The Chickadee Or Snowbird In The Snow





It was a bright, wintry day. The frost jewels sparkled on the snow.

The winds blew cutting cold from the north.



Phyllis, in her scarlet coat and cap, and long, warm leggings, waded in

the deepest drifts she could find.



Out by the garden fence was the greatest drift. After floundering

through it, Phyllis climbed up and perched on the top rail of the fence.



She sat quite still, for she was almost breathless after her struggle

in the snow.



Suddenly, just over her head, Phyllis heard a whistle. She started so

that she almost fell from the fence.



Again came the whistle, clear, sweet, and long drawn out. Phyllis

looked up, and there on the branch of the elm-tree sat a cheery little

bird.



With a third whistle he flew down to the fence and perched beside

Phyllis.



He came quite close and stared at the little girl in a gay, curious

manner, as though he might be looking for a playfellow.



"Who are you?" asked Phyllis, looking like a great red bird as she

perched on the fence.



"Chick-a-dee! Chick-a-dee! Chick-a-dee-dee-dee!" twittered the little

fellow. It seemed to Phyllis that he laughed because she did not know

him.



"Oh, to be sure," said she. "How stupid of me not to remember. I have

met you a hundred times.



"I should have remembered your black head and throat. The sides of

your head and neck are white. Your breasts and sides are light yellow.

Your tail and wings are of a much darker shade, and how daintily they

are edged with white!"



The chickadee fluttered about for a moment, and noticing the

friendliness in Phyllis's tones he perched a little closer to her side.



"I do not believe you noticed the large white feathers in my

shoulders," he said. "You may always know a chickadee by the white

markings there."



"I did not notice your white shoulders at first," said Phyllis, "but I

saw at once what fine downy feathers you have. They are beautifully

soft. Do they make a warm winter dress? How do you chance to be here

in the winter-time?



"I think it is time you were in the South, Mr. Chickadee! Did your

family leave you behind?"



"No, indeed," replied Mr. Chickadee. "No, indeed, Phyllis! My entire

family are wintering here in the North. We never go South for the

winter.



"We are quite happy to remain here at home, and to come out on sunshiny

days and whistle and sing and be happy.



"Only half an hour ago some boys went coasting down that hill. I

whistled at them but they did not hear me.



"Soon they came up the hill, drawing their sleds behind them. I

whistled again and called my name.



"'Why, hello,' cried a boy in a blue reefer and a blue stocking cap.

'Hello, chickadee, you're a jolly little fellow! We call you our fair

weather friend because you sing so cheerily on these clear frosty days.'



"'Oho!' laughed another boy, who had a big scratch on his nose, 'I saw

a chickadee flying about among the fir-trees on that very stormy day

last week. He sang just as cheerily through the storm.' Then the boy

whistled back to me and called my name."



"That was my brother Jack," laughed Phyllis. "He got that scratch

while out coasting. He told me that he saw you on that stormy day. He

loves the winter quite as well as you do. You should hear him sing and

whistle when the snow falls for coasting. You should hear him shout

when the cold skating days come. He says that Jack Frost is a fellow's

best friend."



"Indeed," said the jolly little chickadee, blinking his eyes in a funny

way, "my brothers say the very same thing!"



"But how do you find anything to eat in the winter-time?" Phyllis

asked. "The insects and worms have long been dead. What did you have

for breakfast this morning?"



"We had eggs and--"



"Eggs?" cried Phyllis, not waiting for the bird to finish. "You had

eggs?"



"Yes, moth's eggs," said the bird. "The moths leave their eggs about

in all sorts of places. We chickadees know where to find them!"



"Are they--good?" asked Phyllis.



"Delicious!" replied the chickadee. "I think I have eaten more than a

million insects' eggs in my life. I shall never tire of them."



"Where do you sleep?" Phyllis asked.



"In the fir-trees, to be sure," was the reply. "It is quite warm in

there, among the many branches, and as soon as we waken we can get our

breakfasts. There are all sorts of eggs and sleeping insects among the

fir branches."



Phyllis looked from her own thick red leggings to the chickadee's light

blue legs.



"Don't your feet get very cold?" she asked. "You surely need some

leggings."



The chickadee chirruped and twittered and fluttered until Phyllis

suddenly saw that he was laughing at her.



"I don't know what cold feet are!" he said. "I'm glad no one gave me

red leggings for Christmas."



"What did you get for Christmas?"



"A wonderfully fine dinner spread on a white snow table-cloth under the

cherry-tree!" replied the bird.



"Oh, did you come to my bird feast?" cried the little girl. "I spread

crumbs and bird seed for you. Jack wanted to hang a meat bone in the

cedar-tree. He said that you would like it better. Indeed, I believe

he did hang one there. Did you ever see it?"



"Oh, yes, Phyllis, many a day have we pecked away at that meat bone.

It was really very good."



"Jack read in a book that you were fond of pecking at meat bones. He

will be glad to know that it is true!"



"Thank him for us," said the chickadee. "You were kind to remember us!"



"Ah," said Phyllis, "but it was kind of you to remain behind to cheer

us when all the other birds have gone to warmer lands.



"But, chickadee, though you are so cheery and gay in winter, are you

not really happier in the summer-time?"



"Oh, we are so busy in summer," the chickadee replied. "Last May I

travelled miles and miles looking for a vacant house."



"Looking for a vacant house?" cried Phyllis, with wide brown eyes.



"For housekeeping," said the chickadee. "You see my mate and I had

never kept house before. She was very anxious to find a most suitable

place.



"My wife said a woodpecker's nest was the very place, but I rather

preferred a squirrel's hole.



"For a long time we could find neither to suit us. But at length I

heard Mrs. Chickadee calling loudly. I flew to her side at once.



"'What is it?' I cried.



"'Look!' cried Mrs. Chickadee, pointing with her bill and flapping her

wings with joy.



"Through the thick of the woods ran a gray old rail fence. Woodbine

and wild hop vines wellnigh covered it. The posts were gray where they

were not moss-covered.



"In one of these gray-green posts was a hole where a pair of

woodpeckers had once built their nest.



"'This is the very place for us!' cried Mrs. Chickadee. 'It could not

be better though we hollowed it out for ourselves.'"



"Could you?" asked Phyllis, looking at the bird's little short black

bill.



"If need be, we could, indeed," replied the chickadee. "But we would

far rather find a knot-hole, or a squirrel's or woodpecker's deserted

nest.



"When we had decided on the spot," the bird went on, "we at once began

lining the nest. We carried fine grasses and soft feathers. We found

mosses and rabbits' fur to make it soft.



"Those were indeed happy days for us. They were also exciting days.

We were very careful to let no one know what we were about.



"Once, as I flew home with a bit of moss, I saw a boy lying on the

grass not far from our fence-post. It would never do to let him know

our secret. Boys are not to be trusted.



"I perched upon the fence and pretended that I had never a thought of

nest building.



"In a moment Mrs. Chickadee came flying home with a soft, downy

feather. When I called out warningly she at once flew to me.



"Then the boy called softly to his little sister.



"'Come quick,' he said, 'if you want to watch these birds build their

nest.'



"A little dark-eyed girl crept up beside the boy. We scarcely knew

what to do. Soon a bright idea occurred to me. I began to sing my

very best. I also performed my most wonderful tricks. I whirled round

and round. I darted between the rails. I spun about.



"The children became so interested in my performance that they forgot

to watch Mrs. Chickadee. When they were not looking her way, she flew

to the nest and arranged the feather.



"When she returned she took my place on the fence. Now my wife and I

look very much alike, and though she cannot perform quite as nimbly as

I, the children did not know when we changed places.



"While the children watched her I flew to the nest with my bit of moss.



"'What a pity!' said the little girl, as we flew away laughing to

ourselves. 'They stopped to play and they lost the bits of moss and

feathers with which they meant to make their nest!'



"'Chick-a-dee! Chick-a-dee! Chick-a-dee!' called back my wife

happily."



All this time Phyllis's eyes were growing rounder and bigger.



"Why," said she, "I never knew there was but one bird performing on the

fence. I thought the other flew away!"



"That was because Mrs. Chickadee and I look so much alike," replied Mr.

Chickadee.



"But we did find your nest a few days later," said Phyllis. "In it

were six small white eggs covered with tiny red specks. We went to

look at the nest every day until the eggs hatched. Then we went

several times a day until the baby birds learned to fly and left the

nest empty.



"But you did not disturb us," said the chickadee, "though we were

dreadfully frightened at first."



At that moment a great soft snowball went plump! against Phyllis's red

cap.



"Jack!" she cried, scrambling off the fence and running after the boy

with the scratch on his nose. "Jack, take me for a ride on your sled!"



Then she looked back. The chickadee now sat in the tree-top.



"Tell Mrs. Chickadee," called Phyllis, "that I shall spread some more

crumbs and seeds on the white table-cloth this afternoon. We'll hang

another bone in the cedar-tree, too!"



"Chick-a-dee-dee-dee!" cried the little bird in a flutter of delight.





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