| 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 FIR-TREE NEIGHBORS
ITH so many trees in the yard, it always seemed a
little strange that three families should choose to
build so close together in one. Still, it must also be
remembered that there were many birds who liked to
build near the big house, and thought of that yard as
The Lady spoke of this tree as "The Evergreen Apartment
House." The birds simply called it "The Tallest Fir
Early in the spring a pair of English Sparrows decided
to build there. Perhaps one should say that Mrs.
Sparrow decided, since her husband had nothing to say
about it, except to murmur "Yes, dear," when she told
him of her choice. They built well up in the tree, and
 big mass of hay, grass, and feathers
together there when the Blackbirds came. This would
have more than made a nest for most birds. Mrs.
Sparrow called it only a beginning, and was always
looking for more to add to it.
When the Blackbirds came in a dashing flock, they began
hunting for building places and talking it all over
among themselves. One mother Blackbird, who had nested
on the place the year before, had counted on having
that particular tree.
"I decided on it last fall," said she, "before I went
South, and I have been planning for it all winter. I
shall build in it just the same." She shut her bill in
such a way that nobody could doubt her meaning exactly
what she said. Her husband did n't like the place
particularly well, but she said something to him which
settled it. "You need not ruffle up your feathers for
me," she said, "or stand on
 tip-toe to squeak at
me, unless you are willing to live there."
They built higher than the nest of the English
Sparrows. "We have always been well up in the world,"
she said, "and we do not care to come down now." That
was all right. One could not blame them for feeling
above the English Sparrows.
The English Sparrows had added more stuff to what they
had, and the Blackbirds had their nest about half done
when a pair of Hairbirds came to look for a comfortable
tree. They were a young couple, just married that
spring, and very devoted to each other. They did not
decide matters in the same way as the English Sparrow,
and the Blackbirds.
Although they wee eleven other great evergreens in the
yard, besides a number of trellises covered with vines,
and all the vine-covered porches, there was no place
which suited them so well as that particular tree. Yet
each was so eager to please
 the other that is was
rather hard to get either to say what he really
thought. They perched on the tips of the fir branches
and chattered and twittered all morning about it.
"What do you think?" Mrs. Hairbird said.
"What do you?" he replied.
"But I want to know what you think," she insisted.
"And I would rather know what you think," said he.
"No, but really," asked she, "do you like this tree?"
"Do you?" asked Mr. Hairbird.
"Yes, yes," answered she.
"So do I!" he said, with a happy twitter. "Is n't it
q2ueer how we always like the same things?"
"I wonder if we like the same branch?" said Mrs.
Hairbrid, after a long pause, in which both picked
insects off the fir-tree and ate them.
 "Which branch do you like?" asked he. But he
could not help looking out of the side of his eye at
the one he most fancied. He could not look out of the
corner of his eye, you know, because round eyes have no
corners, and being a bird his eyes were perfectly
"I like that one," she cried, and laughed to think how
easily she had found out his choice. Then he laughed,
too, and it was all decided, although Mrs. English
Sparrow, fussing around in her mass of hay and feathers
above them, declared that she never heard such
silliness in her life, and that when she had made up
her own mind that was enough. She never bothered her
husband with questions. Mr. English Sparrow heard her
say this, and thought he would rather like to be
bothered in that way.
Mrs. Blackbird thought it all a great joke. "When they
have been married as long as I have," she said, "it
wont take so
 long to decide things." Mrs.
Blackbird laughed at everything, but she was mistaken
about this, for the Hairbirds, or Chipping Sparrows, as
they are sometimes called, are always devoted and
It being the custom in their family, the newcomers
built quite low in the tree. Such a happy time as they
had. Every bit of grass root which either of them
dragged loose and brought to the tree, was the
prettiest and stoutest and best they had ever seen.
And when it got to the Horsehairs for lining, they
visited all the barns for a block around, hunting for
them. Once, when Mrs. Hairbird wished for a white hair
for one particular place, Mr. Hairbird even watched for
a white Horse, and pulled it out of his tail.
You can imagine how surprised the Horse was when he
felt that little tweak at his tail, and, looking
around, saw a
 small brown bird pulling at one of
his longest hairs. "I am sorry to annoy you," said
this bird, "but Mrs. Hairbird needed a white hair."
"That is all right," said the Horse, to whom one hair
was a very small matter, and she dearly loved a joke.
"Please tell Mrs. Hairbird that my tail is hers if she
"Your tail is hers!" exclaimed Mr. Hairbird, who ought
to have seen the joke, since he was not an English
Sparrow. "Oh, no, surely not! Surely your tail is not
her tail. They are quite different, you know!" then
he understood and hurried away, but not in time to help
hearing the Horse laugh.
When the white hair was woven in, the nest was done,
and Mrs. Hairbird laid in it four greenish blue eggs
with dark brown specks. In the nest above were six
greenish white ones with brown and light purple spots.
In the nest above
 that were five dingy streaked
and speckled ones. Mrs. Hairbird said that hers were
by far the prettiest. "It is not because I laid them,"
she said to her husband. "It is not for that reason
that I think so, but they really are."
Mr. and Mrs. Hairbird were the only ones who paid for
the chance to build in the tree. They picked insects
off the off the branches, insects that would have
robbed the tree of some of its strength.
The Blackbirds would not bother with such small bits of
food. The English Sparrows should have paid in the
same way, but they would not.
Their great-great-great- ?a great many times great- ?
grandparents were brought over to this country just to
eat the insects which were hurting the trees and
shrubs, but when they got here they would not do it.
"No, indeed," said they; "we are here now, and we will
eat what we choose." Their
great-great-great—  a great many times great—grandchildren were just like
Silvertip often came to sit under this tree. He called
it a family tree, because it had so many little
families in its branches. He could not climb it. The
fine branches and twigs were so close together that he
could not get up the trunk, and they were not strong
enough for him to step from one to another of them.
As might perhaps have been expected, there was some
gossiping among neighbors in this tree. The Blackbirds
usually climbed to their nest by beginning at the
bottom of the trunk and going around and around it to
the top. This took them so close to the other nests
that they could not help looking in. At any rate, they
did n't help it.
Mrs. Blackbird told Mrs. Hairbird that the way Mrs.
Sparrow kept house was a disgrace to the tree. Mrs.
Sparrow told her to be very careful not to leave
 her eggs or young children alone when the Blackbirds
were around, because when they were very hungry the had
been known to —! She did not finish her sentence in
words, but just ruffled up her feathers and fluttered
her wings, which was a great deal meaner. If she were
going to say such things about people, you know, she
should have said them, and not made Mrs. Haribird guess
the worst part.
Mr. Blackbird said he pitied Mr. Sparrow with all his
heart. He knew something what it was to have a wife
try to run things, but that if Mrs. Blackbird had ever
acted as Mrs. Sparrow did, he would leave her, even if
it were in the early spring.
Mr. Sparrow said it was most disagreeable to have such
noisy neighbors as the Blackbirds overhead. That if
his wife had known they were coming to that tree, she
would have chosen another place.
 "Of course it
was too late for her to change when she found it out,"
he said. "Her nest was well begun, and she had some
very choice straws and feathers which she did n't care
to move. You know how such things get spoiled in
carrying them from place to place."
Most of these things were told to Mrs. Hairbird,
because she was at home with the eggs, but she repeated
them all to her husband when he came. She even told
him how Mr. Sparrow flew down one day just after a
quarrel with his wife, and of all the things he had
said when angry. It was quite right in Mrs. Hairbird
to tell her husband, and yet she never chirped them to
another bird. And that also was right.
When people talked these things to her, she always
looked bright and pleasant, but she did not talk about
them herself. Indeed, she often made excuses for her
neighbors when she repeated things to her husband. For
instance, when she
 told what Mrs. Sparrow had said
about Mrs. Blackbird, she added: "I suppose that may be
so, still, I feel sure that Mrs. Blackbird would not
eat any of our children unless she were dreadfully
You can see what a sweet and wise little person Mrs.
Hairbird was, and her husband was exactly like her. No
matter how other people quarreled, they did not. No
matter what gossip they heard, they did not repeat it.
And it ended just as such things always do.
In late spring, about the time that the Bees were
gathering warmish for their homes, and every fir-tree
tip had one or two buzzing around it, there was a
dreadful quarrel in the family tree. Mrs. Sparrow
wanted some grasses from the outside of the Blackbirds'
nest, and she sat on her own and looked at them until
she felt she could not live without them. Of course,
that was very wrong. She might have forgotten all
about them if she had made
 herself thing about
something else. Any bird who wants something he ought
not to have should do that. She might better have
looked down at her own breast, or counted her wing
feathers over and over. However, she did n't. She
took those grasses.
Mrs. Blackbird missed them, and then saw them woven
loosely into the nest bellow hers. She did not say
much, and she did not eat the eggs out of the Sparrows'
nest. Some people said that she ate them, but that was
a mistake. All that she did was to sit very quietly on
her nest while a Red Squirrel ate them. When this same
fellow would have eaten those in the nest below, both
the Hairbirds being away, she drove him off herself.
A RED SQUIRREL ATE THEM.
You can imagine what the Sparrows said when they
returned. Or perhaps you might better not try to, for
they said very cross things. Then Mrs. Blackbird told
what she thought about those stolen
 grasses, and
her husband joined in, until there was more noise than
a flock of Crows would make.
It ended in Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow tearing down that nest
and building another in the woodbine, where most of
their relatives lived. Some of their neighbors thought
the Blackbirds right and some thought the Sparrows
right, but through it all, Mr. and Mrs. Hairbird were
happy and contented, and brought up their four charming
children to be as good birds as they were themselves.
The Sparrows often said that the worst thing about
going away from the family tree was leaving the
Hairbirds, who were such delightful neighbors. The
Blackbirds said that the pleasantest thing about the
tree was having the Hairbirds for neighbors. The
Hairbirds were liked by everybody, and never made
trouble between friends. It was all because they knew
how and when to keep their bills shut.
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