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Dooryard Stories by  Clara Dillingham Pierson
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THE FIR-TREE NEIGHBORS

[22]

W
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 home.

The Lady spoke of this tree as "The Evergreen Apartment House." The birds simply called it "The Tallest Fir Tree."

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 had a [23] 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 [24] 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 [25] 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.

[26] "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 round.

"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 [27] 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 unselfish.

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 [28] 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 wishes it."

"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 [29] 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— [30] a great many times great—grandchildren were just like them.

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 [31] 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. [32] "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 [33] 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 hungry."

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 [34] 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.


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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 [35] 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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