| Dooryard Stories|
|by Clara Dillingham Pierson|
|Around the dooryard nest all sorts of birds, including flickers, robins, sparrows, wrens, swifts, and blackbirds. These stories convey some of the drama that arises in the garden as birds go about the business of building nests and raising young. The author's cat Silvertip figures in a number of the narratives as do a number of other mammals and insects. Invites children to 'see how many tiny neighbors you have around you, and how much you can learn about them.' Ages 5-7 |
THE FRIENDLY BLACKBIRDS
VER since the year when the first pair of Blackbirds
nested near the big house, there had been some of their
family in the tall evergreens. One could not truly say
that the Blackbirds were popular. When they first came
they had a quarrel with a pair of Catbirds about a
certain building-place, and most of the older birds
took sides with the Catbirds. Nobody knew which couple
first chose this place, so of course nobody knows who
was really right, and perhaps it might better all be
The Blackbirds were happy there and returned the next
year with some of their children, who courted and
married and build in other tall evergreens in the same
 yard. After that they were company for each
other and had little to do with Robins, Phœbes, and
more quiet neighbors. They were handsome, bold,
loud-voiced, teasing, and not at all gentle in their
ways. Still, that had to be expected of their family.
Their neighbors should have remembered that they were
not Chipping Sparrows or Humming-birds. On the other
hand they were neither Blue-jays nor Hawks, and it is
much better to think of a bird's good qualities than of
his bad ones.
Now, there were so many that nearly every one of the
tall evergreens bore a Blackbird's nest. These were
built near the top and close to the trunk of the tree.
They were carefully woven of different things and lined
with mud. Unless you knew the ways of Blackbirds, you
would never find out that there was a nest on the
place. No careful Blackbird, you know, will fly
straight to his home if any
 one is watching him.
He will walk around on the lawn in the most careless
manner possible, until he has the home tree between him
and you. Then he will slip noiselessly in under the
low branches and make his way to the top by walking
around and around the trunk, quite as you would go up a
Two married brothers built in near-by trees and were
much together. Their wives were excellent and
hard-working birds—almost, but not quite, as
good-looking as their husbands. Like them, they were
all black except the yellow rings of their eyes. The
only difference was that they were smaller and in the
sunlight did not have the same gleaming green, blue,
and purple lights on their feathers.
These two couples were courting at the same time, and
were usually in the same tree, a tall maple. The
brothers would sit there in the sunshine, facing the
wind and thinking about their sweethearts.
now and then they would spread their wings and tails,
ruffle up their feathers, stand on tiptoe, and squeak
in a hoarse voice. Their sweethearts were hiding in
trees near by and crept nearer at each squeak.
Mrs. Wren said she had never heard anything like it,
and that, much as she loved Mr. Wren, if he had made
love to her in that way she would not have married him.
"Think," said she, "of singing like a cartwheel in need
of oil! And then think of having to listen to that
sort of thing right along after you are married!"
"Oh, that part of it will not be so bad," said an
experienced Robin. "They probably will not sing so
much to their wives."
"Or if they do sing," said an Oriole who was building
in an apple-tree across the way, "they may go far away
from wife and home before beginning. Mr. Oriole will
never sing in our own tree. He says he would be seen
at once, and
 then our nest would be found. That
is why he always perches near the big house before he
begins. You know bright-colored birds have to be very
When the brothers had really won and married their
sweethearts, they choose to build as near to each other
as possible, and they walked over the lawn together as
they hunted for Grubs.
The young wives sat on their eggs and chatted happily
with each other. The eggs were bluish-green, with all
sorts of queer brown marks. It was very interesting
when they were laying them. No two were alike, and
then Blackbirds never know how many eggs to expect. It
is not with them as it is with other birds, who are
sure beforehand of the color and sometimes even of the
You can imagine how often the young wives visited each
other's nests, and how the one who had only three eggs
sat on the other nest, just to see how it would
 feel to have five under her. Of course this difference
meant that the couple who lived in the fir-tree would
have to work much harder than the couple in the spruce.
Two more mouths take many more Grubs, and Mrs.
Spruce-tree Blackbird, as she was sometimes called,
could never be sure whether she was glad or sorry that
she had only three eggs to hatch. As it happened, it
was well for the other family that there were no more.
When the eight little cousins got safely out of their
shells and were about as large as Humming-birds, the
mother of the fir-tree brood disappeared. She had
flown off as usual to find food and nobody ever saw her
again. At about this time her neighbors heard a loud
bang and saw a red-headed boy pick up something from
the road. He put it quickly into his bag and ran away,
for he knew that shooting anywhere near the big house
 The five motherless nestlings now had only one
parent to feed them, and he was a sadly overworked
bird. He did the best he could and brought such great
billfuls of food that it was a wonder he did not choke
himself. He was up early and worked late, yet his five
children looked thin and forlorn while their three
little cousins were plump and sturdy.
At last Mrs. Spruce-tree Blackbird could stand it no
longer. She heard the motherless children crying
hungrily when her own three were filled with Grubs
almost to the tips of their bills. She paused on the
edge of her nest on day with a delicious lunch all
ready. Her own children were ready to swallow whatever
she should give them, when she suddenly turned and flew
over to the fir-tree. "There!" she said, as she tucked
food down into the first one gaping bill and then
another. "There! I guess it won't hurt my own babies,
and I know it won't hurt
 you, if I make them
share once in a while."
She spoke with her mouth fill, which is bad manners,
even in a Blackbird, but one could forgive her still
more than that because of the kind things she was
saying. When her husband came home she told him what
she had done and asked him to help. "Just think of
your poor brother," she said. "Our own children will
not suffer, and you know how you would feel if you were
the one to bring up a family alone." He looked at her
lovingly with his yellow eyes, and sidled up close to
her on the branch. He was a dreadful tease, as all
Blackbirds are, but he was a kind husband and father.
"We will do it," said he. "I really think our own
children have eaten too much lately. The eldest one
has peeped crossly three times this very day."
"Yes," added Mrs. Blackbird, "I think they have been
overfed myself. The baby
 slept very poorly last
night, and kept me awake much of the time by wriggling
around under me."
So it was settled, and after that the poor brother had
help. His five motherless children began to grow fat
and sturdy, while their cousins were none the worse for
sharing. Sad to say, however, they made a dreadful
fuss because their parents helped feed their little
"Guess those children could get along some way," they
grumbled. "Mother always gives them the best. It is
n't fair! We just won't eat if she does that way!"
When she brought them more food they were sulky and
told her to take it to the other nest. She looked
sharply at them and flew away. "Guess she will feel
sorry when we are starved to death," said the three
cross nestlings. And when their father came to feed
them they acted in the same way.
Their parents, being very wise for a
 couple with
their first brood, did not urge them to eat, or get
worried in any way. They simply paid no attention to
them, besides cleaning out the nest once in a while.
They also kept on helping the other family. It made
them very sad to have their children so foolish and
naughty, but they tried to remember how young they were
and to be patient.
After a while the three cross children began to feel
very badly. Their stomachs had not been really empty
since they could remember—not until now. For a while
they talked about getting even with their parents.
Then they were very still. The baby began to cry. "I
am so hungry," said she. And the others cried with
her. "So are we," they said.
Their parents flew straight up to the nest. There was
nobody watching them, but they were in such haste that
they might even have done so if there had been.
 "Don't you like to feel hungry?" asked their
"No," sobbed the little Blackbirds. "We want you to
"What if you had nobody to feed you?" said she. And
she never moved toward getting them a Grub.
"B-bud we have," they said. "We have a father and a
"Supposing I had been killed," said their mother,
"don't you think your aunt would have helped your
father care fore you?"
"Yes, ma'am," answered all three.
"Then don't you think I ought to help feed you
cousins?" said she.
"Yes, ma'am," was the very meek reply.
"Now," said she, "are you willing I should feed your
"Yes, ma'am," said they, and each was trying to say it
first. "We will be good. We won't be cross any more."
 Such a meal as the three little Blackbirds had
then! It is a wonder that there were not three
stomach-aches in that nest at once. When tall had been
fed and were half asleep under their mother's warm
breast, the oldest one said to his sisters: "It must be
dreadful not to have enough to eat any of the time. I
believe I am glad they fed our cousins."
"We are glad," said the others, and then they went to
sleep. So the little Blackbirds learned their first
lesson in unselfishness, and they learned it as larger
people often have to do, by having a hard time
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