Old Clothes and Old Houses – Chapter 8

Eastern Wood Pewee (Contopus virens) by Raymond Barlow

Eastern Wood Pewee (Contopus virens) by Raymond Barlow

Old Clothes and Old Houses

The Wood Peewee and Some Nesting Places.

The Burgess Bird Book For Children


CHAPTER 8. Old Clothes and Old Houses.

Listen to the story read.

“I can’t stop to talk to you any longer now, Peter Rabbit,” said Jenny Wren, “but if you will come over here bright and early to-morrow morning, while I am out to get my breakfast, I will tell you about Cresty the Flycatcher and why he wants the cast-off clothes of some of the Snake family. Perhaps I should say WHAT he wants of them instead of WHY he wants them, for why any one should want anything to do with Snakes is more then I can understand.”

With this Jenny Wren disappeared inside her house, and there was nothing for Peter to do but once more start for the dear Old Briar-patch. On his way he couldn’t resist the temptation to run over to the Green Forest, which was just beyond the Old Orchard. He just HAD to find out if there was anything new over there. Hardly had he reached it when he heard a plaintive voice crying, “Pee-wee! Pee-wee! Pee-wee!” Peter chuckled happily. “I declare, there’s Pee-wee,” he cried. “He usually is one of the last of the Flycatcher family to arrive. I didn’t expect to find him yet. I wonder what has brought him up so early.”

It didn’t take Peter long to find Pewee. He just followed the sound of that voice and presently saw Pewee fly out and make the same kind of a little circle as the other members of the family make when they are hunting flies. It ended just where it had started, on a dead twig of a tree in a shady, rather lonely part of the Green Forest. Almost at once he began to call his name in a rather sad, plaintive tone, “Pee-wee! Pee-wee! Pee-wee!” But he wasn’t sad, as Peter well knew. It was his way of expressing how happy he felt. He was a little bigger than his cousin, Chebec, but looked very much like him. There was a little notch in the end of his tail. The upper half of his bill was black, but the lower half was light. Peter could see on each wing two whitish bars, and he noticed that Pewee’s wings were longer than his tail, which wasn’t the case with Chebec. But no one could ever mistake Pewee for any of his relatives, for the simple reason that he keeps repeating his own name over and over.

Wood Pewee of Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

“Aren’t you here early?” asked Peter.

Pewee nodded. “Yes,” said he. “It has been unusually warm this spring, so I hurried a little and came up with my cousins, Scrapper and Cresty. That is something I don’t often do.”

“If you please,” Peter inquired politely, “why do folks call you Wood Pewee?”

Pewee chuckled happily. “It must be,” said he, “because I am so very fond of the Green Forest. It is so quiet and restful that I love it. Mrs. Pewee and I are very retiring. We do not like too many near neighbors.”

“You won’t mind if I come to see you once in a while, will you?” asked Peter as he prepared to start on again for the dear Old Briar-patch.

“Come as often as you like,” replied Pewee. “The oftener the better.”

Back in the Old Briar-patch Peter thought over all he had learned about the Flycatcher family, and as he recalled how they were forever catching all sorts of flying insects it suddenly struck him that they must be very useful little people in helping Old Mother Nature take care of her trees and other growing things which insects so dearly love to destroy.

But most of all Peter thought about that odd request of Cresty’s, and a dozen times that day he found himself peeping under old logs in the hope of finding a cast-off coat of Mr. Black Snake. It was such a funny thing for Cresty to ask for that Peter’s curiosity would allow him no peace, and the next morning he was up in the Old Orchard before jolly Mr. Sun had kicked his bedclothes off.

Jenny Wren was as good as her word. While she flitted and hopped about this way and that way in that fussy way of hers, getting her breakfast, she talked. Jenny couldn’t keep her tongue still if she wanted to.

“Did you find any old clothes of the Snake family?” she demanded. Then as Peter shook his head her tongue ran on without waiting for him to reply. “Cresty and his wife always insist upon having a piece of Snake skin in their nest,” said she. “Why they want it, goodness knows! But they do want it and never can seem to settle down to housekeeping unless they have it. Perhaps they think it will scare robbers away. As for me, I should have a cold chill every time I got into my nest if I had to sit on anything like that. I have to admit that Cresty and his wife are a handsome couple, and they certainly have good sense in choosing a house, more sense than any other member of their family to my way of thinking. But Snake skins! Ugh!”

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) by Raymond Barlow

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) by Raymond Barlow

“By the way, where does Cresty build?” asked Peter.

In a hole in a tree, like the rest of us sensible people,” retorted Jenny Wren promptly.

Peter looked quite as surprised as he felt. “Does Cresty make the hole?” he asked.

“Goodness gracious, no!” exclaimed Jenny Wren. “Where are your eyes, Peter? Did you ever see a Flycatcher with a bill that looked as if it could cut wood?” She didn’t wait for a reply, but rattled on. “It is a good thing for a lot of us that the Woodpecker family are so fond of new houses. Look! There is Downy the Woodpecker hard at work on a new house this very minute. That’s good. I like to see that. It means that next year there will be one more house for some one here in the Old Orchard. For myself I prefer old houses. I’ve noticed there are a number of my neighbors who feel the same way about it. There is something settled about an old house. It doesn’t attract attention the way a new one does. So long as it has got reasonably good walls, and the rain and the wind can’t get in, the older it is the better it suits me. But the Woodpeckers seem to like new houses best, which, as I said before, is a very good thing for the rest of us.”

Who is there besides you and Cresty and Bully the English Sparrow who uses these old Woodpecker houses?” asked Peter.

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) by J Fenton

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) by J Fenton

“Winsome Bluebird, stupid!” snapped Jenny Wren.

Peter grinned and looked foolish. “Of course,” said he. “I forgot all about Winsome.”

“And Skimmer the Tree Swallow,” added Jenny.

“That’s so; I ought to have remembered him,” exclaimed Peter. “I’ve noticed that he is very fond of the same house year after year. Is there anybody else?”

Again Jenny Wren nodded. “Yank-Yank the Nuthatch uses an old house, I’m told, but he usually goes up North for his nesting,” said she. “Tommy Tit the Chickadee sometimes uses an old house. Then again he and Mrs. Chickadee get fussy and make a house for themselves. Yellow Wing the flicker, who really is a Woodpecker, often uses an old house, but quite often makes a new one. Then there are Killy the Sparrow Hawk and Spooky the Screech Owl.”

Peter looked surprised. “I didn’t suppose THEY nested in holes in trees!” he exclaimed.

“They certainly do, more’s the pity!” snapped Jenny. “It would be a good thing for the rest of us if they didn’t nest at all. But they do, and an old house of Yellow Wing the Flicker suits either of them. Killy always uses one that is high up, and comes back to it year after year. Spooky isn’t particular so long as the house is big enough to be comfortable. He lives in it more or less the year around. Now I must get back to those eggs of mine. I’ve talked quite enough for one morning.”

“Oh, Jenny,” cried Peter, as a sudden thought struck him.

House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) by Ray

House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) by Ray

Jenny paused and jerked her tail impatiently. “Well, what is it now?” she demanded.

“Have you got two homes?” asked Peter.

“Goodness gracious, no!” exclaimed Jenny. “What do you suppose I want of two homes? One is all I can take care of.”

“Then why,” demanded Peter triumphantly, “does Mr. Wren work all day carrying sticks and straws into a hole in another tree? It seems to me that he has carried enough in there to build two or three nests.”

Jenny Wren’s eyes twinkled, and she laughed softly. “Mr. Wren just has to be busy about something, bless his heart,” said she. “He hasn’t a lazy feather on him. He’s building that nest to take up his time and keep out of mischief. Besides, if he fills that hollow up nobody else will take it, and you know we might want to move some time. Good-by, Peter.” With a final jerk of her tail Jenny Wren flew to the little round doorway of her house and popped inside.

Lee’s Addition:

“But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you; And the birds of the air, and they will tell you; (Job 12:7 NKJV)



  • What is Peter Rabbit still trying to find?
  • Has he found out why it is need for yet?
  • Who is our newest arrival?
  • Is he on time or early?
  • What does Pewee’s bill look like?
  • Is tail longer or shorter than his wings?
  • Can you find and name the birds listed that use tree holes?
  • Were the birds friendly and kind in this chapter?

A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24 NKJV)

“But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you; And the birds of the air, and they will tell you; (Job 12:7 NKJV)




Longbill the Woodcock - Burgess Bird Book ©©Thum


  Next Chapter (Longbill and Teeter.)








 ABC’s of the Gospel


Vol. 2, No. 4 – The Wood Pewee

Wood Pewee of Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Wood Pewee of Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Eastern Pewee’s Twilight Song (Though this bird sings throughout the day, listen for its ballads before dawn’s light and well after sunset when this activity peaks. WhatBird) by Todd Wilson – xeno-canto

From col. Chi. Acad. Sciences. Copyrighted by
Nature Study Pub. Co., 1897, Chicago.


The listening Dryads hushed the woods;
The boughs were thick, and thin and few
The golden ribbons fluttering through;
Their sun-embroidered leafy hoods
The lindens lifted to the blue;
Only a little forest-brook
The farthest hem of silence shook;
When in the hollow shades I heard—
Was it a spirit or a bird?
Or, strayed from Eden, desolate,
Some Peri calling to her mate,
Whom nevermore her mate would cheer?
“Pe-ri! Pe-ri! Peer!”

To trace it in its green retreat
I sought among the boughs in vain;
And followed still the wandering strain
So melancholy and so sweet,
The dim-eyed violets yearned with pain.

Long drawn and clear its closes were—
As if the hand of Music through
The sombre robe of Silence drew
A thread of golden gossamer;
So pure a flute the fairy blue.
Like beggared princes of the wood,
In silver rags the birches stood;
The hemlocks, lordly counselors,
Were dumb; the sturdy servitors,
In beechen jackets patched and gray,
Seemed waiting spellbound all the day
That low, entrancing note to hear—
“Pe-wee! Pe-wee! Peer!”

“Dear bird,” I said, “what is thy name?”
And thrice the mournful answer came,
So faint and far, and yet so near,
“Pe-wee! Pe-wee! Peer!”
—J. T. Trowbridge.

Eastern Wood Pewee (Contopus virens) by Raymond Barlow

Eastern Wood Pewee (Contopus virens) by Raymond Barlow


I am called the Wood Pewee, but I don’t always stay in the woods. If you have an orchard or a nice garden, you will hear me singing there in June.

People think I am not a happy bird, because my song seems so sad. They are very much mistaken. I am just as happy as any other little fellow dressed in feathers, and can flirt and flutter with the best of them.

Pewee! Pewee! Peer!

That is my song, and my mate thinks it is beautiful. She is never far away, and always comes at my call.

Always, did I say?

No; one day, when we were busy building our nest—which is very pretty, almost as dainty as that of our neighbor the Humming Bird—she flew away to quite a distance to find some soft lining-stuff on which to lay her eggs. I had been fetching and carrying all day the lichens to put round the nest, which was hidden among the thick leaves on the bough of a tree, and was resting by the side of it.

Pewee! Pewee! Peer!

“She will hear that,” thought I, and again I sang it as loud as I could.

“I’ll bring that fellow down, too,” said a boy, who surely had never heard anything about our happy, innocent lives, and as I peered down at him, he flung a large stone, which struck the bough on which I sat. Oh, how frightened I was, and how quickly I flew away!

“He has killed my little mate,” I thought. Still, I called in my plaintive way, Pewee! Pewee! Peer!

A faint, low cry led me to the foot of a large tree, and there on the ground lay my mate, struggling to rise and fly to me.

“I think my wing is broken,” she sobbed. “Oh, that wicked, wicked boy!”

I petted her with my broad, flat beak, and after a while she was able to fly with me to our nest; but it was days and days before she was out of pain. I am sure if that boy sees my story in Birds, he will never give such an innocentlittle creature misery again.

I dress plainly, in a coat of olive and brown, and they do say my manners are stiff and abrupt.

But my voice is very sweet, and there is something about it which makes people say: “Dear little bird, sad little bird! what may your name be?”

Then I answer:

Pewee! Pewee! Peer!


LTHOUGH one of the most abundant species, common all over the United States, the retiring habits, plainness of dress, and quiet manners of this little bird have caused it to be comparatively little known. Dr. Brewer says that if noticed at all, it is generally confounded with the common Pewee, or Phoebe bird, though a little observation is sufficient to show how very distinct they are. The Wood Pewee will sit almost motionless for many minutes in an erect position, on some dead twig or other prominent perch, patiently watching for its insect prey. While its position is apparently so fixed, however, its eyes are constantly on the alert, and close watching will show that the bird now and then turns its head as its glance follows the course of some distant insect, while anon the feathers of the crown are raised, so as to form a sort of blunt pyramidal crest. This sentinel-like attitude of the Wood Pewee is in marked contrast to the restless motion of the Phoebe, who, even if perched, keeps its tail constantly in motion, while the bird itself seldom remains long in a fixed position. The notes of the two species (see August Birds) are as different as their habits, those of the Wood Pewee being peculiarly plaintive—a sort of wailing pe-e-e-e-i, wee, the first syllable emphasized and long drawn out, and the tone, a clear, plaintive, wiry whistle, strikingly different from the cheerful, emphatic notes of the true Pewee.

The Wood Pewee, like all of its family, is an expert catcher of insects, even the most minute, and has a remarkably quick perception of their near presence, even when the light of day has nearly gone and in the deep gloom of the thick woods. Dr. Brewer describes it as taking its station at the end of a low dead limb, from which it darts out in quest of insects, sometimes for a single individual, which it seizes with a sharp snap of its bill; and, frequently meeting insect after insect, it keeps up a constant snapping sound as it passes on, and finally returns to its post to resume its watch. While watching it occasionally twitters, with a quivering movement of the head and tail, uttering a feeble call-note, sounding like pee-e.

The nest of the Wood Pewee, which is always “saddled” and securely attached to a rather stout branch, usually lichen-covered, is said to be one of the most elegant examples of bird architecture. From beneath it so much resembles a natural portion of the limb, but for its betrayal by the owner, it would seldom be discovered. It is saucer-shaped, with thick walls, and the whole exterior is a beautiful “mosaic” of green, gray, and glaucous lichen. The eggs are a rich delicate cream color, ornamented by a “wreath” round the larger end of madder-brown, purple, and lilac spots.

The Wood Pewee has many admirers, a more interesting creature to watch while feeding being hard to imagine. Often you will find him in the parks. Sitting in some quiet, shady spot, if you wait, he will soon show himself as he darts from the fence post not far away, to return to it time after time with, possibly, the very insect that has been buzzing about your face and made you miserable. His movements are so quick that even the fly cannot elude him.

And to some he is pleasant as a companion. One who loves birds once saw this Flycatcher flying in a circle and repeating breathlessly his emphatic chebec. “He sang on the wing, and I have never heard notes which seemed more expressive of happiness.”


WOOD PEWEE.Contopus Virens.

Range—Eastern North America; breeds from Florida to Newfoundland; winters in Central America.

Nest—Compact and symmetrical, of fine grasses, rootlets and moss, thickly covered with lichens, saddled on a limb, twenty to forty feet up.

Eggs—Three or four, white, with a wreath of distinct and obscure markings about the larger end.

Western Wood Pewee (Contopus sordidulus) by Michael Woodruff

Western Wood Pewee (Contopus sordidulus) by Michael Woodruff

Western Wood Pewee by Scott Olmstead – xeno-canto

Lee’s Addition:

He who heeds the word wisely will find good, And whoever trusts in the LORD, happy is he. (Proverbs 16:20 NKJV)

Both the Eastern and Western Wood Pewee belong to the Tyrannidae – Tyrant Flycatchers Family. There are only 2 Wood Pewees and 12 Pewees in the family. If you click through their photos, you will see that they are just plain little birds, but mighty important to the Lord. Whether a Pewee or a Sparrow:

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. (Matthew 10:29 NKJV)

The Eastern Wood Pewee (Contopus virens) is a small tyrant flycatcher from North America. This bird and the Western Wood Pewee (C. sordidulus) were formerly considered to be a single species. The two species are virtually identical in appearance, and can be distinguished most easily by their calls.

The Western Wood Pewee (Contopus sordidulus) is a small tyrant flycatcher. Adults are gray-olive on the upperparts with light underparts, washed with olive on the breast. They have two wing bars and a dark bill with yellow at the base of the lower mandible. This bird is very similar in appearance to the Eastern Wood Pewee; the two birds were formerly considered to be one species. The call of C. sordidulus is a loud buzzy peeer; the song consists of three rapid descending tsees ending with a descending peeer. (Wikipedia with editing)

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

The above article is an article in the monthly serial for October 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

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Wordless Birds