'The Early Bird' | Ep. 166

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

At some point, someone has probably told you to believe in yourself, right? To have faith that you can do all sorts of amazing things?

Having confidence is important. But in today's tale, we’ll meet a swift, speedy bird who has a little too much confidence. And as a result, her giant ego slows her down!

Our story is called “The Early Bird.” Parts of it may remind you of one of Aesop’s fables. Our version originates with the Native American traditions of the Hitchiti, Cherokee, and Navajo people.

Voices in this story include: Jazmyn Simon and Megan Boone.

Grown-ups, you may know Megan Boone from The Blacklist on NBC and The Underground Railroad on Amazon. She also co-starred in three Circle Round episodes recorded live at Tanglewood: “Lookalike Falls,” “The Bags of Seeds,” and “Treasure Mountain.”

Jazmyn Simon starred in the HBO series Ballers. Her new children’s book, Most Perfect You, is out now!

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Nora Saks and Circle Round’s supervising producer Amory Sivertson. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

Coloring Page

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes, click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

Even though she’s the slower bird, Heron never gives up. Think back to a time when you didn’t give up!

Maybe you were learning how to tie your shoes, and despite the challenges, you kept at it. Or you went for a long hike with your family, and you made it all the way to the trail’s end.

Find some paper, and something to draw with, and make a picture of your “Never Give Up” moment. When you’re done, hang your picture somewhere you can see it, as a reminder of the amazing things that can happen when we keep on going – steadily and patiently.

(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
The flute is the oldest instrument archaeologists have found in their explorations. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Musical Spotlight: The Flute  

The flute is a member of the woodwind group. But unlike its siblings (e.g. the clarinet, the oboe, the bassoon), the flute is not played with a reed. Instead, the flute player — most commonly known as a flutist or flautist — produces sound by blowing air across an opening. The resulting sound can be airy, light, bright, graceful, even whistling - just like a bird!


NARRATOR: Once upon a time, near a long, winding river that flowed into a magnificent waterfall, there lived a Hummingbird.

Hummingbird was so small she could fit in the palm of your hand. And her tiny wings flitted and flapped so quickly as she zipped around, they actually hummed!

Hummingbird was very proud of her speed, and never missed an opportunity to brag about it.

HUMMINGBIRD: Who’s quicker than lightning! Faster than thought? Speedier than a meteor? Me! That’s who! Now you see me… Now you don’t!!!

NARRATOR: One day, Hummingbird was sipping nectar from some flowers by the long, winding river, when who should come gliding down to the water’s edge… but Heron.

Unlike small, swift Hummingbird, Heron was tall and lanky. She had a curved, gangly neck, and long, skinny legs that trailed behind her when she flapped her wings steadily and patiently through the sky.

HUMMINGBIRD: Hi there, Heron! That was quite a landing just now! It took you so long to get from the sky to the river, I swear it’s tomorrow already!

HERON: (not amused) Very funny, Hummingbird.

NARRATOR: Heron plunged her thick, pointy bill into the water and swallowed down a fish.

HUMMINGBIRD: No seriously, Heron. I could have flown around the world in the time it took you to land!

HERON: Ya think?

HUMMINGBIRD: I know! I’m so quick I could outfly a car! Though I do need to stop and refuel a lot more often.

NARRATOR: It was true. Hummingbird had to eat constantly. She flew so quickly, she burned calories faster than any other animal on the planet!

HUMMINGBIRD: I need to eat three times my bodyweight in flower nectar and insects just to survive! Can you believe it?

HERON: Huh. Maybe instead of Hummingbird, they ought to call you hungry-bird.

HUMMINGBIRD: Ha! Good one, Heron! Good one. I’m glad to see your wit is quicker than your wings.

HERON: Ha! Good one, Hummingbird.

HUMMINGBIRD: No, seriously! The way you slowly flap those wings of yours, Heron… I’m surprised you get anywhere at all!

NARRATOR: Heron gulped down another fish.

HERON: (Gulp down fish) Oh, I get all sorts of places, Hummingbird! And much sooner than you think!

HUMMINGBIRD: Do you now? Well then… how about you prove it?

HERON: Prove it?

NARRATOR: Heron blinked her bright, yellow eyes.

HERON: What do you mean, ‘prove it’?

HUMMINGBIRD: I mean… how about we hold a race?

HERON: A ‘race’?

HUMMINGBIRD: What, are your ears as slow as your wings?!? I’m saying, how about we hold a race down the long, winding river! We’ll start at the beaver dam over there, then we’ll follow the water as it flows past the valleys and forests, and all the way to the waterfall! The first one of us to perch in the sycamore tree at the top of the waterfall wins!

NARRATOR: Heron cocked her narrow white head.

HERON: Hummingbird! Do you really want to race all the way to the waterfall?! That’s so far! The river runs for miles before it plunges into the falls!

HUMMINGBIRD: Oh, I’m sorry! Are you afraid of losing to a little bird like me?

HERON: Well, no, but –

HUMMINGBIRD: Then may the best bird win!

NARRATOR: Heron craned her long, curved neck toward Hummingbird.

HERON: Alright, Hummingbird. If you really want to race, we’ll race. See you at the beaver dam first thing tomorrow!

NARRATOR: Then Heron spread her wings, and took off into the sky. Hummingbird watched as the great bird flew away, her gangly neck tucked against her body, her skinny legs dangling behind her.

HUMMINGBIRD: I can’t believe Heron actually agreed to race me! Me! I may be small, but I am one heck of a flier! I can flap my wings up to 80 times a second! Heron’s so big and slow I doubt she can flap her wings 80 times an hour! I’m sure to win this race. And then victory… will be mine!

[SOT: theme music in]

NARRATOR: What do you think will happen when Heron and Hummingbird race down the river?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.

[theme music out]


[theme music in]

NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to Circle Round. Today our story is called “The Early Bird.”

[theme music out]

NARRATOR: Before the break, swift, tiny Hummingbird challenged tall, lanky Heron to a race down the river. They would start at the beaver dam and end at the sycamore tree at the head of the waterfall. Whoever perched in the tree first would win.

First thing the next morning, as the river’s sparkling current caught the first rays of the sun, Heron and Hummingbird met at the starting line.

HUMMINGBIRD: Okay, Heron! Are you ready?

HERON: Ready as I’ll ever be!

HUMMINGBIRD: Alright then! On your mark…

HERON: …Get set…


NARRATOR: Both birds lifted into the air.

Heron flapped her wings steadily and patiently. Hummingbird, on the other hand, took off like a streak of lightning, her wings a blur as she buzzed and hummed right past Heron.

HUMMINGBIRD: No offense, Heron, but you’re gonna have to pick up the pace if you want to beat me! If this were a highway, they’d pull me over for speeding! And they’d pull you over for going too slow! Ha HA!

NARRATOR: Hummingbird flittered away, but Heron kept flapping her wings with those steady, patient beats. And by the time the river twisted and turned and rushed through a great green valley, the big, lanky bird was trailing far behind – much to Hummingbird’s delight!

HUMMINGBIRD: Ha! Heron is way, way back there! If that slowpoke keeps toddling along like this, I have got this race in the bag! Guess I might as well stop and have a snack. All this flying has made me famished!

NARRATOR: Hummingbird dove down to a patch of hibiscus flowers and began drinking up their nectar.

HUMMINGBIRD: (As she drinks) Mmmm! So good! So refreshing! Oh! This hits the spot!

NARRATOR: Hummingbird drank and drank. And before long, who should approach with that steady and patient beating of wings… but Heron! When her bright yellow eyes caught sight of Hummingbird, she couldn't help but call out.

HERON: Hummingbird! I’ve heard of ‘stopping to smell the roses’... But I’ve never heard of stopping to drink the hibiscus!

NARRATOR: Hummingbird stopped drinking and looked up.

HUMMINGBIRD: Very funny, Heron! I just needed to stop for a little snack! And now…

NARRATOR: The tiny bird flew up to Heron’s side.

HUMMINGBIRD: … I hope you enjoy the taste of dust! ‘Cuz you’re about to eat a whole bunch of mine! Ha HA!

NARRATOR: And with that, she went whizzing past Heron and disappeared into the approaching forest.

Hummingbird zoomed past clusters of bushes and stands of trees. As she darted into a sun-drenched clearing, she smiled to herself.

HUMMINGBIRD: Oh man! This race is a breeze! A cinch! A piece of cake! Mmmm. Cake. I think it’s time for me to eat again!

NARRATOR: Hummingbird snuck a quick peek behind her.

HUMMINGBIRD: Hmmm. No sign of Heron. Surely she’s miles behind me! If not lightyears! Might as well break for another snack!

NARRATOR: Hummingbird buzzed down to a rotting log. Beneath the log was a colony of little brown beetles.

HUMMINGBIRD: (As she eats) Mmmm! Nothing like a heaping helping of protein in the middle of a workout! But you know? I might as well take my time enjoying these critters. The way Heron is dragging her wings, it’s not like she’s going to catch up with me any time soon!

NARRATOR: But as Hummingbird pecked at the beetles with her tiny beak, can you guess what happened?

That’s right!

Heron caught up with her! And, once again, called out.

HERON: (Calling down) Well hello, Hummingbird! Ya know… I thought the two of us were racing! But apparently you have too much on your plate!

NARRATOR: Then Heron flapped her great wide wings and glided on – much to Hummingbird’s dismay.

HUMMINGBIRD: Oh no! That big old bird is in first place again! But not for long!

NARRATOR: Hummingbird sprang into the air and flew straight toward Heron…

HUMMINGBIRD: (Sing-song taunting) Nah nah nah nah nah!

NARRATOR: …Before zooming right past her.

HUMMINGBIRD: (Sing-song taunting) You ca-an’t catch me!

NARRATOR: And so it continued, hour after hour. Hummingbird would take the lead, then she’d grow hungry and stop for a snack. Then Heron would catch up and pull ahead. Then Hummingbird would fly like the wind to overtake Heron and spring into the lead again!

By sunset, Hummingbird was way ahead of Heron…but she was also way exhausted!

HUMMINGBIRD: Boy, am I pooped! Luckily, I am miles ahead of Heron, so I might as well take a rest in this willow tree here. I doubt she’ll be able to catch up now!

NARRATOR: Hummingbird took a perch on a branch.

HUMMINGBIRD: Ooo, that feels good! (Falling asleep as she talks) Now I think I’ll just close… my… eyes for a moment…

NARRATOR: And with that, as the shadows darkened and the air grew colder, the little bird dozed off, her tiny head drooping to her tiny chest.


NARRATOR: And there she stayed, for hours and hours. Because when hummingbirds sleep, they really sleep. It’s called “torpor,” and it’s kind of like a mini-hibernation!

You see, in order to save energy, hummingbirds sleep so deeply that their heartbeat and breathing slow wayyyy down. So does their metabolism! That internal engine that burns all those calories during the day practically screeches to a halt!

And as Hummingbird snoozed away on her willow branch… who should come flapping by, steadily and patiently, but…

HERON: Would you look at that?!?


HERON: I can’t believe it! Hummingbird is out cold!

NARRATOR: Literally cold, in fact! In a state of torpor, a hummingbird’s body cools way, way down, to help save energy.

HERON: I suppose I could wake her, but the way that little gal burns energy all day, she needs her rest. Might as well keep going!

NARRATOR: So Heron flew on… the long, even strokes of her wings steadily and patiently pulling her forward.

Hours later, as dawn crept over the horizon, a breeze ruffled Hummingbird’s feathers and roused her awake.

HUMMINGBIRD: (Wakes, stretches, and yawns) Ahhhhhhh! I feel like a bear who slept all winter!

NARRATOR: The little bird blinked her eyes and looked around.

HUMMINGBIRD: No sign of Heron! But she’s so slow, I’m sure she’s far, far behind! Still, I’d better get going. The only thing sweeter than nectar... is victory!

NARRATOR: Hummingbird tore through the air, buzzing and humming faster than ever. As she emerged from the forest, her teeny ears picked up the sound of the splashing, crashing waterfall ahead!

HUMMINGBIRD: Oh boy! I’m nearly there! Just one more bend in the river and I’ll get to the sycamore tree at the top of the falls. Then victory will be mine!

NARRATOR: But as Hummingbird sped around that final bend and blazed toward the sycamore tree, she spied a most unexpected sight. Perched in the top branches, with a smile on her white feathered face, was none other than…


NARRATOR: Yup! Heron had reached the tree first! And won the race!

HERON: Oh! How nice of you to join me, Hummingbird! I thought you’d never make it.

HUMMINGBIRD: But, how did you beat me?!? I’m quicker than lightning! Faster than thought! Speedier than a –

[SOT: gets interrupted]

HERON: …Than a meteor? So you’ve said. But speed will only get you halfway there. Steadiness and patience will get you all the way.

NARRATOR: And with that, Heron spread her wings and took off into the sky.
That was the last time Hummingbird boasted about her speed. Instead, she went about her business, spending her days buzzing and humming from flower to flower – and insect to insect. She spent her nights settled into a deep, heavy sleep, where sometimes – every now and again – she dreamt of asking Heron for a re-match.

Headshot of Rebecca Sheir

Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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