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Dooryard Stories by  Clara Dillingham Pierson
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THE FRIENDLY BLACKBIRDS

[222]

E
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 forgotten.

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 [223] 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 [224] 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 winding staircase.

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. [225] Every 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 [226] 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 particular."

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 number.

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 [227] 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 was forbidden.

[228] 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 [229] 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 [230] 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 cousins.

"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 [231] 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.

[232] "Don't you like to feel hungry?" asked their mother.

"No," sobbed the little Blackbirds. "We want you to feed us."

"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 mother."

"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 cousins, too?"

"Yes, ma'am," said they, and each was trying to say it first. "We will be good. We won't be cross any more."

[233] 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 themselves.


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