|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 |
AN OLD FRIEND IN A NEW HOME
 EVERY day brought newcomers to the Old Orchard, and early in the
morning there were so many voices to be heard that perhaps it is
no wonder if for some time Peter Rabbit failed to miss that of
one of his very good friends. Most unexpectedly he was reminded
of this as very early one morning he scampered, lipperty-lipperty-lip, across a little bridge over the Laughing Brook.
"Dear me! Dear me! Dear me!" cried rather a plaintive voice.
Peter stopped so suddenly that he all but fell heels over head.
Sitting on the top of a tall, dead, mullein stalk was a very
soberly dressed but rather trim little fellow, a very little
larger than Bully the English Sparrow. Above, his coat was of a
dull olive-brown, while underneath he was of a grayish-white,
with faint tinges of yellow in places. His head was dark, and his
bill black. The feathers on his head were lifted just enough to
make the tiniest kind of crest. His wings and tail were dusky,
little bars of white showing very faintly on his wings, while the
outer edges of his tail were distinctly
 white. He sat with his
tail hanging straight down, as if he hadn't strength enough to
hold it up.
"Hello, Dear Me!" cried Peter joyously. "What are you doing way
down here? I haven't seen you since you first arrived, just after
Winsome Bluebird got here." Peter started to say that he had
wondered what had become of Dear Me, but checked himself, for
Peter is very honest and he realized now that in the excitement
of greeting so many friends he hadn't missed Dear Me at all.
Dear Me the Phoebe did not reply at once, but darted out into the
air, and Peter heard a sharp click of that little black bill.
Making a short circle, Dear Me alighted on the mullein stalk
"Did you catch a fly then?" asked Peter.
"Dear me! Dear me! Of course I did," was the prompt reply. And
with each word there was a jerk of that long hanging tail. Peter
almost wondered if in some way Dear Me's tongue and tail were
connected. "I suppose," said he, "that it is the habit of
catching flies and bugs in the air that has given your family the
name of Flycatchers."
Dear Me nodded and almost at once started into the air again.
Once more Peter heard the click of that little black bill, then
Dear Me was
 back on his perch. Peter asked again what he was
doing down there.
"Mrs. Phoebe and I are living down here," replied Dear Me. "We've
made our home down here and we like it very much."
Peter looked all around, this way, that way, every way, with the
funniest expression on his face. He didn't see anything of Mrs.
Phoebe and he didn't see any place in which he could imagine Mr.
and Mrs. Phoebe building a nest. "What are you looking for?"
asked Dear Me.
"For Mrs. Phoebe and your home, declared Peter quite frankly. "I
didn't suppose you and Mrs. Phoebe ever built a nest on the
ground, and I don't see any other place around here for one."
Dear Me chuckled. "I wouldn't tell any one but you, Peter," said
he, "but I've known you so long that I'm going to let you into a
little secret. Mrs. Phoebe and our home are under the very bridge
you are sitting on."
"I don't believe it!" cried Peter.
But Dear Me knew from the way Peter said it that he really didn't
mean that. "Look and see for yourself," said Dear Me.
So Peter lay flat on his stomach and tried to stretch his head
over the edge of the bridge so as to see under it. But his neck
wasn't long enough, or else he was afraid to lean over as far as
 have. Finally he gave up and at Mr. Phoebe's suggestion
crept down the bank to the very edge of the Laughing Brook. Dear
Me darted out to catch another fly, then flew right in under the
bridge and alighted on a little ledge of stone just beneath the
floor. There, sure enough, was a nest, and Peter could see Mrs.
Phoebe's bill and the top of her head above the edge of it. It
was a nest with a foundation of mud covered with moss and lined
"That's perfectly splendid!" cried Peter, as Dear Me resumed his
perch on the old mullein stalk. "How did you ever come to think
of such a place? And why did you leave the shed up at Farmer
Brown's where you have built your home for the last two or three
"Oh," replied Dear Me, "we Phoebes always have been fond of
building under bridges. You see a place like this is quite safe.
Then, too, we like to be near water. Always there are many
insects flying around where there is water, so it is an easy
matter to get plenty to eat. I left the shed at Farmer Brown's
because that pesky cat up there discovered our nest last year,
and we had a dreadful time keeping our babies out of her
clutches. She hasn't found us down here, and she wouldn't be able
to trouble us if she should find us."
 "I suppose," said Peter, "that as usual you were the first of
your family to arrive."
"Certainly. Of course," replied Dear Me. "We always are the
first. Mrs. Phoebe and I don't go as far south in winter as the
other members of the family do. They go clear down into the
Tropics, but we manage to pick up a pretty good living without
going as far as that. So we get back here before the rest of
them, and usually have begun housekeeping by the time they
arrive. My cousin, Chebec the Least Flycatcher, should be here by
this time. Haven't you heard anything of him up in the Old
"No," replied Peter, "but to tell the truth I haven't looked for
him. I'm on my way to the Old Orchard now, and I certainly shall
keep my ears and eyes open for Chebec. I'll tell you if I find
"Dear me! Dear me! Good-by Peter. Dear me!" replied Mr. Phoebe as
Peter started off for the Old Orchard.
Perhaps it was because Peter was thinking of him that almost the
first voice he heard when he reached the Old Orchard was that of
Chebec, repeating his own name over and over as if he loved the
sound of it. It didn't take Peter long to find him. He was
sitting out on the tip of one of the upper branches of an
apple-tree where he
 could watch for flies and other winged insects.
He looked so much like Mr. Phoebe, save that he was smaller, that
any one would have know they were cousins. "Chebec! Chebec!
Chebec!" he repeated over and over, and with every note jerked
his tail. Now and then he would dart out into the air and snap up
something so small that Peter, looking up from the ground,
couldn't see it at all.
CHEBEC THE LEAST FLYCATCHER.
He will tell you his name.
DEAR ME THE PHOEBE. Look for him around an old bridge or shed.
"Hello, Chebec!" cried Peter. "I'm glad to see you back again.
Are you going to build in the Old Orchard this year?"
"Of course I am," replied Chebec promptly. "Mrs. Chebec and I
have built here for the last two or three years, and we wouldn't
think of going anywhere else. Mrs. Chebec is looking for a place
now. I suppose I ought to be helping her, but I learned a long
time ago, Peter Rabbit, that in matters of this kind it is just
as well not to have any opinion at all. When Mrs. Chebec has
picked out just the place she wants, I'll help her build the
nest. It certainly is good to be back here in the Old Orchard and
planning a home once more. We've made a terribly long journey,
and I for one am glad it's over."
"I just saw your cousins, Mr. and Mrs. Phoebe, and they already
have a nest and eggs," said Peter.
 "The Phoebes are a funny lot," replied Chebec. "They are the only
members of the family that can stand cold weather. What pleasure
they get out of it I don't understand. They are queer anyway, for
they never build their nests in trees as the rest of us do."
"Are you the smallest in the family?" asked Peter, for it had
suddenly struck him that Chebec was a very little fellow indeed.
Chebec nodded. "I'm the smallest," said he. "That's why they call
me Least Flycatcher. I may be least in size, but I can tell you
one thing, Peter Rabbit, and that is that I can catch just as
many bugs and flies as any of them." Suiting action to the word,
he darted out into the air. His little bill snapped and with a
quick turn he was back on his former perch, jerking his tail and
uttering his sharp little cry of, "Chebec! Chebec! Chebec!"
until Peter began to wonder which he was the most fond of,
catching flies, or the sound of his own voice.
Presently they both heard Mrs. Chebec calling from somewhere in
the middle of the Old Orchard. "Excuse me, Peter," said Chebec,
"I must go at once. Mrs. Chebec says she has found just the place
for our nest, and now we've got a busy time ahead of us. We are
very particular how we build a nest."
 "Do you start it with mud the way Welcome Robin and your cousins,
the Phoebes, do?" asked Peter.
"Mud!" cried Chebec scornfully. "Mud! I should say not! I would
have you understand, Peter, that we are very particular about
what we use in our nest. We use only the finest of rootlets,
strips of soft bark, fibers of plants, the brown cotton that
grows on ferns, and perhaps a little hair when we can find it. We
make a dainty nest, if I do say it, and we fasten it securely in
the fork made by two or three upright little branches. Now I must
go because Mrs. Chebec is getting impatient. Come see me when I'm
not so busy, Peter."
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