|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 |
MOURNER THE DOVE AND CUCKOO
 A LONG lane leads from Farmer Brown's barnyard down to his
cornfield on the Green Meadows. It happened that very early one
morning Peter Rabbit took it into his funny little head to run
down that long lane to see what he might see. Now at a certain
place beside that long lane was a gravelly bank into which Farmer
Brown had dug for gravel to put on the roadway up near his house.
As Peter was scampering past this place where Farmer Brown had
dug he caught sight of some one very busy in that gravel pit.
Peter stopped short, then sat up to stare.
It was Mourner the Dove whom Peter saw, an old friend of whom
Peter is very fond. His body was a little bigger than that of
Welcome Robin, but his long slender neck, and longer tail and
wings made him appear considerably larger. In shape he reminded
Peter at once of the Pigeons up at Farmer Brown's. His back was
grayish-brown, varying to bluish-gray. The crown and upper parts
of his head were bluish-gray. His breast
 was reddish-buff,
shading down into a soft buff. His bill was black and his feet
red. The two middle feathers of his tail were longest and of the
color of his back. The other feathers were slaty-gray with little
black bands and tipped with white. On his wings were a few
scattered black spots. Just under each ear was a black spot. But
it was the sides of his slender neck which were the most
beautiful part of Mourner. When untouched by the Jolly Little
Sunbeams the neck feathers appeared to be in color very like his
breast, but the moment they were touched by the Jolly Little
Sunbeams they seemed to be constantly changing, which, as you
know, is called iridescence. Altogether Mourner was lovely in a
MOURNER THE DOVE. You may surprise
him taking a dust bath in the road.
But it was not his appearance which made Peter stare; it was what
he was doing. He was walking about and every now and then picking
up something quite as if he were getting his breakfast in that
gravel pit, and Peter couldn't imagine anything good to eat down
there. He knew that there were not even worms there. Besides,
Mourner is not fond of worms; he lives almost altogether on seeds
and grains of many kinds. So Peter was puzzled. But as yon know
he isn't the kind to puzzle long over anything when he can use
 "Hello, Mourner!" he cried. "What under the sun are you doing in
there? Are you getting your breakfast?"
"Hardly, Peter; hardly," cooed Mourner in the softest of voices.
"I've had my breakfast and now I'm picking up a little gravel for
my digestion." He picked up a tiny pebble and swallowed it.
"Well, of all things!" cried Peter. "You must be crazy. The idea
of thinking that gravel is going to help your digestion. I should
say the chances are that it will work just the other way."
Mourner laughed. It was the softest of little cooing laughs, very
pleasant to hear. "I see that as usual you are judging others by
yourself," said he. "You ought to know by this time that you can
do nothing more foolish. I haven't the least doubt that a
breakfast of gravel would give you the worst kind of a
stomach-ache. But you are you and I am I, and there is all the
difference in the world. You know I eat grain and hard seeds. Not
having any teeth I have to swallow them whole. One part of my
stomach is called a gizzard and its duty is to grind and crush my
food so that it may be digested. Tiny pebbles and gravel help
grind the food and so aid digestion. I think I've got enough now
for this morning, and it is time for a dust bath. There is a
dusty spot over in the lane where I take a dust bath every day."
 "If you don't mind," said Peter, "I'll go with you."
Mourner said he didn't mind, so Peter followed him over to the
dusty place in the long lane. There Mourner was joined by Mrs.
Dove, who was dressed very much like him save that she did not
have so beautiful a neck. While they thoroughly dusted themselves
they chatted with Peter.
"I see you on the ground so much that I've often wondered if you
build your nest on the ground," said Peter.
"No," replied Mourner. "Mrs. Dove builds in a tree, but usually
not very far above the ground. Now if you'll excuse us we must
get back home. Mrs. Dove has two eggs to sit on and while she is
siting I like to be close at hand to keep her company and make
love to her."
The Doves shook the loose dust from their feathers and flew away.
Peter watched to see where they went, but lost sight of them
behind some trees, so decided to run up to the Old Orchard. There
he found Jenny and Mr. Wren as busy as ever feeding that growing
family of theirs. Jenny wouldn't stop an instant to gossip. Peter
was so brimful of what he had found out about Mr. and Mrs. Dove
that he just had to tell some one. He heard Kitty the Catbird
meowing among the bushes along the old stone wall, so hurried
 look for him. As soon as he found him Peter began to tell
what he had learned about Mourner the Dove.
"That's no news, Peter," interrupted Kitty. "I know all about
Mourner and his wife. They are very nice people, though I must
say Mrs. Dove is one of the poorest housekeepers I know of. I
take it you never have seen her nest."
Peter shook his head. "No," said he, "I haven't. What is it
Kitty the Catbird laughed. "It's about the poorest apology for a
nest I know of," said he. "It is made of little sticks and mighty
few of them. How they hold together is more than I can understand.
I guess it is a good thing that Mrs. Dove doesn't lay more than
two eggs, and it's a wonder to me that those two stay in the
nest. Listen! There's Mourner's voice now. For one who is so
happy he certainly does have the mournfullest sounding voice. To
hear him you'd think he was sorrowful instead of happy. It always
makes me feel sad to hear him."
"That's true," replied Peter, "but I like to hear him just the
same. Hello! Who's that?"
>From one of the trees in the Old Orchard sounded a long, clear,
"Kow-kow-kow-kow-kow-kow!" It was quite unlike any voice Peter
had heard that spring.
 "That's Cuckoo," said Kitty. "Do you mean to say you don't know
"Of course I know him," retorted Peter. "I had forgotten the
sound of his voice, that's all." Tell me, Kitty, is it true that
Mrs. Cuckoo is no better than Sally Sly the Cowbird and goes
about laying her eggs in the nests of other birds? I've heard
that said of her."
"There isn't a word of truth in it," declared Kitty emphatically.
"She builds a nest, such as it is, which isn't much, and she
looks after her own children. The Cuckoos have been given a bad
name because of some good-for-nothing cousins of theirs who live
across the ocean where Bully the English Sparrow belongs, and
who, if all reports are true, really are no better than Sally Sly
the Cowbird. It's funny how a bad name sticks. The Cuckoos have
been accused of stealing the eggs of us other birds, but I've
never known them to do it and I've lived neighbor to them for a
long time, I guess they get their bad name because of their
habit of slipping about silently and keeping out of sight as much
as possible, as if they were guilty of doing something wrong and
trying to keep from being seen. As a matter of fact, they are
mighty useful birds. Farmer Brown ought to be tickled to death
that Mr. and Mrs. Cuckoo have come back to the Old Orchard this
 "Why?" demanded Peter.
"Do you see that cobwebby nest with all those hairy caterpillars
on it and around it up in that tree?" asked Kitty.
Peter replied that he did and that he had seen a great many nests
just like it, and had noticed how the caterpillars ate all the
leaves near them.
"I'll venture to say that you won't see very many leaves eaten
around that nest," replied Kitty. "Those are called
tent-caterpillars, and they do an awful lot of damage. I can't
bear them myself because they are so hairy, and very few birds
will touch them. But Cuckoo likes them. There he comes now; just
A long, slim Dove-like looking bird alighted close to the
caterpillar's nest. Above he was brownish-gray with just a little
greenish tinge. Beneath he was white. His wings were
reddish-brown. His tail was a little longer than that of Mourner
the Dove. The outer feathers were black tipped with white, while
the middle feathers were the color of his back. The upper half of
his bill was black, but the under half was yellow, and from this
he is called the Yellow-billed Cuckoo. He has a cousin very much
like himself in appearance, save that his bill is all black and
he is listed the Black-billed Cuckoo.
Cuckoo made no sound but began to pick off the
 hairy caterpillars
and swallow them. When he had eaten all those in sight he made
holes in the silken web of the nest and picked out the
caterpillars that were inside. Finally, having eaten his fill, he
flew off as silently as he had come and disappeared among the
bushes farther along the old stone wall. A moment later they
heard his voice, "Kow-kow-how-kow-kow-kow-kow-kow!"
"I suppose some folks would think that it is going to rain,"
remarked Kitty the Catbird. "They have the silly notion that
Cuckoo only calls just before rain, and so they call him the Rain
Crow. But that isn't so at all. Well, Peter, I guess I've
gossiped enough for one morning. I must go see how Mrs. Catbird
is getting along."
Kitty disappeared and Peter, having no one to talk to, decided
that the best thing he could do would be to go home to the dear
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