How the Birds Got Their Colors


(From a Flemish legend)

Long ago when the earth was new, all the birds that flew in the sky were gray. They were awed by the rainbow’s shimmering beauty, for they had no color. Great Bird, who ruled the skies, would call a meeting after every rainfall so all could admire the splendid colors of the rainbow arching over the earth.

One evening as the sky glistened with the red, yellow, green, blue, and violet of the rainbow, Great Bird made an announcement: “Too long have you just admired such gleaming colors. This night you may share them. You may each choose one color from the rainbow to tint your feathers.”

Almost before Great Bird was through talking, the parrot streaked through the sky and snatched the green. “This is my color. All mine,” he screeched.

“I want the yellow. Give me the yellow,” cried the canary, darting in and out among the feathered bodies.

“Don’t touch the blue,” shrieked the jay.

The cardinal fluttered his wings over the rainbow. “I’ll take the red. It was meant just for me.”

A large duck reached through the crowd and captured the violet ribbon. He wound it tightly around his neck, then flapped to a nearby pond.

Great Bird flew to a tree and watched the fluttering and flapping, the shoving and pushing, the calling and crowding as the birds flew to the rainbow in search of beauty. But sitting beside Great Bird under a leafy branch sat a small gray finch.

“Why are you not grabbing for a color, little finch?” asked Great Bird.

“I was waiting my turn,” answered the finch gently. “But now I’m afraid all the colors are gone.”

“Never!” cried Great Bird, and he called his flock back as they were about to fly away.

While the other birds passed before him, Great Bird took a bit of color from each one and passed it to the finch. The cardinal lost a bit of red; the canary a touch of yellow. The parrot surrendered some green and the jay some of his blue. Finally, the duck unwound the violet ribbon from his neck and passed a strand to the finch.

The little finch glistened with all the hues of the rainbow. Like the rainbow, all the colors melted softly into one another, tinting the feathers with a glow.

Great Bird looked at the gentle finch. “While the rainbow is a symbol of thanks for rain, your beauty is a thank-you for waiting your turn,” he said. “Little finch, wear your colors as a medal for patience.”

To this day, after a rain, the sweet song of the finch can be heard over the rainbow, telling all to wait their turn.

[illustration] Illustrated by Phyllis Luch