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 Constant Singers

O VER in a maple-tree on the edge of Farmer Brown's door yard lived Mr. and Mrs. Redeye the Vireos. Peter Rabbit knew that they had a nest there because Jenny Wren had told him so. He would have guessed it anyway, because Redeye spent so much time in that tree during the nesting season. No matter what hour of the day Peter visited the Old Orchard he heard Redeye singing over in the maple-tree. Peter used to think that if song is an expression of happiness, Redeye must be the happiest of all birds.

He was a little fellow about the size of one of the larger Warblers and quite as modestly dressed as any of Peter's acquaintances. The crown of his head was gray with a little blackish border on either side. Over each eye was a white line. Underneath he was white. For the rest he was dressed in light olive-green. The first time he came down near enough for Peter to see him well Peter understood at once why he is called Redeye. His eyes were red. Yes, sir, his eyes were red and this fact alone was enough to distinguish him from any other members of his family.

But it wasn't often that Redeye came down so near the ground that Peter could see his eyes. He preferred to spend most of his time in the tree tops, and Peter only got glimpses of him now and then. But if he didn't see him often it was less often that he failed to hear him. "I don't see when Redeye finds time to eat," declared Peter as he listened to the seemingly unending song in the maple-tree.

"Redeye believes in singing while he works," said Jenny Wren. "For my part I should think he'd wear his throat out. When other birds sing they don't do anything else, but Redeye sings all the time he is hunting his meals and only stops long enough to swallow a worm or a bug when he finds it. Just as soon as it is down he begins to sing again while he hunts for another. I must say for the Redeyes that they are mighty good nest builders. Have you seen their nest over in that maple-tree, Peter?"

Peter shook his head.

"I don't dare go over there except very early in the morning before Farmer Brown's folks are awake," said he, "so I haven't had much chance to look for it."

"You probably couldn't see it, anyway," declared Jenny Wren. "They have placed it rather high up from the ground and those leaves are so thick that they hide it. It's a regular little basket fastened in a fork near the end of a branch and it is woven almost as nicely as is the nest of Goldy the Oriole. How anybody has the patience to weave a nest like that is beyond me."

"What's it made of?" asked Peter.

"Strips of bark, plant down, spider's web, grass, and pieces of paper!" replied Jenny. "That's a funny thing about Redeye; he dearly loves a piece of paper in his nest. What for, I can't imagine. He's as fussy about having a scrap of paper as Cresty the Flycatcher is about having a piece of Snakeskin. I had just a peep into that nest a few days ago and unless I am greatly mistaken Sally Sly the Cowbird has managed to impose on the Redeyes. I am certain I saw one of her eggs in that nest."

A few mornings after this talk with Jenny Wren about Redeye the Vireo Peter once more visited the Old Orchard. No sooner did he come in sight than Jenny Wren's tongue began to fly. "What did I tell you, Peter Rabbit? What did I tell you? I knew it was so, and it is!" cried Jenny.

"What is so?" asked Peter rather testily, for he hadn't the least idea what Jenny Wren was talking about.

"Sally Sly did  lay an egg in Redeye's nest, and now it has hatched and I don't know whatever is to become of Redeye's own children. It's perfectly scandalous! That's what it is, perfectly scandalous!" cried Jenny, and hopped about and jerked her tail and worked herself into a small brown fury.

"The Redeyes are working themselves to feathers and bone feeding that ugly young Cowbird while their own babies aren't getting half enough to eat," continued Jenny. "One of them has died already. He was kicked out of the nest by that young brute."

"How dreadful!" cried Peter. "If he does things like that I should think the Redeyes would throw him  out of the nest."

"They're too soft-hearted," declared Jenny. "I can tell you I wouldn't be so soft-hearted if I were in their place. No, sir-ee, I wouldn't! But they say it isn't his fault that he's there, and that he's nothing but a helpless baby, and so they just take care of him."

"Then why don't they feed their own babies first and give him what's left?" demanded Peter.

"Because he's twice as big as any of their own babies and so strong and greedy that he simply snatches the food out of the very mouths of the others. Because he gets most of the food, he's growing twice as fast as they are. I wouldn't be surprised if he kicks all the rest of them out before he gets through. Mr. and Mrs. Redeye are dreadfully distressed about it, but they will  feed him because they say it isn't his fault. It's a dreadful affair and the talk of the whole Orchard. I suppose his mother is off gadding somewhere, having a good time and not caring a flip of her tail feathers what becomes of him. I believe in being good-hearted, but there is such a thing as overdoing the matter. Thank goodness I'm not so weak-minded that I can be imposed on in any such way as that."

"Speaking of the Vireos, Redeye seems to be the only member of his family around here," remarked Peter.

"Listen!" commanded Jenny Wren. "Don't you hear that warbling song 'way over in the big elm in front of Farmer Brown's house where Goldy the oriole has his nest?"

Peter listened. At first he didn't hear it, and as usual Jenny Wren made fun of him for having such big ears and not being able to make better use of them. Presently he did hear it. The voice was not unlike that of Redeye, but the song was smoother, more continuous and sweeter. Peter's face lighted up. "I hear it," he cried.

"That's Redeye's cousin, the Warbling Vireo," said Jenny. "He's a better singer than Redeye and just as fond of hearing his own voice. He sings from the time jolly Mr. Sun gets up in the morning until he goes to bed at night. He sings when it is so hot that the rest of us are glad to keep still for comfort's sake. I don't know of anybody more fond of the tree tops than he is. He doesn't seem to care anything about the Old Orchard, but stays over in those big trees along the road. He's got a nest over in that big elm and it is as high up as that of Goldy the Oriole; I haven't seen it myself, but Goldy told me about it. Why any one so small should want to live so high up in the world I don't know, any more than I know why any one wants to live anywhere but in the Old Orchard."

"Somehow I don't remember just what Warble looks like," Peter confessed.

"He looks a lot like his cousin, Redeye," replied Jenny. "His coat is a little duller olive-green and underneath he is a little bit yellowish instead of being white. Of course he doesn't have red eyes, and he is a little smaller than Redeye. The whole family looks pretty much alike anyway."

"You said something then, Jenny Wren," declared Peter. "They get me all mixed up. If only some of them had some bright colors it would be easier to tell them apart."

"One has," replied Jenny Wren. "He has a bright yellow throat and breast and is called the Yellow-throated Vireo. There isn't the least chance of mistaking him."

"Is he a singer, too?" asked Peter.

"Of course," replied Jenny. "Every one of that blessed family loves the sound of his own voice. It's a family trait. Sometimes it just makes my throat sore to listen to them all day long. A good thing is good, but more than enough of a good thing is too much. That applies to gossiping just as well as to singing and I've wasted more time on you than I've any business to. Now hop along, Peter, and don't bother me any more to-day."

Peter hopped.

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