N the edge of the forest next to the meadow, a pair of
young Goldfinches were about to begin housekeeping.
They were a handsome couple, and the birds who were
already nesting near by were much pleased to see them
Mr. Goldfinch was a fine, cheerful little fellow, every
feather of whose black and yellow coat was always well
and lying in its proper place. His wife was
dressed in a dull, greenish brown with a touch of
yellow on her breast. "Bright yellow and black does
very well for Mr. Goldfinch," she would say, "but for
one who has to sit on the nest as long as I shall have
to, it would never do. People would see me among the
leaves and know just where to find my eggs."
Mr. Goldfinch thought that there was never a bird who
had a prettier, dearer, or harder-working little wife
than he, and he would wonder how he was ever happy
before he knew her. That is a way that people have of
forgetting the days that are past; and the truth is
that Mr. Goldfinch had made fun of the Robins and other
birds all spring, because they had to build nests and
hunt worms for their babies, while he had nothing to do
but sing and sleep and feed himself. In those days the
Robins used to call after him as he flew away,
"Silly fellow! Silly fellow! Silly!" They knew that
there is something sweeter in life than just taking
good care of one's self.
One afternoon Mr. Goldfinch saw a tiny green-brown bird
on a sweetbriar bush, and as he watched her he thought
her the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. She
had such a dainty way of picking out the seeds, and
gave such graceful hops from one twig to another. Then
Mr. Goldfinch fluffed up his feathers and swelled out
his throat and sang her such songs as he had never sung
before. He did not want her to speak to anybody else,
and yet he could not help her doing so, for Goldfinches
always go together in crowds until they have homes of
their own, and at this time they were having concerts
every morning. He showed her where the finest
dandelion seeds could be found, and one bright and
sunshiny day she became Mrs. Goldfinch,
went together to find a place for their home.
They began one nest and had it nearly done, when
Mr. Goldfinch said it was not
in a good place, and tore it
all to pieces. Mrs. Goldfinch felt very badly about
this and talked it over with some of her Goldfinch
neighbors. They told her not to mind it at all, that
their husbands often did the same thing, and that
sometimes they came to like the new place much better
than the old. At any rate, there was no use in getting
cross about it, because that was something she would
have to expect.
Mr. Goldfinch was sure that they had built too near the
ground, and he had chosen a crotch above. Toward this
he was dragging the bits of grape-vine
which were woven into their first nest. He said they
could also use some of the grasses and mosses which
they had gotten together, and he even
wife of some fine thistle-down which he could bring for
the inside, where the eggs were to be laid.
Mrs. Goldfinch watched him tugging with bill and both feet
to loosen the bits of bark, and she said to herself:
"Dear fellow! what a helper he is! I won't mind
rebuilding if it makes him happy," and she went to work
with a will.
When the sun went down in the west the next night the
second nest was done, and it was the last thing at
which the Goldfinches looked before tucking their heads
under their wings and going to sleep. It was the first
thing that they saw the next morning, too, and they
hopped all around it and twittered with pride, and gave
it little tweaks here and little pokes there before
they flew away to get breakfast.
While they were gone, Mrs. Cowbird came walking over the
grass and dry leaves to the foot of the tree. She
head at every step, and put on as many
airs as though she were showily dressed, instead of
wearing, as she always does, a robe of dull brownish
gray. She had seen the Goldfinches fly away, and she
was looking for their home. She was a lazy creature in
spite of her stirring ways, and she wished to find a
nice little nest in which to lay an egg. You know
Cowbirds never think of building nests. They want all
of their time to take care of themselves, which is a
very foolish way of living; but then, you could never
make a Cowbird think so!
"That nest is exactly right," said Mrs. Cowbird. "I
will lay my egg there at once, and when Mrs. Goldfinch
has laid hers she will have to hatch them all together
and take care of my baby for me. What an easy way this
is to bring up one's family! It is really no work at
all! And I am sure that my children will get along
well, because I am always careful to choose
nests of small birds for them. Then they are larger
and stronger than the other babies, and can get more
than their share of food."
So she laid a big white egg with gray and brown spots
on it in the Goldfinches' new home, and then she flew
off to the Cowbird flock, as gay and careless as you
please. When the Goldfinches came back, they saw the
egg in their nest and called all their neighbors to
talk it over. "What shall I ever do?" said Mrs.
Goldfinch. "I wanted my nest for my own eggs, and I
meant to lay them to-morrow. I suppose I shall have to
sit on this one too, but it won't be at all
"I wouldn't," said one of her neighbors, a Yellow
Warbler. "I left my nest once when such a thing
happened to me, and built a new one for my own eggs."
"Oh dear!" cried Mrs. Goldfinch, "we have built two
already, and I cannot build another.
"Well, whatever you do," said a Vireo, "don't
hatch the big egg out with your own. I did once, and
such a time as I had! The young Cowbird pushed two of
my little Vireos out onto the ground, and ate so much
that I was quite worn out by the work of hunting for
"My dear," said Mr. Goldfinch, "I have an excellent
plan. We will put another floor in our nest, right
over this egg, and then by adding a bit all around the
sides we can have plenty of room for our own children.
It will be much less work than beginning all over
again, and then the Cowbird's egg will be too cool to
Everybody called this a most clever plan, and
Mr. Goldfinch was very proud to have thought of it. They
went to work once more, and it was not so very long
before the new floor was done and the new walls raised.
Then, oh, wonder of wonders! there were soon four tiny,
eggs of their own lying on the thistle-down
lining of the nest.
Mrs. Goldfinch had to stay very closely at home now,
but her husband went off with his friends a great deal.
He bathed and sang and preened his feathers and talked
about his queer nest and his bright little wife, after
the manner of Goldfinches everywhere.
His friends laughed at him for helping so much about
the nest, for, you know, Goldfinches do not often help
their wives about home. He cocked his handsome head on
one side and answered: "My wife seemed to need me then.
She is not so very strong. And I do not know what she
would ever have done about the strange egg, if I had
not been there to advise her."
When he got back to his home that night,
said: "I have been wondering why we did not roll the
Cowbird's egg out on the ground, instead of going to all
that trouble of building around it."
And Mr. Goldfinch declared that he believed she
was the only bird who had ever thought of such a thing.
"It could have been done just as well as not," he said.
"I must tell that to the other birds in the morning.
How lucky I am to have such a bright wife! It would be
dreadful if such a clever fellow as I had a dull mate!"