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Teacher, the Ovenbird

I had never even heard about Ovenbirds before we read “The Burgess Bird Book for Children.” Burgess names the Oven Bird in his book Teacher because of the way it mimics his call, “Teacher, teacher, teacher, teacher, teacher!” And he explains why he is called the Ovenbird:

It is because of the way Mrs. Teacher and I build our nest. Some people think it is like an oven and so they call us Oven Birds. I think that is a silly name myself, quite as silly as Golden Crowned Thrush, which is what some people call me. I’m not a Thrush. I’m not even related to the Thrush family. I’m a Warbler, a Wood Warbler.”

Teacher in The Burgess Bird Book, Living Press Edition, p. 89-90

I believe that people may mistake North American Ovenbirds for Thrushes because of their coloring. Thrushes are usually rusty brown with black spots trailing down their white tummies. However, the Ovenbird’s size is much too small. They are closer the size of Sparrows or smaller, clearly in line with other Warblers. Let’s take a look at this Wood Warbler’s nest:

Nature of New England

I loved this find from Nature of New England because he also taught us a bit about the Ovenbird’s behavior, which we can use to identify them on the trails. He was on a hike in the woods and saw a little bird dart out from the forest floor in front of him, typical behavior for an Ovenbird.

The Cornell Lab also writes something helpful in identifying this bird in the woods, “The Ovenbird’s rapid-fire teacher-teacher-teacher song rings out in summer hardwood forests from the Mid-Atlantic states to northeastern British Columbia. It’s so loud that it may come as a surprise to find this inconspicuous warbler strutting like a tiny chicken across the dim forest floor. Its olive-brown back and spotted breast are excellent disguise as it gleans invertebrates from the leaf litter.” (Source: allaboutbirds.org)

It’s amazing to be a part of passing down this kind of knowledge to the next generation. We often think that we are all-knowing, but everything we know, especially about the natural world around us, is gleaned from the work of countless generations. Their curiosity and hunt for understanding is what we benefit from today, and that certainly is true of Thornton W. Burgess and his work!

Here is what we gleaned about Teacher the Ovenbird in our study:

Form 1, Grade 3 Student

Until next time, keep on birding! <3 Kate

The Burgess Bird Book Coloring & Writing Pages

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Sammy, the Blue Jay

We live in the midst of many trees and often hear the call “Jay Jay Jay.” I love that this is one call that everyone in my family can identify, from our 2 year old to my husband. You might have heard Sammy in the trees and not realized it before. Listen in on the call:

My Backyard Birding

Thornton W. Burgess actually gives Sammy Jay a big role in many of his books. This makes sense because they are prominent and well-known birds. They are very easily identified, however, you may not know that they are actually very intelligent.

Burgess writes about Sammy and Blacky the Crow in a chapter labeling them both robbers. But he picks up on the intelligence and even help Blue Jays can give to other birds.

There are no sharper eyes anywhere than those of Sammy Jay, and I’ll have to say this for him, that whenever he discovers any danger he always gives us warning. He has saved the lives of a good many of us feathered folks in this way. If it wasn’t for this habit of stealing our eggs I wouldn’t have a word to say against him, but at that, he isn’t as bad as Blacky the Crow….

Burgess speaking through the character of Jenny Wren p. 85, Living Books Press Edition

Even allaboutbird.org identifies that “Blue Jays are known to take and eat eggs and nestlings of other birds, (adding) but we don’t know how common this is. In an extensive study of Blue Jay feeding habits, only 1% of jays had evidence of eggs or birds in their stomachs. Most of their diet was composed of insects and nuts.” (source)

Here are the other things we gleaned from our resources about Sammy Jay:

Form 1, Grade 3 Student

Blue Jays are smaller than a crow, but surprisingly, they are still quite big. It’s amazing to see their sharp demeanors and strength as they go about their day around the spinney. Until the next time, keep on birding <3 Kate

Burgess Coloring Writing & Coloring Pages

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Blacky, the American Crow

“Caw, caw, caw” is a ringing call that many people would recognize by sound. Crows are large birds and very intelligent. Allaboutbirds mentions:

“Crows sometimes make and use tools. Examples include a captive crow using a cup to carry water over to a bowl of dry mash; shaping a piece of wood and then sticking it into a hole in a fence post in search of food; and breaking off pieces of pine cone to drop on tree climbers near a nest.”

The Intelligence of Crows- Hawaiian Crows “Alala”

Burgess captures a scene where a distressed Mr. and Mrs. Robin have come to their nest expecting to find their eggs, only to find the eggs have been broken and eaten by Blacky the Crow. Crows are omnivores and will eat almost anything. You may have been on a road trip in a secluded area and have seen them indulging in some carrion, which is the fancy term for roadkill. Did you know that they cannot break open the skin of an animal with their beak? They have to wait for another animal to break open the carcass and then they can eat some of it. Allaboutbirds adds that while you may see this sometimes, carrion is not a large part of a crow’s diet. Maybe you can find some information on other things they eat using your resources!

Here is another helpful thing because in the field it can be difficult to recognize whether you are seeing a Raven or an American Crow:

Carnegie Museum of Natural History

It is so interesting to learn a little bit more about birds, isn’t it?! Here is what we gathered from using Cornell Lab’s Allaboutbirds and our Burgess reading:

Form 1, Grade 3 Student

Until next time, keep birding! <3 Kate

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Forktail, the Barn Swallow

Barn Swallows are one of my favorite birds to watch as they fly over fields catching insects and really perform remarkable aerial acrobatics in the process. It always calming to watch and enjoy their flight for food.

Often, you will find Barn Swallows far away from any barns, which are a common place for them to build their homes, but not the only place! They will use many different kinds of human made structures to build their nests. We often see them nesting underneath the bridges of the forest preserves we visit. This is a very popular place for them because they like to dart over the water underneath to catch their meals.

The need for structure is an important one because of the way that Forktail builds his nest with mud and straw. This is an absolutely amazing video of how they build their nest step by step staring Forktail himself:

Isn’t that cool, what a feat of engineering and meticulous care!

I love the description that the Cornell Lab gives Barn Swallows:

Glistening cobalt blue above and tawny below… Look for the long, deeply forked tail that streams out behind this agile flyer and sets it apart from all other North American swallows.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barn_Swallow/

Here is what we learned about Forktail:

Form 1, Grade 3 Student

Have you seen a Barn Swallow before?

Until next time, keep birding! <3 Kate

Burgess Bird Coloring & Writing Pages

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Twitter the Purple Martin

As the largest of the Swallow family, Purple Martins are very social birds. Take it from Skimmer the Tree Swallow who explains to Johnny Chuck:

“I like a home by myself, such as I’ve got here, but Twitter loves company. He likes to live in an apartment house with a lot of his own kind. That is why he always looks for one of those houses with a lot of rooms in it, such as Farmer Brown’s boy has put up on the top of that tall pole out in his backyard. He pays for all the trouble Farmer Brown’s boy took to put that house up. If there is anybody who catches more flies and winged insects than Twitter, I don’t know who it is.” The Burgess Bird Book for Children

Here in the Chicagoland area, there is a really fun Cook County Forest Preserve called River Trail Nature Center in Northbrook, IL, which has colony housing that you can go and see. They also have an amazing bird exhibit inside and some larger birds of prey to see outside.

Allaboutbirds.org mentions that Native Americans hung up dried, empty gourds for Purple Martins to nest in long before European settlers arrived in North America. Isn’t that amazing? We also found out about The Purple Martin Conservation Association as we researched more about Twitter.

Here are all of the things we noted in our Burgess Writing section for Twitter:

Form 1, Grade 3 Student

Twitter is really a handsome bird when you look at his blue-black feathers and the sun catches him just right to become iridescent. And now we know how useful he is as well!

Until next time, keep birding <3 Kate

Burgess Bird Coloring & Writing Pages

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Sweetvoice, The Vesper Sparrow

Our final sparrow is Sweetvoice, the Vesper Sparrow. The name that Burgess gave this bird, Sweetvoice, and even Vesper have labeled this Sparrow perfectly and here’s why:

Vesper Sparrows sing a sweet tinkling song during the day and well into the evening hours—the twilight of vespers, prompting its name… a sweet series of musical slurs and trills.

Allaboutbirds.org

Listen to a part of their song:

Cornell Lab- Vesper Sparrow Singing

Here is what we found through our gathering search on Sweetvoice:

Sweetvoice: Vesper Sparrow

Size & Shape: Vesper Sparrows are fairly large sparrows.

Color Pattern: Brown overall with crisp streaks.

Diet: Insects

Behavior: Spends most of its time on the ground.

Something you didn’t know: The Vesper Sparrow responds quickly to changes in habitat.

I found it very encouraging that Vesper Sparrows are resilient and creative birds, “often the first bird species to occupy reclaimed mine sites and abandon old farm fields as they revert to forest.” (allaboutbirds.org) With so much habitat destruction made by humans, it is a wonder that birds can reclaim what was once lost and make a home in places where reforestation can occur. While these little birds spend most of their time on the ground, they are one of the easier sparrows to identify with their song, the time of day they love to sing (twilight), and the fact that when they sing they like to perch high above the grass to let their song be heard.

Sweetvoice, Form 1 Student, Grade 3

Until next time, keep singing with Sweetvoice and birding! <3 Kate

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Sooty, the Chimney Swift

So, the big question is…. Is a Chimney Swift a swallow? Even Peter thinks that Sooty, the Chimney Swift, is a swallow, but he isn’t! Burgess lets Jenny Wren answers our question, “He hasn’t any one nearer than some sort of second cousins, Boomer the Nighthawk, Whippoorwill, and Hummer the Hummingbird” (Burgess Bird Book, Living Press Edition, p.75). Wow, that’s really interesting!


Cornell Lab’s Allaboutbirds calls the Chimney Swift “a bird best identified by silohette.” With a short body and tail and curved wings, the Chimney Swift flies high above gliding it’s way through the air.

Form 1, Grade 3 Student

Chimney Swifts use small sticks and saliva to build their nests onto the side of chimneys or in hollow trees. They gather the sticks for their nest while in flight, bathe in flight, and rarely rest. Most birds will perch on a tree branch, the chimney swift uses his tail feathers to hold onto the side of a chimney or tree in order to rest.

Let’s hear a little more about Chimney Swifts from this awesome video from Birds Canada:

I love finding and sharing such wonderful birding resources. Until next time, keep birding! <3 Kate

For our Burgess Bird Coloring & Writing Pages, check here!

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Skimmer, the Tree Swallow

Skimmer is our next Burgess Bird in detail and he is a beautiful iridescent bird with blueish-green on his back and white on his stomach. We know exactly where to venture in order to see Tree Swallows. We go to the Deer Grove Preserve in our community where there are some open swampy areas. We don’t even have to walk down to the water in order to see the tree swallows darting through the sky to catch their insect feasts. The dead trees there stand so high that we can see them from the footpath. It’s the perfect spot to see one of their key behaviors: aerial foraging. It’s also a wonderful place for them to nest in the cavities of the trees. Food + Housing = Perfect Tree Swallow Habitat

Deer Grove Forest Preserve, a Tree Swallow hotspot!

Thornton W. Burgess describes Peter’s adoration of Skimmer,

”Johnny and Skimmer were the best of friends. Johnny used to delight in watching Skimmer dart out from beneath the branches of the trees and wheel and turn and glide, now sometimes high in the blue, blue sky, and again just skimming the tops of the grass, on wings which seemed never to tire. But he liked still better the bits of gossip when Skimmer would sit in his doorway and chat about his neighbors of the Old Orchard and his adventures out in the Great World during his long journeys to and from the far-away South.”

The Burgess Bird Book for Children, Thornton W. Burgess, Living Press edition, p. 72

If you have seen Tree Swallows in the field, you would understand why Burgess named this bird “Skimmer.” Peter’s description of his flying is spot on.

Form 1, Grade 3 Student

Stay cool this summer and more importantly, keep birding! <3 Kate

Find the full collection of The Burgess Coloring & Writing Pages here, complete with a list of the birds’ names and speicies!

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Carol, the Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlarks are very common in the prairie grasslands around where I live. Have I seen one? No, not yet, but it is my goal to see one out in the field. How often do you go to a particular ecosystem in order to see a particular bird? Most often, I don’t organize our outings that way. But as we continue to bird watch and log, it would be a good idea to research where the birds we want to see are, what time of day and what season are the best times to see them, and before going, study up on their identification markers.

Even though the Meadowlark has lark in its name, it’s a Blackbird, just like Cowbirds and Orioles. They love to eat insects and are ground foragers.

Grade 3, Form 1 Student (image taken from his Burgess Birds Coloring & Writing Page)

One really interesting thing is that there are Eastern and Western Meadowlarks found in North America and they are almost identical (allaboutbirds.org). If you watch the video below, you’ll see that the males have a black collar on their chest and this really helps to identify them in the field. They have a beautiful song:

#MyBackyardBIrding on Youtube

Until next time, keep birding! <3 Kate

Find my Burgess Bird Coloring Pages here.

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Algerian Doubara and Mesfouf

Next on our journey through Amazing Africa, we are stopping in Algeria. Algeria is the largest country in Africa with a culture influenced largely by bordering the Mediterranean Sea and being close to Europe and the Middle East. I would love to walk through an Algerian spice souk. It is a delight to all of the senses to walk through the mounds of spices and see their beautiful colors. You will see how a grocery store spice section really pales in comparison if you ever visit one!

I decided to make two dishes for our family to try. I knew that the Doubara might be a little spicy for our four kids and wanted to give them a chance to try something just in case it was. I found a yummy sweet couscous to try after dinner.

Algerian Doubara

While looking for a dish to try, I found this Doubara from Keesha’s Kitchen. It is a vegan soup, full of beautiful spices. She goes into some good details about its origin that are fun to read with your family. I omitted the extra chili peppers because I didn’t have any and it probably created a better spice level for us. You can consider doing the same if you are scared of building too much spice in your dish or you can try it the way that it is.

The recipe calls for dried chickpeas and fava beans. You can usually find these ready-to-go in the can, but dried is a more budget friendly option. Make sure to follow the directions on the back of your dried items the night before because they usually require an overnight soak. If you find yourself in a pinch, there is often a “Quick Soak” method, but beware that it still takes a few hours. Things like fava beans and harissa can be found in the World Cuisine section of your grocery store around the Middle Eastern section. If you are traveling through Amazing Africa with us, there are few more countries that will use the Harissa paste and saffron.

On the fourth step in the recipe it says “Add the tomatoes and chickpeas” and I believe it is meant to say fava beans in place of tomatoes.

It’s quite easy to make this Doubara as you can see:

Couscous is a great addition to your meal and kids love it! We also ate ours with some pita bread found at our local grocery store and some chicken nuggets on the side for our very small eaters.

Mesfouf

After we ate our Doubara we made some Mesfouf, an Algerian sweet couscous. I found the recipe over at Miam Miam & Yum. As I read through her post I learned that there is a method of preparing couscous with a couscoussiere. If you do not have one of those, you can prepare the couscous according to your package instructions like I did and this will actually take you up to the 6th step in the recipe. Those unfamiliar with steaming raisins can boil some water and then pour it over your raisins in a bowl, letting them sit for a few minutes until they are nice a juicy, as she mentions in the recipe’s introduction.

Mesfouf

I would love to see the detail that is put into this dish. As I was dressing our Mesfouf to serve, I wondered how Algerians make it. If it is something like oatmeal that members in the family dress differently depending on their tastes. We all have things that vary according to taste in our family!

Lastly, before eating our meal we prayed for the country of Algeria and it was a sweet time for us as a family and something that I recommend to those traveling through Amazing Africa with us.

Until the next meal, keep cooking in Cast Iron and don’t be afraid to try some new spice! <3 Kate

For something to season and maintain your cast iron, check out our Kitchen Tallow.