The Story Of Birds Of A Feather

: The Sa'-zada Tales

When Sa'-zada the Keeper had gathered all his comrades in front of

Chita's cage for the evening of the Bird talk, Magh clambered up on her

usual perch, Hathi's head, expostulating against the folly of throwing

the meeting open to such gabblers.

"Never mind," remarked Black Panther, "it's the great talkers that are

thought most of here, I see. We, who have accomplished much, having

earned an honest living,
but are not over ready with the tongue, amount

to but little."

"Scree-he-ah-h!" cried Cockatoo. "By my crest! I am surely the oldest

one here; shall I begin, O Sa'-zada?"

"Cockatoo was born in Australia," declared Sa'-zada; "at least The Book

says so, but the record of his age only goes back a matter of forty


"Just so," concurred the Cockatoo, "and from there I went to India on a

ship; and for downright evil words there is no Jungle to compare with

a ship. Why, damn it--excuse me, friends, even the memory of my voyage

causes me to swear.

"My master, who was Captain of the ship, gave me to one of the

Women-kind in Calcutta--'Mem-Sahib' the others called her. There I had

just the loveliest life any poor exiled Cockatoo could wish for; it

makes me swear--weep, I mean--when I think of the sweet Eatings she had

for me. Not but that Sa'-zada is kind, only no one but a Woman knows

how to look after a Cockatoo. At tiffin I was always allowed to come on

the table, and the Mem-Sahib would take the cream from the top of the

milk and give it to me. The Sahib threw pieces of bread at my head,

which is like a Man's way, having no regard for the dignity of a


"One day, being frightened because of something, I fluttered to the top

of his head, which was all bare of feathers, and verily I believe the

Man-fear, of which Hathi has spoken, came to my new master. I could

almost fancy I was back on the ship, for his language was much like

that of the fo'castle.

"Potai was the sweeper, a low-caste Hindoo of an evil presence; and

save for the fact that he wore no foot-covering I should have been in a

bad way. When the Mem-Sahib was not looking he beat me with his broom,

simply because, that often being lonesome, I'd call aloud, 'Potai!

Potai!' just to see him come running from the stables.

"Thinking to break him of his evil habit of beating me, many times I

hid behind the purda of a door waiting for the coming of his ugly

toes. Swisp! swisp! I'd hear the broom; 'Uh-h, uh-h!' old Potai would

grunt, because of the stooping, and presently under the purda, which

hung straight down, would peep his low-caste toes.

"Click! just like that I'd nip quick, and run for the Mem-Sahib,

screaming that Potai was beating me. I'm sure it was not an evil act on

my part, for if any Sahib saw it he would laugh, and give me nuts or

something sweet. That was because everyone knew that Potai was evil and

of a low caste.

"Many a time I saved the tiffin from the thieving crows----"

"Caw-w-w, what-a yar-r-r-n!" growled Kauwa the Crow. "We who are the

cleaners of cities are not thieves. What is a Cockatoo? A teller of

false tales and a breaker of rest."

"Ca-lack! even what Cockatoo has said of Kauwa is true," declared the

Adjutant, solemnly, snapping his sword in its scabbard; "I, who am

the cleaner of cities, consider Kauwa but a thief. Once many of the

Seven Sisters, for that is the evil name of Kauwa's tribe, stole a

full-flavored fish from my very teeth----"

"Aw, aw, aw! let me tell it, let me tell it," cried Kauwa; "let me tell

the true tale of my solemn friend's stealing."

"Now we shall get at the real history of the Feathered Kind," chuckled

Pardus. "When the Jungle Dwellers fall out amongst themselves and make

much clatter, there is always the chance of an easy Kill."

"Caw-aw-aw! It was this way," fairly snapped Crow. "A seller of small

things, a box wallah, walking in an honest way fast after the palki

of a great Sahib, even on the Red Road of Calcutta, by chance was

struck by another palki and his box of many things thrown to the

ground. Then this honest one of the straight face, Adjutant, seeing the

mishap from his perch on the lion which is over the Viceroy's gate,

swooped down like a proper Dacoit and swallowed some brown Eating which

was like squares of butter, and made haste back to his perch. Even a

Crow would have known better than that, for it was soap. And all day

many of the Men-kind stood and looked at our baldheaded friend, for a

great sickness came to him; and as he coughed, soap-bubbles floated

upward. The Hindoos said it was a work of their gods."

"Just what I thought," grunted Pardus; "all clatter, and no true story

of anything."

"Well," sighed Cockatoo wearily, "my Mem-Sahib always put me in a

little house on the veranda at night. Though I didn't like it at all,

still it was my house, and one day, in the midst of a rain, when I

sought to enter, inside were two of the Cat young."

"Kittens?" queried Sa'-zada.

"Ee-he-ah; and just behind me the old Cat with another in her mouth.

Hard nuts! but such a row you never heard in your life. When I tried to

drag the Kittens out, the Cat dug her beak----"

"Claws, you mean," corrected Sa'-zada.

"Ee-he-ah--claws in my back; but the Mem-Sahib took them away."

"Ugh, ugh! all lies! Bird talk!" grunted Boar. "What say you,


"It is true," declared the Keeper, much to the disgust of his

questioner; "for in The Book are also other true tales of Cockatoo. The

Mem-Sahib has written that he was a great mischief-maker. She says that

on the back veranda of her bungalow was a filter, and when 'Cocky'

wanted a bath, he used to turn the tap, but never knew enough to shut

it off, so the filter was always running dry.

"Also, there was a guava tree in the compound, and our friend ate all

the guavas just as they ripened, so no one but Cocky got any of the

fruit. That he was always fighting with Jock, her Scotch Terrier, and

the clamor fair made her head ache."

"Whatever Sa'-zada reads from The Book is most certainly true,"

commented Magh.

"I've been thinking," began the Adjutant, solemnly----

"You look like it," growled Wolf.

"Of a story about Kauwa," continued the Adjutant----

"He stole three silver spoons from my Mem-Sahib," interrupted Cocky

hastily, suddenly remembering the incident, "and hid them in the

Dog-cart, where they were found next day; which shows that he is

neither wise nor honest."

"Mine is a true tale," declared Adjutant, with great dignity. "One

morning, looking calmly over the great city to see that all had been

tidied up, I saw my little black friend, whose voice is like unto the

squeak of a Bullock-cart, crouched in an open window, with wings well

spread ready for flight.

"'A new piece of thieving,' thought I, and, drawing closer, I saw Kauwa

hop to the floor, pass over to a bed on which slept a Sahib, and gently

take a slice of toast from the top of a cup; then away went the thief.

"But the full wickedness was later, for when the Sahib awoke he spoke

to his servant in the manner which Cockatoo has related of the ship.

And when the other, who was of the Black Kind, declared he had put the

toast beside his Master, the Sahib beat him for a liar. Even three

mornings did Kauwa take the toast; but on the fourth the Sahib, who was

pretending to sleep, nearly broke his back with the cast of a boot."

"Jungle Dwellers are Jungle Dwellers, and City Dwellers are City

Dwellers," commenced Hornbill, gravely, "and I'm so glad I'm a Jungle

Dweller. These tales show what city life is like. Save for an

occasional row with Magh's friends, Hanuman and the rest, whose

stomachs are out of all proportion to the quantity of fruit to be had,

I have led a very peaceful life in the Jungle."

"Tell me," queried Magh, maliciously, "do your Young roost on your


"No; that is to keep inquisitive folks at a distance. And, talking of

Young, when my wife has laid her two big eggs in a hole in some tree, I

shut her up there with the eggs--make her stay home to mind the house

and the oncoming family. I plaster up the hole with mud, leaving just a

place for her sharp beak; this to keep the Monkeys from stealing her

and the eggs."

"Kaw-aw-aw! Talking of nests," said Kauwa, "when I was in Calcutta I

designed a nest that would last forever--yes, forever. Each year before

that time, because of the monsoon winds, my nest had always been

destroyed; but the time I speak of, having a job on hand----"

"On beak, you mean!" laughed Sa'-zada.

"Aw-haw!--to clean up about a cook-house behind a certain place of the

Sahib's in which they bottled water of a fierce strength--as I say,

being busy in this same compound, I spied many, many twigs of wire."

"What's wire?" asked Mooswa; "I've never, that I know of, eaten such


Sa'-zada explained, "Kauwa means bottled soda water, I fancy, and the

wire from the corks."

"A thought came to me," continued Kauwa, "to build my nest of these

bright little things, and I did, first getting my mate's opinion on the

matter, of course. Dead Pigs! but it was a nest! We would swing, and

jump, and hang to it by our beaks, and never a break in the wall. But I

had forgotten all about the selfish desire of the Men--but that was

after. The first trouble was when Cuckoo--a proper budmash bird she

is--came and laid two eggs in the nest. I saw the difference in the

eggs at once, but my mate declared that they were all her own laying.

She took rather a pride in her ability to lay eggs--to tell you the

truth, we quarreled over it."

"I believe that," yawned Adjutant.

"However, she had her way, and started to hatch out these foreign

devils; but the Men, as I have said, seeing my beautiful nest, sent a

Man of low caste up the tree, and he took it away, Cuckoo eggs and all.

It was a good joke on the Cuckoo Bird, and I was so mad at the way

everything turned out, Caw-ha! I never made it again."

"I can swallow a plantain at one gulp," said Hornbill proudly.

"Why do you toss it up first?" asked Sa'-zada, alluding to the peculiar

habit the Hornbill has of throwing everything into the air, and

catching it as he swallows it.

"It's all in the way of slow eating," answered Hornbill.

"Now," said Myna, "it is surely my turn. I, Myna, who was the pride of

the Calcutta Zoo in the matter of speech, have sat here like a Tucktoo

not saying a word, and listening to such as Cockatoo boasting about the

few paltry oaths he picked up from the Sailor-kind. Why, damn your

eyes, sir----"

And before Sa'-zada could still the tumult, Cockatoo and Myna, the best

talking Bird of all India, were hurling the most unparliamentary

language at each other that had ever been bandied about a Bird


When Sa'-zada had stopped the indelicate scolding of the two Birds Myna

proceeded to tell of his life.

"I was born in the Burma hills, amongst the Shans. That's where I got

my beautiful blue-black coat and lovely yellow beak."

"Modest Bird," sneered Magh.

"It was Mah Thin who snared me; but she was good to me, though--rice

and fruit, all I could eat; and she never once forgot to put the

turmeric and ground chillies in my rice; for, you know, if I did not

get something hot in my food I'd soon die. I was somewhat like Cockatoo

in that a Ship-man bought me and took me to Calcutta. He made me a most

wise bird, and taught me many clever sayings. And when he was in

Calcutta with his ship I would be put in the Zoo, so that the Sahibs

from all parts might hear my speech.

"One day Tom--that was my master's name; he taught me to call him

Tom--said to me, 'To-morrow the Lat Sahib, the Sirdar, and many

ladies are coming to hear you talk; Myna.' Then he made me repeat over

and over again, 'Good-morning, your Excellency.'"

"It was a hard word he gave you," commented Magh.

"It was indeed. Let claw-nosed Cockatoo try it; he thinks he can

talk--let him try that."

"Avast there, you lubber----" commenced Cocky, but Sa'-zada stopped


"Well, I said it over and over, and over again, and Tom was so pleased

he gave me a graft mango to eat. Next day the Viceroy and many

Mem-Sahibs and Sahibs gathered about my cage, and the Viceroy said,

'Good-morning, Polly.' Now this made me mad--to be called Polly, as

though I had a hooked nose like Cockatoo; and in my anger I got

excited, and, for-the-love-of-hot-spiced-rice, I couldn't think of what

Tom had told me to say.

"'Speak up!' said Tom.

"In my anger, and forgetting the other thing, and seeing so many

strange faces against the very bars of my cage, I blurted out, 'I'll

see you damned first!' just as the sailors used to teach me."

"Caw-haw-haw-haw! Very funny, indeed. Next to a fat bone, or the hiding

of a silver spoon, I like a joke myself," commented Kauwa. "Once at the

first edge of the Hot Time I went to Simla. That was also at the time

of the going of the Sahibs, but after Calcutta it was dull--fair


"One morning, as I was feeling most lonesome, I spied a long row of

queer little Donkeys standing with their tails to a fence. They had

brought loads of brick. I flew to the fence, and reaching far down,

pulled the tail of my first Donkey. Much food! but he did kick--it made

me laugh. I pulled the tail of every Donkey of the line, and when I had

finished there wasn't a board left on the fence. Then the Man who was

master of the fence, and the one that was master of the Donkeys, fought

over this matter, and pulled each about by the feathers that were on

their heads. It was the only real pleasant day I had in Simla."

"Did-you-do-it!" screamed the Redwattled Lapwing, suddenly roused to

animation by falling off Mooswa's back, where he had been trying to

balance himself with his poor front-toed feet.

"Caw-w-w! I did; and for three grains of corn I'd pull your tail, too."

"I wasn't speaking to you," retorted Titiri the Lapwing; "I was

dreaming of my old home in India--dreaming that the hunters had come

into the rice fields to shoot the poor Paddy Birds and Bakula (Egret)

for their feathers."

"Murderers, you should call them, not Hunters," exclaimed Hathi. "It

makes me sniff in my nose now when I think of the Birds I've seen

murdered, just for their feathers."

"It's an outrageous shame," declared Sa'-zada.

"I did all I could," asserted Lapwing. "When I saw the Gun-men coming,

sneaking along, crouched like Pardus----"

"Sneaking like Pardus--go on, Good Bird!" chimed in Magh.

"I flew just ahead of them, and cried 'Tee-he-he! Here come the

Murderers!' so that every bird in all the jhils about could hear me.

And when Bakula, and Kowar the Ibis, and all the others had flown to

safety, I shouted, 'Did-you-do-it, did-you-do-it!' Then the Men used

language much like the disgraceful talk we have had from Cocky and Myna


"You carried a heavy responsibility," remarked Sa'-zada.

"All lies," sneered Kauwa. "Fat Bones! why, he can't even sit on the

limb of a tree."

"That is because of my feet," sighed Lapwing. "I have no toes behind."

"Where do you sleep?" asked Magh.

"On the ground," answered Lapwing.

"That's so," declared Sa'-zada, "for the Natives of the East say that

Titiri sleeps on his back, and holds up the sky with his feet."

"But why should the Men kill Birds for a few feathers?" croaked

Vulture. "I don't believe it. Nobody asked me for one of mine. In fact

the great trouble of all eating is the feathers or skin."

"Whe-eh-eh!" exclaimed Ostrich, disgustedly. "Pheu! your feathers!

Even your head looks like a boiled Lobster. They do not kill me--the

Men--but I know they are crazy for feathers, for they pull mine all

out. Some day I'll give one of them a kick that will cure him of his

feather fancy. I did rake one from beak to feet once with my strong toe

nail. When I bring a foot up over my head and down like this----"

As Ostrich swung his leg every one skurried out of the way, for they

knew it was like a sword descending.

"Yes," cried Magh, "if you only had a brain the size of that


"Stop it!" cried Sa'-zada, for this was an unpleasant truth; Ostrich,

though such a huge fellow himself, has a brain about the size of a

Humming Bird's.

"Talking of Wives," said Ostrich, with the most extraordinary

irrelevance, "mine died when I was twenty-seven years old; and, of

course, as it is the way with us Birds, I never took up with another,

though I've seen the most beautifully feathered ones of our Kind--quite

enough to make one's mouth water.

"She had queer ways, to be sure--my wife. As you all know, our way of

hatching eggs is turn about, the Mother Birds sitting all day, while we

Lords of the Nest sit at night. But my wife would take notions

sometimes and not sit at all. In that case I always sat night and day

until the job was finished. By-a-sore-breast-bone! but making a nest

in the hard-graveled desert is a job to be avoided."

"Sore knuckles!" exclaimed Magh, "where are we at? We were talking of


"So we were, so we were," decided Mooswa. "And what I want to know is,

do the Men eat the feathers they hunt for?"

"Oh, Jungle Dwellers!" exclaimed Magh; "if you were to sit in my cage

for half a day you would see what they do with them. The Women come

there with their heads covered with all kinds of feathers, red, and

green, and blue--Silly! how would I look with my head stuck full of

funny old feathers?"

"Like the Devil!" exclaimed Sa'-zada.

"Like a Woman," retorted Magh. "And their hair is so pretty, too. I've

seen red hair just like mine, and then to cover it up with a crest of

feathers like Cockatoo wears; I'd be ashamed of the thing."

"It's a sin to murder the Birds," whimpered Mooswa; "that's the worst

part of it."

"Tonk, tonk, tonk!" came a noise just like a small Boy striking an iron

telegraph post with a stick. It was the small Coppersmith Bird clearing

his throat. Very funny the green pudgy little chap looked with his big

black mustaches.

"The Men are great thieves," he asserted. "When I was a chick my Mother

taught me to stick my tail under my wings for fear they would steal

the feathers as I slept."

"Steal tail feathers!" screamed Eagle; "I should say they would. Out in

the West, where was my home, when a Man becomes a great Chief he sticks

three of my tail feathers in his hair; and when the Head Chief of a

great Indian tribe rises up to make a big talk, what does he hold in

his hand? The things that are bright like water-drops----"

"Diamond rings," exclaimed Sa'-zada, interrupting.

"No; he holds one of my wings to show that he is great."

"Yes, you are the King Bird, Eagle," concurred Sa'-zada, "the emblem of

our country."

"I can break a lamb's back with my talons," assented Eagle, ignoring

the sublime disdainfully, "but I wouldn't trust my nest within reach of

any Man--they're a lot of thieves."

"Nice feathers are a great trouble," asserted Sparrow; "I'm glad I

haven't any."

"What difference does it make?" cried Quail; "the Men kill me, and I'm

sure I'm not gaudy."

"You're good eating, though," chuckled Gidar the Jackal. "After a day's

shoot of the Men-kind, the scent from their cook-house is fair

maddening. Oh-h-h, ki-yi! I've had many a Quail bone in my time."

"Even Lapwing can't save us from the Hunters," lamented Quail; "they

play us such vile tricks. I've seen a rice field with a dozen bamboos

stuck in it, and on top of each bamboo a cage with a tame Cock Quail;

and in the center, hidden away, sat a man with a little drum which he

tapped with his fingers. And the drum would whistle 'peep, peep, peep,'

and the Birds in the cages would go 'peep, peep, peep,' and we Cock

Birds of the Jungle, thinking it a challenge to battle, would answer

back, 'peep, peep, peep,' and go seeking out these strange Birds who

were calling for fight. Of course, our Wives would go with us to see

the battle, and in the end all would be snared or shot by the deceitful


"That's almost worse than being taken for one's feathers," said Egret.

"I'm glad they don't eat me."

"No Mussulman would eat you, Buff Egret," said Gidar the Jackal. "It's

because of your habit of picking ticks off the Pigs."

"Some Birds do have vile habits," declared Crow. "Paddy Bird has a

Brother in Burma who gets drunk on the Men's toddy."

"I doubt if that be true," said Sa'-zada, "though he is really called

'Bacchus' in the science books."

Said Myna, "Of all Birds, I think the Jungle Fowl are the worst. The

Cocks do nothing but fight, fight, all the time--fight, and then get up

in a tree and crow about it, as though it were to their credit."

Said Kauwa the Crow, "When one of our family becomes quarrelsome, or a

great nuisance, we hold a meeting--I have seen even a thousand Crows at

such meetings--hear all there is to say about him, and then if it

appears that he is utterly bad we beat him to death."

"Tub-full-of-bread!" exclaimed Hathi, sleepily, "it's my opinion that

all Birds should be on their roosts--it's very late."

"And roost high, too," said Magh, "for Coyote and Gidar have been

licking their chops for the last hour. I've watched them. And lock

Python up, O Sa'-zada, for high roosts won't save them from him."

"All to bed, all to bed!" cried the Keeper. "To-morrow night we'll have

some more tales."

The last cry heard on the sleepy night air after all were safely in

their cages was Cockatoo's "Avast there, you lubber!" as Myna, sticking

his saucy yellow beak through the bars of his cage, called across to

him, "Want a glass of grog, Polly?"