Monday, 23 August 2010

The Legend of the Crossbill


From the Little Folks Illustrated Annual, 1899. Digitized by Doug Frizzle Aug 2010.

THE cold north wind whistled through the vines of the veranda and scattered the dried blue honeysuckle berries on the ground. Eric stood by the window watching the falling snow. "Oh, papa," he cried suddenly, "come see these birds!"
Eric's father laid down his book and went to the window. In the vines, and hopping about on the snow-covered ground, were a number of birds eating the berries and chattering to one another in low tones. Some of these birds were dull olive and yellow; others were dressed in brilliant red, their bright feathers showing like blood against the soft white snow.
"These are Crossbills, Eric," said he, "and if you look at them you will see why they have such a queer name."
Presently one of the pretty creatures came close and Eric called, "Oh, I see now—the bird's bill is all twisted."
Eric's father laughed. "It is not twisted," he said, "but the ends are bent past each other."
"Well," said Eric, "why are they like that, instead of straight?"
Eric's father drew a chair to the window and took his little boy on his knee. "Crossbills," he said, "live in the far north— they only visit here in winter. They feed on pine and fir seeds and use their scissor-like bills to chip off the scales of cones so as to reach the seeds beneath. When pine-cones are scarce, they come to the shrubbery near houses to feed on the berries. In their forest-home there are few people, and they are never harmed, so they are always tame and fearless of man.
"And there is a very pretty little legend, Eric, that tells how the Crossbills first came by their queer beaks and red feathers.
When Christ was taken out to be crucified all the birds and animals were grieved, but only one, a plain little brown bird, tried to help Him. This little bird stayed near the Cross, and when the cruel nails were driven through the Saviour's hands he fluttered down and tugged and pulled to draw them out. But though he struggled until his little bill was bent out of shape, and his feathers dyed with the Lord's blood, he failed to start the nails. But Christ saw his efforts and smiled and thanked him. And ever since, says the legend, the bird's feathers have been red and its bill crossed.
A. Hyatt Verrill.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.