptly. "Only of course he's ever and ever so much smaller. He's all black and orange-red and white something as Goldy is, only there isn't quite so much orange on him."

For just an instant Zee Zee sat still with his tail spread. His head, throat and back were black and there was a black band across the end of his tail and a black stripe down the middle of it. The rest was bright orange-red. On each wing was a band of orange-red and his sides were the same color. Underneath he was white tinged more or less with orange.

It was only for an instant that Zee Zee sat still; then he was in the air, darting, diving, whirling, going through all sorts of antics as he caught tiny insects too small for Peter to see. Peter began to wonder how he kept still long enough to sleep at night. And his voice was quite as busy as his wings. "Zee, zee, zee, zee!" he would cry. But this was only one of many notes. At times he would sing a beautiful little song and then again it would seem as if he were trying to imitate other members of the Warbler family.

"I do hope Zee Zee is going to stay here," said Peter. "I just love to watch him."

"He'll stay fast enough," retorted Jenny Wren. "I don't imagine he'll stay in the Old Orchard and I hope he won't, because if he does it will make it just that much harder for me to catch enough to feed my big family. Probably he and Mrs. Redstart will make their home on the edge of the Green Forest. They like it better over there, for which I am thankful. There's Mrs Redstart now. Just notice that where Zee Zee is bright orange-y red she is yellow, and instead of a black head she has a gray head and her back is olive-green with a grayish tinge. She isn't nearly as handsome as Zee Zee, but then, that's not to be expected. She lets Zee Zee do the singing and the showing off and she does the work. I expect she'll build that nest with almost no help at all from him. But Zee Zee is a good father, I'll say that much for him. He'll do his share in feeding their babies."

Just then Peter caught sight of a bird all in yellow. He was about the same size as Zee Zee and was flitting about among the bushes along the old stone wall. "There's Sunshine!" cried Peter, and without being polite enough to even bid Jenny Wren farewell, he scampered over to where he could see the one he called Sunshine flitting about from bush to bush.

"Oh, Sunshine!" he cried, as he came within speaking distance, "I'm ever and ever so glad to see you back. I do hope you and Mrs. Sunshine are going to make your home somewhere near here where I can see you every day."

"Hello, Peter! I am just as glad to see you as you are to see me," cried Sunshine the Yellow Warbler. "Yes, indeed, we certainly intend to stay here if we can find just the right place for our nest. It is lovely to be back here again. We've journeyed so far that we don't want to go a bit farther if we can help it. Have you seen Sally Sly the Cowbird around here this spring?"

Peter nodded. "Yes," said he, "I have."

"I'm sorry to hear it," declared Sunshine. "She made us a lot of trouble last year. But we fooled her."

"How did you fool her?" asked Peter.

Sunshine paused to pick a tiny worm from a leaf. "Well," said he, "she found our nest just after we had finished it and before Mrs. Sunshine had had a chance to lay an egg. Of course you know what she did."

"I can guess," replied Peter. "She laid one of her own eggs in your nest."

Sunshine stopped to pick two or three more worms from the leaves. "Yes," said he. "She did just that, the lazy good-for-nothing creature! But it didn't do her a bit of good, not a bit. That egg never hatched. We fooled her and that's what we'll do again if she repeats that trick this year."

"What did you do, throw that egg out?" asked Peter.

"No," replied Sunshine. "Our nest was too deep for us to get that egg out. We just made a second bottom in our nest right over that egg and built the sides of the nest a little higher. Then we took good care that she didn't have a chance to lay another egg in there."

"Then you had a regular two-story nest, didn't you?" cried Peter, opening his eyes very wide.

Sunshine nodded. "Yes, sir," said he, "and it was a mighty fine nest, if I do say it. If there's anything Mrs. Sunshine and I pride ourselves on it is our nest. There are no babies who have a softer, cozier home than ours."

"What do you make your nest of?" asked Peter.

"Fine grasses and soft fibers from plants, some hair when we can find it, and a few feathers. But we always use a lot of that nice soft fern-cotton. There is nothing softer or nicer that I know of."

All the time Peter had been admiring Sunshine and thinking how wonderfully well he was named. At first glance he seemed to be all yellow, as if somehow he had managed to catch and hold the sunshine in his feathers. There wasn't a white feather on him. When he came very close Peter could see that on his breast and underneath were little streaks of reddish brown and his wings and tail were a little blackish. Otherwise he was all yellow.



The one bird who is all yellow.


Dressed chiefly in black and orange.

Presently he was joined by Mrs. Sunshine. She was not such a bright yellow as was Sunshine, having an olive-green tint on her back. But underneath she was almost clear yellow without the reddish-brown streaks. She too was glad to see Peter but couldn't stop to gossip, for already, as she informed Sunshine, she had found just the place for their nest. Of course Peter begged to be told where it was. But the two little folks in yellow snapped their bright eyes at him and told him that that was their secret and they didn't propose to tell a living soul.

Perhaps if Peter had not been so curious and eager to get acquainted with other members of the Warbler family he would have stayed and done a little spying. As it was, he promised himself to come back to look for that nest after it had been built; then he scurried back among the trees of the Old Orchard to look for other friends among the busy little Warblers who were making the Old Orchard such a lively place that morning.

"There's one thing about it," cried Peter. "Any one can tell Zee Zee the Redstart by his black and flame colored suit. There is no other like it. And any one can tell Sunshine the Yellow Warbler because there isn't anybody else who seems to be all yellow. My, what a lively, lovely lot these Warblers are!"

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