Once upon a time there was a little robin. Every morning she’d wake up early and go find worms for her chicks in the nest. She had three very hungry chicks, and her husband had been eaten by a cat, so this little robin had to feed not only herself, but all three of her young chicks.
Feeding growing chicks is a full-time job, not to mention the difficulty of finding the worms, avoiding cats, and dealing with the weather. Day after day, she toiled trying to find enough worms to keep starvation from taking herself or her chicks.
She had a very difficult life. She had to fly as far as her wings could take her to find enough worms to feed her large family. Her wings constantly hurt from the search for worms. Oh how her wings ached!
One day, she flew by a man with a big bucket of the juiciest worms she had ever seen. Just one of those worms could feed her and her chicks for a whole day. Starvation would finally be defeated, if only she could get one of those worms.
Out of curiosity, she landed on a branch near the man and asked, “What does a man have so many worms for?”
“Yes. Those fat juicy worms. Why do you have a bucket full of the tastiest worms I’ve ever seen?”
“These worms are for needy birds. Many birds are suffering from unnecessary hunger, and many starving chicks are not reaching their fullest potential because they don’t get enough to eat. Some of the birds and their chicks even starve to death. My employer sent me here with this big bucket of worms to help.”
“I’m a needy bird with three starving chicks. Can I have one of those yummy worms?”
“Are you? Well then, I just need some kind of proof to give my employer that I didn’t eat the worms myself. One of your smallest feathers should do.
“I obviously don’t have any feathers, so if I give my employer a feather for the worm as proof I didn’t eat the worm myself everyone will be happy. My employer will have proof that this worm went to a needy bird, and you will have enough food today to feed yourself and your chicks.”
“I suppose a little feather won’t be missed.”
The little robin searched for the smallest feather she could find, and with a quick nearly painless yank, pulled the tiny feather out and gave it to the nice man with the bucket of food. They both exchanged good-byes and she flew off to her nest with the biggest juiciest worm she’d ever seen.
It was a great time for the family of robins. Every day, they would exchange a feather for a worm, and then enjoy the rest of the day relaxing. The mother robin’s wings no longer hurt, and her chicks were getting nice and plump.
But as days went by, mother robin noticed it was getting harder and harder to fly. Also, her little chicks were getting so fat that they could not learn to fly for themselves. The big bucket of worms the man carried seemed to have less and less worms, and definitely not any of the nice fat worms that she loved. Still, they were easy worms, and her life and the life of her children was so much more bearable than it had been. She kept showing up for her family’s worms.
Early one morning, mother robin went to fly to the man with the worm bucket and instead tumbled helplessly to the ground. Her now adult chicks went to help her, but had never learned to fly, so all tumbled to the ground next to mother robin.
“Are you alright, Mother?” All the rather fat grownup chicks asked their mother robin.
“I’m alright. It seems I have lost too many feathers. I can no longer fly.”
“What shall we do? We are all hungry.”
Mother bird looked over her three plump adult chicks and made up her mind.
“Well, … you are all adult birds now. It’s time I taught you how to get your own food.”
The chicks agreed. An adult bird should know how to get it’s own food. The chicks swelled up with pride at the thought of getting their own food. This was a big step in their lives. They voiced their support for the idea in the loudest chirps they could manage, until mother bird reminded them to quiet down so that the neighborhood cats did not find them.
So with firm conviction mother and chicks walked to the man with the bucket of worms.
“This is where you find worms. These worms are yours as long as you prove you’re a bird by giving the man a feather.”
Mother bird demonstrated by plucking out one of her remaining feathers and got a thin scraggly worm from the nearly empty bucket in return. Each of her chicks did the same, and learned for themselves how to get their own worms.
Mother robin and her children could not fly back up to the trees for safety from cats, but hiding in thorny bushes seemed to work just fine. The neighborhood wasn’t that bad, and life was good.
Then one day, the family of robins visited the worm man, to get their food, but he wouldn’t give them any worms.
“Give us our worms!” The robins chanted together. “We are birds! We deserve worms!”
“I have no worms. I only have one bucket of worms per day, and so many birds need worms these days that I ran out earlier this morning.”
“Give us worms you greedy human!” The birds shouted in unison. “You ate them all yourself! Give us our worms!”
The robins pecked at the worm man’s feet and ankles until he was forced to run away. Luckily for the man, the robins couldn’t fly. They were all too well fed, and lacked the necessary feathers.
“Oh, we are so hungry!” The mother and her three adult chicks chirped. They chirped and chirped and chirped, so loud that they never heard the cat sneaking through the bushes.