How The Birds Got Their Feathers Iroquois Myth
That evening, as the family sat beside the hearth, Phyllis thought of
the brave little chickadees out in the fir-trees.
"I wonder if they are really warm enough," she said. "Do feathers make
a warm dress, mother? Why do birds have feathers instead of fur?"
"I have heard the story that the Indians tell of how the birds got
their feathers," said mother. "Bring your chairs closer and I will
tell the story to you."
So the children drew their chairs up into the firelight, and listened
to this little Indian story:
"Once some little Indian children," began the mother, "gathered about
the fire inside their deerskin wigwam and begged their mother for a
"Each little Indian was wrapped in a bright coloured blanket. Each
little Indian wore long turkey buzzard feathers in his hair.
"The Indian mother looked at her baby braves proudly. She thought of
the time when each of the children was a tiny papoose and swung in a
deerskin cradle like a bird in its nest.
"'There was a time,' said the Indian squaw, 'when the birds had no
"'Being naked, they remained hidden among the leaves. Being ashamed
they were silent, and no bird-note sweetened the stillness of the
"'At last with faint chirpings the mother birds prayed the Great Spirit
for blankets in which to wrap their little ones.
"'Then the Great Spirit, seeing their sorry plight, sent a messenger to
the birds, who told them that even now coverings were ready for every
"'The messenger said that hereafter each family of birds should dress
in uniform, so that the forest people, seeing a bird, might know at
once, by its dress, to what bird family it belonged.
"'But alas! the messenger also said that the uniforms were a great way
off. He himself could not bring them to the forest. The birds must
choose one who was strong of wing and able to endure great hardships,
to go back with him and bring the uniforms home.
"'The poor featherless birds looked about for one who was brave and
fearless and untiring. A council was held to induce some bird to go on
this long journey.
"'But one and all pleaded some excuse. Some must remain to care for
the babes still in the nest. Some were too old to undertake the
journey. Some were too young to find the way.
"'Some had been ill and were still too weak to travel. Indeed, the
birds seemed to be in as sad a plight as before.
"'At last there stepped forth a bird, who, truth to tell, was not a
general favourite among his fellows. His name was turkey buzzard.
"'The bird agreed to undertake the long journey and bring back the
feathery uniforms, if he could choose the most beautiful coat of
feathers for himself and his family for ever.
"'To this the other birds consented, and the featherless turkey buzzard
"'It was indeed a long and a dangerous journey. Sometimes the poor
bird nearly dropped from weariness and hunger. Sometimes, so hungry
was he, that he was forced to make a meal off from some dead animal
which lay in the way. Indeed so often did he do this that in time he
came to like this food.
"'It came to pass, after many days, that the turkey buzzard, being
directed by the Great Spirit, found the feathery uniforms.
"'He at once began to look them over. He intended to choose the most
beautiful coat of feathers for himself and his family.
"'Soon he found a suit of most gorgeous colours. He tried it on, and
looked at his own reflection in the water. The dress was very
beautiful. Well pleased with himself and his dress the turkey buzzard
gathered up the remaining uniforms and started for home.
"'But alas! the new dress, although so beautiful, did not fit
comfortably. The poor bird found that he could not fly well in his new
dress. He tried another and still another bright coloured dress, but
in none of them was he comfortable.
"'At length, quite discouraged, he slipped into a quiet, dark uniform.
Although this suit was the least beautiful it fitted comfortably and
gracefully. In it the turkey buzzard flew away home, and in such
uniform have his family ever since been content to dress.
"'The turkey buzzards are quite willing to leave the more gorgeous
dresses for those birds who cannot fly so far nor so gracefully as
Next: Chilly Little Chickadees
Previous: The Snowbird's Song