Three wrens influenced by a hummingbird learn from their parents we have the same needs.
Three Wrens on the Rail
by Brian Kies
One hot summer morning, three wrens searched for breakfast between apartment buildings. Hopping along at a dizzying pace, they scoured the ground for beetles, caterpillars — even spiders — but with no luck. From the sidewalk's edge, across the yellow grass, to the soft black dirt beneath the hedges, their hunger-driven pace drove another need: thirst!
Grumpkin, the oldest and usually grumpy, stopped hopping. "I'm burnin' up," he complained, flapping his feathers. "Let's go to the rail."
"I agree," said his sister, Plumpkin, the plumpest of three.
Bumpkin, who had a bump on his beak, always went along with his older siblings.
So they flew up to the stairwell's third-story rail. The three wrens had discovered the strongest breezes there, but they only helped in the mornings. By noon, the winds were warm as the day and did them no good. One by one, they touched down on the black iron rail. Besides being grumpy, plump, or having a bump on the beak, the wrens looked the same: head and body appearing as one; that is, no neck to speak of; dark, roundish eyes; a pale yellow breast under cinnamon brown wings; and a long tail that often pointed up.
"Why'd you land so close," Grumpkin complained to his sister.
"I can't help being plump!"
Bumpkin looked at his bump and ignored the argument.
As usual, steady breezes funneled through the open corridor and soothed their hot, ruffled feathers. Grumpkin became a little less grumpy.
The third-story rail also provided an excellent view of Mrs. Anz's birdbath. It stood near the hedge along her porch in the shade of a light pink myrtle tree. Mrs. Anz, a kind elderly woman, loved watching the birds and listening to their rolling songs throughout the day. Over the summer, she poured cold water into the gray stone bowl each morning. “How'd you like to quench your thirst with warm water?” she would ask the neighbors.
The vantage point was important to the wrens; they preferred to drink and bathe alone. If the birdbath was unoccupied, they dove down and after little feet met cool water — wings splashed, bills dipped, heads flung back, and life returned. When it was occupied, they waited. Unless the wrens were too thirsty, then they flew down straightaway. Grumpkin looked below and saw Danny the Dove flicking water into the air. “Looks like we're waiting.” Danny was the lone exception to the flying down straightaway. The wrens never went to the birdbath when he was there. All the other birds enjoyed their company, but not the Dove. He was bossy and selfish and sometimes pecked at their wings. And he was by far the biggest bird in the neighborhood!
While biding their time on the rail, animated in conversation, a baby bluebird landed next to Grumpkin. The three wrens froze. A bluebird on their rail? Maybe an occasional sparrow, but never a bluebird.
Grumpkin whispered to Plumpkin, "The nerve of him, who does he think he is resting on our rail?"
"He's an inch from you Grumpkin and he's blue!" said his sister.
Then something unusual happened. The baby bird turned and said, "Good morning, my name is Bluekin. What are your names?"
The wrens inched away and flew off to find their parents.
Henry the Hummingbird was mostly responsible for instilling in Grumpkin, Plumpkin, and Bumpkin this attitude toward bluebirds. Despite his diminutive size, Henry carried a lot of weight in the neighborhood. No other bird could fly backwards or speak with you while flying stationary, and this positioned him high in the pecking order. And Henry's opinion of bluebirds: no place at all in the pecking order. No one was sure how he came to this conclusion, but most suspected his parents to be involved. He could not have learned it from the wrens' parents. Momkin and Popkin had taught their children to treat everyone with respect. The parents, however, were not aware of Henry's influence over them. They were about to find out.
Momkin and Popkin still spent time in the large oak where the children were born. In fact, the three wrens found them resting above the woodpecker hole that housed their nest. Seeing that her babies feathers had been ruffled, the mother asked, "What's wrong, children?"
"We were resting on our rail and a bluebird landed next to me," said Grumpkin.
"Our rail?" questioned Momkin.
“You know, the third-story rail where the breezes are so strong,” said Plumpkin.
“Well, I suppose this bird needed to cool down, too.”
"Did you not hear?" said Bumpkin, "the bird is blue!"
She gave Bumpkin a puzzled look and asked, "So what did this bluebird do?"
"He asked for our names," said Plumpkin.
"And did you tell him your names?"
The children said nothing. Hearing their silence, Popkin had heard enough. "Who made you think there is something wrong with being blue?" he asked.
"Henry, for one," said Bumpkin.
"Henry, the Hummingbird?" asked the father.
"Yes," said Bumpkin. “He says they have no place at all in the pecking order.”
“No place at all in the pecking order?" said Popkin. He looked troubled and wondered why the children would listen to Henry instead of their parents. "You know, he flies backwards," the father added.
After a short pause he asked Grumpkin, "How many wings does this bluebird have?"
"I see. And how many wings do you have?"
"Interesting. And how many beaks does this bluebird have?"
"I see. And how many beaks do you have?"
"Popkin, you know I have only one beak."
The children flew away shaking their heads, not understanding their parents. When they returned to the rail, the intruder was gone. Plumpkin somehow turned plumper before stating, "I guess we taught him a lesson." But when they looked below, their eyes opened wide as overcoat buttons. There, in the birdbath, Bluekin splashed his wings, dipped his bill, and flung his head back. Grumpkin fluttered his wings in anger. He could not believe what he thought to do next. "I'll be back in a while," he said, flying away.
Searching the trees left and right, Grumpkin wondered how he could possibly ask him for help. A minute later, he landed in a willow tree next to Danny.
"What do you want?" the Dove asked gruffly.
"A favor," replied Grumpkin.
"What sort of favor?"
"A bluebird turned up in the neighborhood. Not only did he land on our rail, he's now in our birdbath. Would you teach him a lesson?"
Danny did not share the same sentiments as Henry, but he enjoyed being a bully to anyone. Squinting his eyes to look across the grounds, he could barely make out the little bird. "Love to," he answered.
Grumpkin added, "Do not hurt him — just make sure he understands he is not welcome in the neighborhood."
As Danny flew away, Grumpkin pictured the big bird pecking at Bluekin until the bluebird departed, never to return. Instead, the Dove increased his speed, took dead aim for the unsuspecting creature, and rammed straight into him. Bluekin hurtled through the air in circles until he slammed hard into the ground. Grumpkin flew over and landed near the injured bird. Laying on his side, a trace of blood on his blue breast, his eyes were opened wide and frozen in confusion. “This was not supposed to happen,” Grumpkin whispered, but Bluekin looked as if he could not see or hear. He could do both. Grumpkin flew up to the rail.
While he explained to his brother and sister what happened, Bumpkin looked below and said, "You've got a bigger problem than that!" Grumpkin's heart began to race. Crouched low to the ground, no more than twenty feet from the injured bird, was the old gray cat, Lee. They watched Lee slink across the grass, stop, and wait like a miniature sphinx. He repeated these movements until he was ten feet away, and Grumpkin's heart raced even faster. Grumpkin wanted to do something, but he knew they were no match for the cunning gray cat. The wrens had watched him bolt from under the hedge and leap up to the birdbath to capture alert, healthy birds; an injured one on the ground was a piece of cake. When Lee got to within five feet of Bluekin, Grumpkin closed his eyes; he could no longer bear to watch the helpless bluebird. Unfortunately, Bluekin's eyes pointed toward the cat and so he witnessed each slinky move toward him. Suddenly, Lee leapt through the air — a ferocious jump of four feet — and, after landing beside Bluekin, scampered off. Mrs. Anz stooped to the ground, carefully cupped Bluekin's warm little body into her hands, and carried him inside.
"Open your eyes," Plumpkin said to her older brother. "Mrs. Anz came to the rescue."
Grumpkin sighed. After steadying himself he said, "That bluebird does not belong on our rail, nor in our birdbath, but I certainly did not want the cat to kill him."
The three wrens returned to their parents and explained what had happened. Grumpkin, in particular, expressed disappointment. He only wanted Danny to scare off Bluekin — not to injure him. Raising his voice Popkin said, "Enough is enough!" He continued in a calmer voice, "You say you feel disappointed, Grumpkin.”
“Where do you feel disappointed?"
"In my heart."
"And how many hearts do you have?"
"I see. And how many hearts does the bluebird have?"
"Interesting. How many minds does the bluebird have?"
"One," replied Grumpkin.
"I see. And how many minds do you have?"
"Popkin, you know I have only one mind."
"Then start using it before it's too late! Is it that hard to see we are all more or less the same. Do you understand?”
"Good," said the father.
The mother asked Plumpkin and Bumpkin if they understood as well.
"Yes, Momkin," they answered.
As the days passed, the wrens watched from the rail to see if Bluekin had recovered. One morning Mrs. Anz came out on her porch, but only read the paper and drank her coffee. That afternoon she walked out again, but only fed her dog. Grumpkin began to worry that maybe Bluekin had not survived, that Mrs. Anz buried him in the woods behind the apartments. He recalled seeing her out there on the day of the incident. He could only hope she had been enjoying a walk.
One evening, Henry buzzed by. Flying in front of them, he asked, “What do you care if that bluebird survives or not?”
“Go away, Henry,” said Grumpkin, “and don't come around here no more!”
Henry flew away as if stung by a hornet. He realized his influence over them had been forever altered.
More days passed with the wrens watching from the rail. One morning Mrs. Anz came out with her hands cupped together, and Grumpkin's heart skipped a beat. When she scattered birdseed across the ground, his face turned sad. It was the only time Grumpkin felt sad about birdseed on the ground. That next afternoon she walked out with her hands cupped together again. This time when she opened them, the baby bluebird flew up and landed on the rail.
"Well?" said Bluekin.
"We're sorry you were injured," said Plumpkin.
"We did not intend for that to happen," added Bumpkin.
Then Grumpkin said, "And we are sorry if we hurt your feelings."
But Bluekin repeated, "Well?"
“What do you mean, well?” asked Grumpkin.
"Well, what are your names?" and the four birds laughed together.
The muggy, overcast day made everyone thirsty. One by one, the three wrens and the bluebird landed in the birdbath. They did not have to worry about Danny; he had not been seen since the day of the injury. A small opening formed in the clouds and as a single ray of light shone upon them, the birds quenched their thirst.