|The Burgess Bird Book for Children|
|by Thornton Burgess|
|Through the eyes of Peter Rabbit we become acquainted with a variety of birds as they return to Peterís neighborhood in the spring. In the context of the story about each bird, we hear about its nesting habits, its feeding preferences, and its interactions with other wildlife. We meet Jenny Wren, Scrapper the King-bird, Redwing the Blackbird, and dozens more. An engaging introduction to birds for young children. Ages 6-9 |
THE CONSTANT SINGERS
 OVER 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
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
"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
"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
goodhearted, 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
"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
"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."
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