| 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 |
A YOUNG SWIFT TUMBLES
N one of the chimneys of the big house several
families of Chimney Swifts had built their homes. They
had come north in April and flown straight to this
particular place. It was the family home of this
branch of the Swifts, and every year since
great-grandfather Swift discovered it, some of his
children and grandchildren had come back there to
build. They were quite airy, and thought a great deal
about appearances. "Swifts are sure to be judged by
the chimney in which they live." They said, "and there
is no use in choosing a poor one when there are good
ones to be found."
Nobody would have dared remind these Chimney Swifts
great-  great-great-great-grandparents lived in hollow trees, if indeed any of their friends
knew it. They themselves never spoke of the Swifts who
still do so, and since they had always lived in a land
of chimneys, they did not dream of the times when there
were none to be found. Of course, before the white men
came to this country Swifts had to build in hollow
You can just imagine what a happy, busy place this
chimney was in the springtime, when last year's nests
were being torn down and new ones were building. The
older Swifts were there and those who were to keep
house for the first time. Then, of course, the younger
ones had married and brought new wives there, and they
had to be introduced and shown all over the chimney.
Some wanted to build nearer the top than others, and
the older ones were always advising the younger ones.
 was so hard for a Swift mother to remember that
her married son was old enough to decide things for
himself; and many such mothers fluttered around the
sons' nests, telling them how to place each twig, and
giving the new wives advice as to how to bring up the
babies who would soon come to live with them.
This story is about a young couple who built the lowest
nest of all. They were dressed just alike in sleek,
sooty, brown feathers, which were of a lighter shade on
their throats. Their necks and heads were very broad,
their bills short but able to open very wide; their
wings were longer than their tails, and the quills of
their tail feathers stuck out stiff and bare far beyond
the soft, feathery part. The Swifts are all very proud
of these bare quills. "There are not many birds," they
say, "who can show their quills in that fashion."
These quills are very useful, too, for
 after a
Swift has broken off a tiny twig for his nest, he has
to cling to the side of the chimney and fix it into
place, and he could not do this without supporting
himself by these tail quills. It is hard work building
nests, and you can see that it would be. They have to
cling with both feet, support themselves with their
tails, put each tiny twig in place with their bills,
and glue it there with sticky saliva from their mouths
or else with tree-gum.
The young husband who was building his first home low
down in the chimney was a sturdy and rather willful
fellow, who was very sure what he wanted, and just as
sure that he was going to get it. When he said, "I
shall do this," or, "I am going to have that," other
people had learned to keep still. They sometimes had a
smiling look around the bill, but they said nothing.
His wife was a sweet and sensible Swift who never made
a fuss about anything, or bragged of what she
 meant to do. Still, other Swifts who watched them said
that she had her way quite as often as he had his.
It was really she who had chosen to build well down in
the chimney. Her husband had preferred to be near the
top, and she had agreed to that, but spoke of what
would happen if one of their children should fall out
of the nest.
"There is no need of one falling out," said Mr. Swift.
"Tell them to lie still and not push around. Then they
will not fall out."
Mrs. Swift fixed one of the feathers on the under side
of her left wing, and then remarked: "And you do not
think it would disturb you to have our neighbors
passing all the time."
"Yes, I do," he replied. "I have thought so from the
first, and I am thinking that it might be well to build
lower for that reason. Then we could be passing the
 He flew down and pecked at the bricks in a few
places to make sure that he could fasten a nest
securely. Then he came back to his wife. "I have
decided to build the lowest nest of all," said he, "but
you understand it is not on account of the children.
There is no sense in their moving around in the nest."
"I understand," said Mrs. Swift, and he flew away for
twigs while she stayed behind to visit with her
The mother-in-law's eyes twinkled. "I believe my son
said that his children were not to move around in the
nest," she said with a laugh. "I wonder how he is
going to stop their doing so."
"Tell them, I suppose," answered young Mrs. Swift,
smilingly. "Did he push around at all when he was a
"He?" replied the older Swift. "He was the most
restless child I ever hatched. He will know more about
bringing up children after he has raised a brood or
 two. Don't worry, my dear. It will come out all
right." She flew off and the young wife went for twigs
also, and thought how happy she ought to be in having
such a mother-in-law.
When the lowest nest was built and the four long pure
white eggs were laid in it, Mr. and Mrs. Swift were a
very proud young couple. The nest was so thin that one
could see the eggs through it quite plainly, but it was
exceedingly stout and firm. It was not a soft nest,
and it had no real lining, although Mrs. Swift had laid
in one especially perfect grass blade "to give it
That grass blade may be seen to this day by any one who
cares to look at the nest as it lies in a cabinet in
the house. It was the only nest in the chimney which
had anything but twigs in it, and some people wondered
at Mrs. Swift's taste. One stout elderly mother Swift
said "she supposed it was all right, but
 that she
had never done such a thing and her children had turned
out all right." However, young Mrs. Swift smiled in
her pretty way and did not talk back.
When they were planning for the four children whom they
expected, Mrs. Swift spoke of how patient they would
have to be with them, but Mr. Swift said: "They must
be brought up to mind! If I tell a child once to do a
thing, that is enough. You will see how I bring them
up." Then he ruffled up his feathers, puffed out his
throat, and looked very important.
They did most of their visiting in the beautiful
night-time, for it is a custom among their people to
fly and hunt and visit in the dark, and rest by day.
Their busiest time is always just before the sun comes
up, and so it happened that the Little Boy who slept in
the room below did not often hear the rumbling noise in
the chimney as they flew in and out. When they were
awakened he slept
 quietly in his snug little bed,
and as he was awakening, and stretching, and getting
his dimples ready for the day, the Swifts were going to
sleep after a busy night.
When the baby Swifts broke their shells and were seen
for the first time by their loving father and mother,
Mr. Swift was surprised to find how small they were.
Mr. Swift murmured sweet words to them and worked as
hard as her husband to find them food. There were now
so many mouths to be fed that they flew by day as well
as by night, and often the Little Boy in the room below
thought he heard distant thunder when it was only the
Swifts coming down the chimney with food for their
babies. All sorts of tiny winged creatures were
brought them to eat, for Swifts catch all their food as
they fly, and that means that they can feed upon only
such creatures as also fly.
When they were stretching up to reach
 the food,
Mrs. Swift would say to the children: "Now learn to
move carefully, for if you should get over the edge of
the nest you will tumble down into that fireplace of
which I have told you."
When he was feeding them Mr. Swift would say: "You may
open your bills, but not one of you must move beyond
that twig. Do you understand?"
Three of them obeyed without asking questions, but the
eldest brother was always trying to see just how far he
could go without tumbling, and he would talk back to
"You don't care if I put one wing out, do you?" he
"Not one wing!" his father would answer.
"Why?" the son would ask. "I would n't tumble just
because I put one wing out."
"It is not minding me," his father would say, "to see
how far you can go
 without tumbling. I did not
tell you only to keep from falling out. I told you to
keep inside that twig."
Then the son would pout his bill and act very sulky,
getting close to the twig which he had been told not to
pass. When he thought his father was not looking, he
would even wriggle a little beyond it. Mrs. Swift was
worried, but what could she do? She noticed that her
husband did not talk so much as he used to about making
a child mind the very first time he is spoken to.
One night when the Swifts had fed their children
faithfully, this son was unusually naughty. It may be
that he had eaten more than his share or that he had
picked for the biggest insect every time that lunch was
brought. It may be, too, that he was naughty simply
because he wanted to be. It does not always mean that
a child is ill when he is naughty. His father just
told him to be more
 careful, and he made a face
(yes, he did) and flopped aside to show what he could
do without falling.
Then he felt a tiny twig on the edge of the nest break
beneath him, and he went tumbling, bumping, and
scraping down into the fireplace below. He could not
fly up, for his wings were not strong enough to carry
him up such a narrow space, and his parents could not
get him. He heard his brother and sisters crying and
his mother saying that she had always expected that to
"Horrid old twig!" he said. "Don't see why it had to
break! Should think they might build their nest
stronger. I don't care! I was sick of being told not
to wriggle, anyway!"
Then he fluttered and sprawled through a crack beside
the screen of the grate until he was out in the room.
The Little Boy lay asleep in the bed, and that
frightened the young Swift. When they tried
scare each other the children had always pretended that
a Boy was after them. He crawled behind a picture
which leaned against the wall, and stayed there and
thought about his dear, dear home up in the chimney.
The Little Boy stirred and awakened and called out:
"Mother! Mother! There is something making a
scratching noise in my room. I fink it is a Bear."
The young Swift sat very still while the Lady came in
and hunted for the Bear. She never came near his
hiding-place, and laughed at the Little Boy for
thinking of Bears. She told him that the only Bears
around their town were two-legged ones, and when he
asked her what that meant she laughed again.
He peeped out from behind the picture and saw the
Little Boy dress himself. He heard him say: "I can't
possibly get vese shoes on, but I'll try and try and
try." He thought how much pleasanter
 it was to be
a Swift and have all his clothes grow on, and to go
barefoot all the year.
He heard the Lady say: "Why, you precious Boy! You
did get your shoes on, aft all." Then he saw them go
off to breakfast, racing to see who would beat.
After they were gone, he fluttered out to the window,
and there the Lady found him, and the Little Boy danced
around and wanted to touch him, but did n't quite dare.
The Lady said: "I think this must have been your
Bear," and the Little Boy said: "My teeny-weeny little
bitty Bear wiv feavers on." He heard the Little Boy
ask, too, why the bird had so many pins sticking out of
his tail, and this made him cross. He did not
understand what pins were, but he felt that anybody
ought to know about tail-quills.
He did n't know much about Boys, for
 this was the
first one he had ever seen, and he wondered what those
shiny white things were in his mouth. He had never
seen teeth and he could not understand. He wondered
how the Boy got along without a bill, and pitied him
very much. This Little Boy did not seem so very
terrible. He even acted a bit afraid of the Swift.
Next the young Swift felt himself lifted gently in the
Lady's hand and laid in a box with soft white stuff in
it and two small holes cut in the cover. He ws carried
from room to room in the house and shown to other
people. Once he heard a quee stamped hy, "Meouw!" and
then the Little Boy stamped his foot and said: "Go
'way, Teddy Silvertip. You can't have my little bird,
you hungry Cat."
After this the young Swift was more scared than before,
and would have given every feather he had to be safely
 in the nest in the chimney. He was hungry,
too, and he wanted to see his father and his dear
mother. He beat his wings against the sides of the box
and cried for his mother. "Oh," he said, "if I were
only back in the nest I would n't move. I would n't
move a bit." Then the Cat mewed again and he dept
still from fright.
At last he was taken into the open air and placed in
the top of a short evergreen, where the Cat could not
reach him. Here he clung, weak and lonely and scared,
blinking his half-blinded eyes in a light brighter than
he had yet seen. All the rest of that day he stayed
there, while his father and mother and their other
children were sleeping in the home nest. He expected
never to see them again, but he did want to tell them
how sorry he was.
After the sun had set and the moon was shining, he saw
his father darting
 to and fro above him.
"Father!" he cried. "Father, I am so sorry that I
moved past the twig. I was very naughty."
His father heard and flew down to tuck a fat and juicy
May Beetle into his mount. "You will not do such
things when you are older. I will get you some more
When he returned Mrs. Swift was with him, and they
petted and fed the young Swift all night, never
scolding him at all, because, as they said, he had been
punished quite enough and was sorry. And that was
true. His grandmother came also with a bit of food.
She told him that they would feed him every night and
that he should hide in the branches each day until his
feathers were grown.
"In three days more," said she, "you will be ready to
fly, and you look more like your father all the time.
 days more," she said, "if nobody eats you
You can imagine how anxious the young Swift was during
those three days, and how small he tried to be when
Silvertip was around. "Surely," he thought, "the sun
and moon were never before so slow in marking off the
When at last he was ready for flight, Silvertip was
under the snowball bush near by. The young Swift
sprang into the air. "Good by, my Cat friend," said
he. "You look hungry, but you have lost your best
chance at me. You should have been waiting at the
grate for me. You might have known that such a foolish
young Swift as I would tumble down sooner or later.
All that saves some people is not having their
foolishness found out!"
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