| 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 SYSTEMATIC YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO
HE people who lived in the big house were much worried
about the maple trees which shaded the sidewalk around
the place. It was spring now, and they feared another
such summer as the last, when the lawn had been covered
with find, healthy, large maple leaves, gnawed off by
hungry Caterpillars. One could be sure they were not
blown or knocked off, for each stem was neatly eaten
through at about the length of a fir needle from the
leaf. The lawn did not look well, and the Man who
cared for it grumbled and scolded under his breath as
he went around raking them up. He could not see that
the Caterpillars were of any use
 in the world.
The birds thought differently, but he was a busy Man
and not used to thinking of things in that way.
Now spring had come again, and every day the people
looked for more leaves on their lawn. They had not
found them yet, because the Caterpillars were not old
enough to nibble through the stems. Then, one morning
while they were eating their breakfast, these people
heard a new voice outside. It was not a sweet voice.
It sounded somewhat like a thumping on rough boards.
It was saying, "Kuk-kuk-kuk!"
Some men who were passing by stopped to look up at the
trees, then shook their heads and went on. The Little
Boy wanted to leave his breakfast and go out at once to
find the new bird, but he had to stay where he was, eat
slowly, and fold his napkin before he was allowed to do
this. When he went, the Lady and the
went with him. None of them could see the bird,
although they heard his "kuk-kuk-kuk!" in first one
tree and then another.
"I am sure that is a Yellow-billed Cuckoo," said the
Lady, "and if it is, he has come for the Caterpillars
that are spoiling our trees."
"Why, Mother?" asked the Little Boy. "How do you know?
You did n't see him."
"If you had your eyes shut, and I spoke to you," she
replied, "would n't you know whose voice it was?"
the other birds also seemed to know whose voice it was,
for they flew around in fright, and scolded and
chattered until the visitor had left that row of maples
and gone far away. Even then the more timid ones could
not settle down to their regular duties. "It has given
me such a start," said one Robin, whose nerves were
always easily upset, "that I don't believe
 I can
weave another grass-blade into my nest to-day."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed a Blackbird. "Eat something and
you will feel all right. There is nothing like eating
to make one feel better."
The Robin did as she was told and felt somewhat
steadier, yet eves then she talked of nothing else that
morning. "To think of a Yellow-billed cuckoo coming
here!" she said. "It makes my quills tingle to think
of it. My poor babies! My poor babies!"
"Could n't you stop worrying for a while?" her husband
asked. "You know you have not even laid your eggs, so
your children are not in danger yet."
Mr. Robin was always gentle with his wife. The other
birds did n't see how he could stand it, for she was
forever worrying about something.
"No," she replied, "they are not laid yet, but they
will be, and you know
per-  fectly well, Mr. Robin,
how glad that dreadful Cuckoo would be to suck every
one of them. If he were only a Black-billed Cuckoo, it
would not be so bad, but I saw his bill quite plainly,
and it was yellow. Besides, he said, 'Kuk-kuk-kuk!'
instead of 'Kow-kow-kow-kuk-kuk!' "
"We will guard the nest carefully when the eggs are
laid," said Mr. Robin. "And now I think I will go
across the street to hunt." That also was a wise thing
to do, for Mrs. Robin was always more sensible when she
The birds saw nothing more of the Cuckoo that morning,
but in the afternoon he came again. He was a large and
very fine-looking bird, with green-gray feathers on the
upper part of his body and in the middle of his tail,
the outer tail-feathers being black with white spots.
His wings were a bright brown, and the under part of
his body was grayish-white. His bill was a very long
 strong one, and the under half of it was
He had a habit of sitting very quietly every now and
then on some branch to think. At such times he looked
handsome but stupid, and really, when he got to
thinking so, he was in great danger. It is at just
such times that Hawks like to find Cuckoos, and after a
Hawk has found one, nobody else ever has a chance. If
you remember what sort of food Hawks like, you will
understand what this means.
When he was flying, however, he was exceedingly
careful, always flitting from tree to tree by the
nearest way, and never talking until he was well
sheltered again by leafy branches. When he came to a
row of maples, he began at one end and went right
through, stopping a little while in each to hunt. He
was very systematic, and that, you know, means that he
always tried to do the same things in the same
 way. This was why, during all the summer that
followed, he came both morning and afternoon at just
the same times as on that first day. That is, he did
on every day but one.
Mrs. Cuckoo looked exactly like her husband. Indeed,
some of their neighbors could hardly tell them apart.
She was a very poor housekeeper. Her nest was only a
few sticks laid on a bush in the edge of an orchard.
She often said that she did not take easily to home
life, so many of her great-grandparents having built no
nests at all, but laid their eggs in the homes of other
birds. Since this was so, people should not have
expected too much of Mrs. Cuckoo.
Another thing which made it hard for her, was the way
in which she had to lay eggs, hatch eggs, and feed
nestlings at the same time all summer. This was not
her fault, for of course when an egg was ready it had
to be laid, and there were seldom
 two ready at
once. It kept her busy and worried and tired all
summer, and one could forgive her if she sometimes grew
"I can never half do anything after my first egg is
hatched," she used to say. "I go to get food for that
child, and all the time I cam worrying for fear the
second egg, which I have just laid, will get cold. Of
course one newly hatched nestling cannot keep a large
egg like mine warm. Then, when I am having all I can
do to care for child and egg, I have to stop to lay
Mr. Cuckoo was always sleek and respectable-looking.
He never seemed in a hurry. He said that haste was
ill-mannered. "Always take time," he said, "to do
things in the best way. If you are not sure which is
the best way, sit down and think about it." He was
much annoyed by Mrs. Cuckoo, and often told her how she
needed to be systematic. "You have
 such a
hurried way, my dear," said he, "It is really very
She was naturally a sweet-tempered bird, but one day
she made up her mind to let her husband see how
systematic he could be in her place. At that time she
had a young bird and two eggs in the nest, and was very
sure that one of the eggs was about to hatch.
When they awakened the next morning, she said sweetly
to Mr. Cuckoo, "My dear, please stay with the baby
until I get back." Then she flew away without giving
him time to ask how long it would be or anything about
it. Mr. Cuckoo was much surprised, and sat there
thinking, as you know he was likely to do, until the
nestling fairly screamed for food.
"Dear me!" said he to himself, "I must do something to
keep that child still." So he hunted food and stuffed
it down the nestling's wide-open bill. While he was
doing so, he remembered the
 eggs, which he found
rather cool. "She will never forgive me if those get
cold," he said, so he hopped onto the nest and covered
them with his breast. He wished that his wife would
return. He thought that when a mother-bird had home
cares she should stay by the nest. Just then his child
cried for more food.
STUFFED IT DOWN THE WIDE-OPEN BILL.
"Hush!" he exclaimed. "I cannot go now. Don't you see
that I am warming these eggs?"
"I don't care! I am hungry," cried she. "You did n't
feed me enough."
"Well, I could n't get you more just then," he said.
"Now be patient until your mother comes. That's a good
"I can't be patient. I'm hungry," cried the nestling.
"I want a Caterpillar."
Mr. Cuckoo could not stand teasing, so he hopped off
the nest and picked up the first Caterpillar he found.
It was not a good kind, and the little Cuckoo made a
 bad face and would not swallow it. Mr. Cuckoo
rushed away to get a better one. That was eaten, and
he was just getting on the eggs again when he heard a
faint tapping inside of one. This made him very
nervous, for he was not used to caring for newly
hatched children. He called several times to Mrs.
Cuckoo, but received no answer.
There was more tapping, and the second child stuck his
little bill through the shell and broke it. "Ouch!"
cried the older one; "that pricks me. Take it away!"
"'Sh!" exclaimed his father, who knew that it would
never do to help a young bird out of its shell. The
elder child began to cry.
Well! You can just imagine what kind of morning Mr.
Cuckoo had. He had to quiet and feed the older child,
clear away the broken shell when the second was out,
keep the remaining eggs warm,
 get some food for
himself, and just hurry and worry until noon. He was
about worn out when his wife came back. She looked
very trim and happy, and there was no ill-mannered
haste in her motions as she flew toward the nest.
"I have had such a pleasant morning," she said. "I met
my sister and we went hunting together. I hope you did
not mind. I felt quite easy about everything, I knew
that you would manage it all beautifully, because you
are so systematic." She looked at him with such a
sweet smile that he did not say any of the things which
he had been planning to say about mother-birds staying
Just then the elder nestling said, "I'm hungry, Mother!
I have n't had a Caterpillar in ever so long."
Mrs. Cuckoo answered cheerfully, "All right, I'll get
you one," and was about to start off when Mr. Cuckoo
"You stay here and look after your
 newly hatched
nestling," said he. "I'll get some food."
Mrs. Cuckoo was delighted to find another egg hatched,
and the morning away had been a great rest to her.
Only one thing troubled her. "I do wish," she
murmured, "that I could have seen Mr. Cuckoo trying to
do three or four things at once and be systematic. Now
I shall never know how it worked."
But she did know. Her first-hatched child said, "I'm
so glad you are back. It made Father cross to hurry."
She also knew from another thing: Mr. Cuckoo never
again told her to be systematic, or said that it was
ill-mannered to hurry.
And that was the one day when Mr. Cuckoo did not make
his two regular hunting trips through the maple trees
around the big house.
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