The Curious Book of Birds by Abbie Farwell Brown


Mr. Stork and Miss Heron (page 178)
Mr. Stork and Miss Heron (page 178)

The Curious Book of Birds

By Abbie Farwell Brown

With Illustrations
By E. Boyd Smith

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The Riverside Press, Cambridge

Published October, 1903.

There are many books written nowadays which will tell you about birds as folk of the twentieth century see them. They describe carefully the singer’s house, his habits, the number of his little wife’s eggs, and the color of every tiny feather on her pretty wings. But these books tell you nothing at all about bird-history; about what birds have meant to all the generations of men, women, and children since the world began. You would think, to read the words of the bird-book men, that they were the very first folk to see any bird, and that what they think they have seen is the only matter worth the knowing.

Now the interesting facts about birds we have always with us. We can find them out for ourselves, which is a very pleasant thing to do, or we can take the word of others, of which there is no lack. But it is the quaint fancies about birds which are in danger of being lost. The long-time fancies which the world’s children in all lands have been taught are quite as important as the every-day facts. They show what the little feathered brothers have been to the children of men; how we have come to like some and to dislike others as we do; why the poets have called them by certain nicknames which we ought to know; and why a great many strange things are so, in the minds of childlike people.

Facts are not what one looks for in a Curious Book. Yet it may be that some facts have crept in among the ancient fancies of this volume, just as bookworms will crawl into the nicest books; but they do not belong there, and it is for these that the Book apologizes to the children. It has no apology to offer those grown folks who insist that facts, never fancies, are what children need.

The Curious Book of Birds


“Not you alone, proud truths of the world,
Not you alone, ye facts of modern science,
But myths and fables of eld, Asia’s, Africa’s fables.”


The Curious Book of Birds

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LONG, long ago, at the beginning of things, they say that the Lord made the world smooth and round like an apple. There were no hills nor mountains: nor were there any hollows or valleys to hold the seas and rivers, fountains and pools, which the world of men would need. It must, indeed, have been a stupid and ugly earth in those days, with no chance for swimming or sailing, rowing or fishing. But as yet there was no one to think anything about it, no one who would long to swim, sail, row, and fish. For this was long before men were created.

The Lord looked about Him at the flocks of newly made birds, who were preening their wings and wondering at their own bright feathers, and said to Himself,—

“I will make these pretty creatures useful, from the very beginning, so that in after time men shall love them dearly. Come, my birds,” He cried, “come hither to me, and with the beaks which I have given you hollow me out here, and here, and here, basins for the lakes and pools which I intend to fill with water for men and for you, their friends. Come, little brothers, busy yourselves as you would wish to be happy hereafter.”

Then there was a twittering and fluttering as the good birds set to work with a will, singing happily over the work which their dear Lord had given them to do. They pecked and they pecked with their sharp little bills; they scratched and they scratched with their sharp little claws, till in the proper places they had hollowed out great basins and valleys and long river beds, and little holes in the ground.

Then the Lord sent great rains upon the earth until the hollows which the birds had made were filled with water, and so became rivers and lakes, little brooks and fountains, just as we see them to-day. Now it was a beautiful, beautiful world, and the good birds sang happily and rejoiced in the work which they had helped, and in the sparkling water which was sweet to their taste.

All were happy except one. The Woodpecker had taken no part with the other busy birds. She was a lazy, disobedient creature, and when she heard the Lord’s commands she had only said, “Tut tut!” and sat still on the branch where she had perched, preening her pretty feathers and admiring her silver stockings. “You can toil if you want to,” she said to the other birds who wondered at her, “but I shall do no such dirty work. My clothes are too fine.”

Now when the world was quite finished and the beautiful water sparkled and glinted here and there, cool and refreshing, the Lord called the birds to Him and thanked them for their help, praising them for their industry and zeal. But to the Woodpecker He said,—

“As for you, O Woodpecker, I observe that your feathers are unruffled by work and that there is no spot of soil upon your beak and claws. How did you manage to keep so neat?”

The Woodpecker looked sulky and stood upon one leg.

“It is a good thing to be neat,” said the Lord, “but not if it comes from shirking a duty. It is good to be dainty, but not from laziness. Have you not worked with your brothers as I commanded you?”

“It was such very dirty work,” piped the Woodpecker crossly; “I was afraid of spoiling my pretty bright coat and my silver shining hose.”

“Oh, vain and lazy bird!” said the Lord sadly. “Have you nothing to do but show off your fine clothes and give yourself airs? You are no more beautiful than many of your brothers, yet they all obeyed me willingly. Look at the snow-white Dove, and the gorgeous Bird of Paradise, and the pretty Grosbeak. They have worked nobly, yet their plumage is not injured. I fear that you must be punished for your disobedience, little Woodpecker. Henceforth you shall wear stockings of sooty black instead of the shining silver ones of which you are so proud. You who were too fine to dig in the earth shall ever be pecking at dusty wood. And as you declined to help in building the water-basins of the world, so you shall never sip from them when you are thirsty. Never shall you thrust beak into lake or river, little rippling brook or cool, sweet fountain. Raindrops falling scantily from the leaves shall be your drink, and your voice shall be heard only when other creatures are hiding themselves from the approaching storm.”

It was a sad punishment for the Woodpecker, but she certainly deserved it. Ever since that time, whenever we hear a little tap-tapping in the tree city, we know that it is the poor Woodpecker digging at the dusty wood, as the Lord said she should do. And when we spy her, a dusty little body with black stockings, clinging upright to the tree trunk, we see that she is creeping, climbing, looking up eagerly toward the sky, longing for the rain to fall into her thirsty beak. She is always hoping for the storm to come, and plaintively pipes, “Plui-plui! Rain, O Rain!” until the drops begin to patter on the leaves.

To be continued tomorrow…a story a day…

Project Gutenberg’s The Curious Book of Birds, by Abbie Farwell Brown

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Title: The Curious Book of Birds

Author: Abbie Farwell Brown

Illustrator: E. Boyd Smith

Release Date: June 27, 2005 [EBook #16140]

Language: English

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