| 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 SPARROWS INSIDE THE EAVES
 ONE does not like to say such things, but the English
Sparrows were very disagreeable people. And they are
very disagreeable people. Also, they always have been,
and probably always will be, very disagreeable people.
They were the first birds to make trouble among
neighbors anywhere around the big house. If it had not
been that the Gentleman who lived there was so very
tender-hearted, their nests would probably have been
poked down with poles long before the eggs could have
been laid in them. When Boys came around with little
rifles and ugly looking bags slung over heir shoulders,
they were always ordered away
 and told that the
Gentleman would have no shooting near his house.
It is not strange then that the woodbine was full of
Sparrows' nests, and that many of the evergreens also
bore them in their top branches. One had even been
tucked in behind a conductor pipe, and their owners
hunted and argued and fussed all over the place. There
was just one way in which the English Sparrows were not
cared for like other birds around the big house.
Silvertip was allowed to eat all that he could catch.
And you may be very sure that no Robin ever called
"Cat!" when he was ready to spring upon a Sparrow.
"It may be wrong," said one Robin mother, "but I cannot
do it. I remember too well how they have robbed my
nests and quarrelled with my friends. I say that they
must care for their own children. And if they do
not—well, so much the better for Silvertip!"
 You see that the birds were not angry at
Silvertip for trying to eat them. It was all to be
expected, as they knew very well. It was not pleasant,
but it had to be, just as Worms and Flies had to expect
to be eaten, unless they were clever enough to keep out
of the way of the birds. Only the quickest and
strongest could live, so of course all the young ones
tried hard to become quick and strong.
When Miss Sparrow, from the nest behind the conductor
pipe, was old enough to marry, she had many lovers, and
that was quite natural. She was a plump and
trim-looking bird, and pretty, too, if one came close
enough to her. Her feathers were gray and brown, with
a little white and black in places. Her bill was
black, and her feet were brown. She was very careful
to keep clean, and although she had to hunt food in the
mud of the street, she bathed often in fine dust and
 wings and tail well up. Her lovers were
dressed in the same colors, but with more decided
Her parents were very clever to think of building where
they did; and because they had such a large nest and so
near the eaves of the house, they were much looked up
to by the other Sparrow. They were very proud of their
home, and especially on days when the water running
down the pipe made a sweet guggle-guggle-guggling
sound. Sparrows like noise, you know, and this always
amused the children and kept them quiet on rainy days.
All the young Sparrows who were not already in love,
and a few who were, began to court Miss Sparrow as soon
as it was known that she cared to marry. This was
partly on her own account, and partly because of her
Some birds would have waited for their suitors to speak
first about marriage. Miss Sparrow did not. The
 are not very bred. "Of course I am
going to marry," she said. "I am only waiting to make
up my mind whom I will choose."
They flocked around her as she fed in the dust of the
road, all talking at once in their harsh voices. When
a team passed by, and that was not often, they flew or
hopped aside at the last minute. When they settled
down again there was always a squabble to see who
should be next to Miss Sparrow. Her lovers fought with
each other over choice seeds, but they let Miss Sparrow
have everything she wished. She always seemed very
cross when her lovers were around (as well as most of
the time when they were not), and often scolded and
pecked at them. Sometimes one who was not brave, and
would not stand pain, flew away and began courting
After a while she had driven away so many that only
two were left. She flew
 at these, striking first
one and then the other, until, brave as they were, one
went away. Then she turned to the suitor who was left
with a sweet smile. "I will marry you," she said.
His wings were lame from her fighting him, his head
smarted where she had picked at it, and two or three
small feathers were missing from his breast. Miss
Sparrow was certainly a strong bird, and he knew that
anybody who wanted her would have to stand just what he
had stood. He would have preferred to court as the
Goldfinches and Wrens do, by singing to their
sweethearts, but that could not be. In the first
place, he could not sing, and in the second place she
would not have taken him until she had beaten him
anyway. It would have been more fun for him to fight
some of the other birds and let the winner have her,
yet that could not be done either. If he wanted to
marry, he had to marry an English Sparrow, and
he wanted to marry an English Sparrow he had to go
about it in her way. It would have been just the same
if he had courted her sister or her cousin.
The truth is that, although the Sparrow husbands
swagger and brag a great deal and act as though they
owned everything in sight, there is not one whose wife
does not order him around. Miss Sparrow would not have
taken him is she had not made sure that she could whip
"What do I need of a husband," she said, "unless he
will mind me? And when I feel crosser than usual I
want somebody always near and at home, where I can
treat him as I choose. That is what I care for in a
"Now," she said, "if you are to be my husband, I will
show you where we are to build."
Mr. Sparrow flew meekly along after her. You would be
meek with lame
 wings, a sore head, and three
feathers off from your breast. She led the way to the
front west porch, where the syringa shoots made a
little hedge around it and a tall fir tree made good
perching places beside it.
"Where are we going to build?" asked Mr. Sparrow. He
saw plenty of good window ledges and places which would
do for Robins and Phoebes and other birds who plaster
their nests. Yet he did not see a single corner or big
crack where a Sparrow's nest could be made to hold
"I will show you," answered Mrs. Sparrow. She perched
on the top of a porch column and looked up at a small
round hole nearly over her head. It was the place
where a conductor pipe had once run through the
cornice. Now the pipe had been taken away and the
opening was left. She gave an upward spring and
flutter and went straight up through
 the hole.
"Come up!" she cried in the most good-natured way.
"Come up! This is the best place I ever saw. Our nest
will be all hidden, and no large bird or Squirrel can
possibly get in. the rain can never fall on it, and on
cold days we shall be warm and snug."
She did not ask him what he though of it, and he did
not expect her to. So he just said, "It is a most
"That is what I think," she replied. "Very unusual,
and I would not build in the woodbine, like some
Sparrows. No, indeed! One who has been brought up in
style beside a water-pipe, as I was could never come
down to woodbine. It should not be expected."
"I'm sure it was not, my dear," said her husband.
"Very well," said she. "Since you like this place so
much, we may as well call it settled and keep still
about it until we are ready to build."
 Mr. Sparrow had not said that he liked it, yet he
knew better than to tell her so. If he did, she might
leave him even now for one of her other lovers. He
really dreaded getting out through that hole, and let
her go while he watched her. She went head first,
clinging to the rough edges of the hole with both feet,
let go with one, hung and twisted around until she was
headed right, then dropped and flew away. Mr. Sparrow
did the same, but he did not like it.
After a while they began nest-building, and all the
straws, sticks, and feathers had to be dragged up
through the little round doorway to the nest. Mrs.
Sparrow did most of the arranging, while her husband
flew in and out more than a hundred times a day. She
was a worker. Any bird will tell you that. Still, you
know, there are different ways of working. Some of the
people who do the most work make the least fuss. Mrs.
 Sparrow was not one of these. When she did a
thing, she wanted everybody to know it, and since her
building-place was hidden she talked all the more to
"I am going to have a large nest," she said. "So bring
plenty of stuff. Bring good things, too," she added.
"You have brought two straw already that were really
dirty, and this last stick is n't fit to use. I will
push it back into a corner."
Mr. Sparrow would have liked to tell her what hard work
his was, and ask her to use things he brought, even if
they were not quite what she wanted. He was too wise
for this, however, so he flew out and pitched into
another Sparrow who was getting straws for his wife.
He tried to steal his straw, and they fought back and
forth until their wives came to see what was the matter
and began fighting also. When they stopped at last,
the straw had been carried away by a Robin,
neither had it. But they had had a lively, loud, rough
fight, and Sparrows like that even better than straw,
so they all felt good-natured again.
Twice Mrs. Sparrow decided to move her nest a little
this way or a little that, and such a litter as she
made when doing it! Some of the best sticks fell down
through the doorway, and the Lady swept them off the
porch. Then Mrs. Sparrow scolded her. She was not
afraid of a Lady. "She might have left them there,"
she said. "I would have had my husband pick them up
soon. Yesterday she had the Maid put some of her own
horrid chairs and tables out here while they were
cleaning, and I never touched them."
Mr. Sparrow flew up with a fine Turkey feather. "It
came from the Lady's duster," he said. "I think it will
give quite an air to your nest."
"Excellent!" cried his wife. "Just wait until I get
ready for it." He clung
 patiently by one foot to
the doorway. When that was tired he changed to the
other. When that was tired he perched on the top of
the column. He was very hungry, and he saw some grain
dropped from a passing wagon.
"Hurry up, my dear!" he called. "It is past my
"Wait until supper then," cried his wife. "As if I had
n't enough to do without thinking about your dinner!
Don't let go of it or it will be blown away."
Then Mr. Sparrow lost his temper. He stuck that
feather into a crack near by, and flew softly away to
eat some grain. He thought he might be back in time to
carry in the feather and his wife never know where he
had been. Unfortunately, he got to talking and did not
hear his wife call him.
"Mr. Sparrow!" said she. "Mr. Sparrow! I am ready for
 When he did not answer, she put her head out of
the doorway. There was the Turkey feather stuck into a
crack, and in the road beyond was her husband eating
happily with several of his friends. She looked very
angry and opened her bill to speak. Then she changed
her mind and flew quietly off the other way. She went
straight to the Horse-block, where another old suitor
was, the one who had come so near winning her. "Mr.
Sparrow has disobeyed me," she said, and is actually
eating his dinner when he should be waiting by the nest
to help me. I believe that I ought to have married
you, but better late than never. Come now."
This was how it happened that when Mr. Sparrow's
stomach was quite full, and he suddenly remembered his
work, he flew back and found the Turkey feather gone.
In the eaves overhead he heard Mrs. Sparrow telling
somebody else what to do. He tried to force his way up
 Every time he was shoved back, and not very
"You might better look for another home," said Mrs.
Sparrow's voice. "I have found another husband, one
who will help me as I wish. Good-by."
That was the ending of Mr. Sparrow's first marriage.
It was a very sad affair, and the birds talked of
nothing else for a long time afterward. Some said that
it served him exactly right, because he married to get
into a fine family, when there were dozens of Sparrow
daughters much prettier and nicer than the one he
chose. There may have been something in this, for
certainly if Mrs. Sparrow had not been so sure of
finding another to take his place, she would not have
turned him out in the way she did. It is said,
however, that her second husband had a hard life of it.
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