The Little Birds Who Lived in a Cave

By E. J. Bourhill and J. B. Drake

Once upon a time there was a big cave in a hillside, in which lived hundreds of little birds. There were fathers and mothers and lots of little ones. Each had his little kraal with a hut no bigger than your hand, and a fence all round beautifully woven of tiny reeds. One day all the mothers went out to get food, and said to their little ones, “Be very good and quiet, and make the huts clean and tidy while we hoe the lands.”

Then they went out to see to their tiny fields in which they grew their food—little mealies and tiny sugar-cane, pumpkins no larger than a nut, and nuts no bigger than grass seeds.

The little birds were very good; they swept the huts out beautifully and tidied them up. Then they cleaned little shells ready to cook the food, and got water in tiny leaves. When all was done they sat down and waited for their parents to arrive.

Suddenly a blackbird came to the door of the cave. He had a long sharp beak and very long claws. He put his head in and cried, “Fir-r-r-r! Fir-r-r-r!” first to one side and then to the other in a high clear voice. All the little birds put their heads out of the tiny huts at once to see who the intruder might be.

The big bird then said, “All you little birds must turn out at once. This cave belongs to me.”

At that the little birds were very angry. The boldest of them flew straight at the blackbird to turn him out, but he was pecked right in the neck. A little stream of blood appeared, as black as charcoal, and the little bird fell dead.

Then the big bird attacked many others. He broke the leg of one, he picked out the eyes of another, he broke the wing of a third. When he had frightened and scattered them all he flew away.

That evening the mother birds came home, but could not make out why the cave was so silent. “What is wrong?” they said. “There is no twittering, no rustling of wings. Something must have happened.”

Great was their grief when they found one little bird dead and so many others crippled and hurt. “Whoever has done all this?” they cried. Then the little birds told their tale.

“It was a wicked bird with black feathers and a long beak. There he is again at the door.”

The mothers turned round and flew in a body at the marauder. But he just cried “Fir-r-r-r! Fir-r-r-r!” and flew straight up in the air far out of their reach.

The next day the blackbird came and destroyed all their little lands. Not a blade of mealies or sugar-cane remained. The mothers were in despair, and that evening they said they must leave the cave and find a safer home elsewhere.

Suddenly a tiny bird entered the cave, no bigger than your finger-nail. He cried “Tweet, Tweet,” ever so sweetly, and flew straight to a little bird who was only a hen. “You,” said he, “shall kill the blackbird.”

Every one cried out that the little bird was not nearly strong enough.

“You shall kill him,” said the tiny bird. “Fly straight at his head and pick out his eyes. Then you can easily kill him.”

The little hen took heart of grace and promised to be brave.

Next morning the big bird, sure that this time the cave would soon be his, put his head in at the door and called in his high wicked voice, “Fir-r-r-r! Fir-r-r-r!”

Out flew the little hen straight at his head and picked out his eyes before he knew what had happened. Then the fathers and mothers all threw themselves on him and in a few minutes he was dead.

After that all the families lived in much peace and happiness, and were never troubled any more.

From Fairy Tales from South Africa, Mrs. E. J. Bourhill and Mrs. J. B. Drake
London: Macmillan and Co., 1908

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