|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 |
A SWALLOW AND ONE WHO ISN'T
 JOHNNY and Polly Chuck had made their home between the roots of
an old apple-tree in the far corner of the Old Orchard. You know
they have their bedroom way down in the ground, and it is reached
by a long hall. They had dug their home between the roots of that
old apple-tree because they had discovered that there was just
room enough between those spreading roots for them to pass in and
out, and there wasn't room to dig the entrance any larger. So
they felt quite safe from Reddy Fox and Bowser the Hound, either
of whom would have delighted to dig them out but for those roots.
Right in front of their doorway was a very nice doorstep of
shining sand where Johnny Chuck delighted to sit when he had a
full stomach and nothing else to do. Johnny's nearest neighbors
had made their home only about five feet above Johnny's head when
he sat up on his doorstep. They were Skimmer the Tree Swallow
and his trim little wife, and the doorway of their home was a
little round hole in the trunk of that
apple-  tree, a hole which
had been cut some years before by one of the Woodpeckers.
Johnny and Skimmer were the best of friends. Johnny used to
delight in watching Skimmer dart out from beneath the branches of
the trees and wheel and turn and glide, now sometimes high in the
blue, blue sky, and again just skimming the tops of the grass, on
wings which seemed never to tire. But he liked still better the
bits of gossip when Skimmer would sit in his doorway and chat
about his neighbors of the Old Orchard and his adventures out in
the Great World during his long journeys to and from the far-away
To Johnny Chuck's way of thinking, there was no one quite so trim
and neat appearing as Skimmer with his snowy white breast and
blue-green back and wings. Two things Johnny always used to
wonder at, Skimmer's small bill and short legs. Finally he
ventured to ask Skimmer about them.
SKIMMER THE TREE SWALLOW.
When you see a Swallow with pure white breast and blue-green
back it is Skimmer.
FORKTAIL THE BARN SWALLOW. His long forked tail is all you need
to see to know him.
"Gracious, Johnny!" exclaimed Skimmer. "I wouldn't have a big
bill for anything. I wouldn't know what to do with it; it would
be in the way. You see, I get nearly all my food in the air when
I am flying, mosquitoes and flies and all sorts of small insects
with wings. I don't have to pick them off trees and bushes or
from the ground and so I don't need any more of a bill than I
 It's the same way with my legs. Have you ever seen me
walking on the ground?"
Johnny thought a moment. "No," said he, "now you speak of it, I
"And have you ever seen me hopping about in the branches of a
tree?" persisted Skimmer.
Again Johnny Chuck admitted that he never had.
"The only use I have for feet," continued Skimmer, "is for
perching while I rest. I don't need long legs for walking or
hopping about, so Mother Nature has made my legs very short. You
see I spend most of my time in the air."
"I suppose it's the same with your cousin; Sooty the Chimney
Swallow," said Johnny.
"That shows just how much some people know!" twittered Skimmer
indignantly. "The idea of calling Sooty a Swallow! The very idea!
I'd leave you to know, Johnny Chuck, that Sooty isn't even
related to me. He's a Swift, and not a Swallow."
"He looks like a Swallow," protested Johnny Chuck.
"He doesn't either. You just think he does because he happens to
spend most of his time in the air the way we Swallows do,"
sputtered Skimmer. "The Swallow family never would admit such a
homely looking fellow as he is as a member.
 "Tut, tut, tut, tut! I do believe Skimmer is jealous," cried
Jenny Wren, who had happened along just in time to hear Skimmer's
"Nothing of the sort," declared Skimmer, growing still more
indignant. "I'd like to know what there is about Sooty the
Chimney Swift that could possibly make a Swallow jealous."
Jenny Wren cocked her tail up in that saucy way of hers and
winked at Johnny Chuck. "The way he can fly," said she softly.
"The way he can fly!" sputtered Skimmer, "The way he can fly!
Why, there never was a day in his life that he could fly like a
Swallow. There isn't any one more graceful on the wing than I am,
if I do say so. And there isn't any one more ungraceful than
Just then there was a shrill chatter overhead and all looked up
to see Sooty the Chimney Swift racing through the sky as if
having the very best time in the world. His wings would beat
furiously and then he would glide very much as you or I would on
skates. It was quite true that he wasn't graceful. But he could
twist and turn and cut up all sorts of antics, such as Skimmer
never dreamed of doing.
"He can use first one wing and then the other, while you have to
use both wings at once," persisted Jenny Wren. "You couldn't, to
 life, go straight down into a chimney, and you know it,
Skimmer. He can do things with his wings which yon can't do, nor
any other bird."
"That may be true, but just the same I'm not the least teeny
weeny bit jealous of him," said Skimmer, and darted away to get
beyond the reach of Jenny's sharp tongue.
"Is it really true that he and Sooty are not related?" asked
Johnny Chuck, as they watched Skimmer cutting airy circles high
up in the sky.
Jenny nodded. "It's quite true, Johnny," said site. "Sooty
belongs to another family altogether. He's a funny fellow. Did
you ever in your life see such narrow wings? And his tail is
hardly worth calling a tail."
Johnny Chuck laughed. "Way up there in the air he looks almost
alike at both ends," said he. "Is he all black?"
"He isn't black at all," declared Jenny. "He is sooty-brown,
rather grayish on the throat and breast. Speaking of that tail of
his, the feathers end in little, sharp, stiff points. He uses
them in the same way that Downy the Woodpecker uses his tail
feathers when he braces himself with them on the trunk of a
"But I've never seen Sooty on the trunk of a tree," protested
Johnny Chuck. "In fact, I've never seen him anywhere but in the
 "And you never will," snapped Jenny. "The only place he ever
alights is inside a chimney or inside a hollow tree. There he
clings to the side just as Downy the Woodpecker clings to the
trunk of a tree."
Johnny looked as if he didn't quite believe this. "If that's the
case where does he nest?" he demanded. "And where does he sleep?"
"In a chimney, stupid. In a chimney, of course," retorted Jenny
Wren. "He fastens his nest right to the inside of a chimney. He
makes a regular little basket of twigs and fastens it to the side
of the chimney."
"Are you trying to stuff me with nonsense?" asked Johnny Chuck
indignantly. "How can he fasten his nest to the side of a chimney
unless there's a little shelf to put it on? And if he never
alights, how does he get the little sticks to make a nest of? I'd
just like to know how you expect me to believe any such story as
Jenny Wren's sharp little eyes snapped. "If you half used your
eyes you wouldn't have to ask me how he gets those little
sticks," she sputtered. "If you had watched him when he was
flying close to the tree tops you would have seen him clutch
little dead twigs in his claws and snap them off without
stopping. That's the way he gets his little sticks, Mr. Smarty,
 them together with a sticky substance he has in his
mouth, and he fastens the nest to the side of the chimney in the
same way. You can believe it or not, but it's so."
"I believe it, Jenny, I believe it," replied Johnny Chuck very
humbly. "If you please, Jenny, does Sooty get all his food in the
"Of course," replied Jenny tartly. "He eats nothing but insects,
and he catches them flying. Now I must get back to my duties at
"Just tell me one more thing," cried Johnny Chuck hastily.
"Hasn't Sooty any near relatives as most birds have?"
"He hasn't any one nearer than some sort of second cousins,
Boomer the Nighthawk, Whippoorwill, and Hummer the Hummingbird."
"What?" cried Johnny Chuck, quite as if he couldn't believe he
had heard aright. "Did you say Hummer the Hummingbird?" But he
got no reply, for Jenny Wren was already beyond hearing.
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