The Clock Bird | Ep. 221

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

Have you ever heard the saying, “There's no ‘I’ in team?”

It means that when we're trying to achieve a goal, it can be more effective when we work together – rather than going out on our own.

In today’s story, we’ll meet a bird who learns that lesson the hard way. As a result, he winds up with quite a tale… and tail!

Our story is called “The Clock Bird.” It comes from parts of Latin America, including Mexico and Costa Rica.

Voices in this episode include: Feodor Chin, Kevin Corbett, Anthony Palmini, Dawn Ursula, and Byron Mann. Grown-ups, you can see Byron Mann in the new indie film, “The Modelizer.”

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Sofie Kodner. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

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

GROWN-UPS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We invite you to share your picture on Facebook and Instagram, and tag it with #CircleRoundPodcast. To access all the coloring pages for past Circle Round episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

You can prove there’s no “I” in team by holding your own scavenger hunt! 

Gather some family members or friends and make a list of items to hunt for; the items can be outside in nature, or in your very own home! Then work together to find as many items on your list as you can.

As you search, be sure to encourage your teammates and support them as you collaborate to achieve the same goal!

Musical Spotlight: Charango

Eric Shimelonis playing a more modern-day (i.e. wooden) charango. (courtesy Rebecca Sheir)
Eric Shimelonis playing a more modern-day (i.e. wooden) charango. (courtesy Rebecca Sheir)

This member of the lute family is popular in much of South America. Resembling a small guitar with a rounded back, the charango usually has ten strings in five double courses: i.e. each pair of strings plays the same note.

The charango was originally made from the shell of an armadillo – for a legend about why, check out our story, "Armadillo's Song" – though modern charangos are typically made from various varieties of wood. A charango player is called a charanguista.

In addition to “Armadillo’s Song,” you also can hear Eric Shimelonis playing the charango in “Of Beans and Bunnies,” “The Uncommon Offering,” and “The Laughing Canoe.”

Story Transcript

NARRATOR: The little bird known as the motmot makes its home in lush green forests in certain parts of Latin America.

The motmot is colorful, very colorful, with gleaming, iridescent feathers of orange, green, and blue. But the motmot isn’t easy to find. It spends much of its time hidden in tunnels that it burrows underground.


Well… according to legend… the motmot keeps to itself because… it’s ashamed.

Of… its tail.

You see, the motmot’s tail is basically bald. It does have two long feathers, but they’re bare at the spine, so they look more like bones. And they have this little round clump of plumage at the end. So the motmot’s tail looks kind of like a lollipop… or a badminton racket… or the pendulum of a clock. In fact, the motmot’s nickname is “clock bird,” because of the way it swings its long, skinny tail back and forth.

But the story goes that long ago, the motmot’s tail was thick and fluffy. And Motmot was always bragging about it to the other birds.

MOTMOT: (teasing/taunting) Hey, Vulture! I have more feathers on my glorious tail than you could ever dream of having – especially on your feather-less head!

VULTURE: (sarcastic) Gee. Thanks, Motmot.

MOTMOT:  (teasing/taunting) And Toucan? Your bill may be impressive with its many many colors, but that dark tail of yours is so drab… compared with mine, of course!

TOUCAN: (sarcastic) Gosh. Thanks, Motmot.

MOTMOT:  (teasing/taunting) And Parrot? Your tail may be long and many-hued, but it’s so scrawny! As opposed to mine!

PARROT: (sarcastic) Golly. Thanks, Motmot.

MOTMOT:  (teasing/taunting) Oh, and Pelican! I can’t forget about you! Your bill may be so big it holds more water and food than your stomach, but your tail is puny! Just a fluff of feathers sticking out from your behind! Unlike my tail!!!!

PELICAN: (sarcastic) Yup. Thanks, Motmot.

NARRATOR: The taunting and teasing, gloating and preening went on and on.

Then one day, the birds’ leader, Vulture, spotted something ominous on the horizon.

VULTURE: My fellow birds! Do you see those dark clouds gathering? A storm is coming! And from the looks of it, it will be a storm like none we’ve ever seen!

TOUCAN: So what should we do, Vulture?

PARROT: Yes, what should we do?

PELICAN: Surely there’s some way we can protect ourselves?

VULTURE: I appreciate you asking, Toucan, Parrot, and Pelican. And I believe we can protect ourselves, by building… a shelter.

TOUCAN: A shelter?

VULTURE: Yes, Toucan! A shelter! A sturdy lodging to keep us safe from the wind and rain!

PARROT: What should we use to build our shelter, Vulture?

VULTURE: Good question, Parrot. We should use anything we can find! Branches, bark, leaves, even vines!

PELICAN: But what about food, Vulture? Shouldn't we gather some food to tide us over till the storm passes?

VULTURE: Excellent thinking, Pelican! And with that big bill of yours, you’re just the one to do it. I want you to find as many fruits, nuts, and seeds as you can, and stash them in your bill. Make sure there’s enough to feed us all!

NARRATOR: As Vulture, Toucan, Parrot, and Pelican strategized about how best to prepare, one bird remained silent. And that bird was…

VULTURE: Motmot! You’ve been awfully quiet! Aren’t you going to help us prepare for the storm?

MOTMOT: Who, me?

VULTURE: Yes you! We have a lot of work to do to get ready for the wind and rain!

NARRATOR: Motmot cocked his iridescent head.

MOTMOT: Okay, so about that word you just used…?

VULTURE: “Wind”...?


VULTURE: “Rain”...?

MOTMOT: No!! (beat) “Work”!!! Do you actually expect a beautiful, beguiling bird like me to do work? What if my tail gets dirty?

VULTURE: Motmot! We’re about to experience a dangerous storm, the likes of which we’ve never seen, and all you can think about is your tail???

MOTMOT: Well… yes. All I ever think about is my tail!


NARRATOR: Vulture knew it was no use arguing with Motmot. So he called the other birds to attention…

VULTURE: Toucan! Parrot! Pelican!

NARRATOR: …and they got to work. Motmot, meanwhile, flew up to a laurel tree, and lounged his colorful little body on a branch.

MOTMOT: I can’t believe Vulture expects me to toil away with the other birds. There is no way you’ll ever see me working my tail off! How could I? It’s far too full, feathery, and fabulous!

NARRATOR: Well, little did Motmot know, but that tail of his wouldn’t be “full,” “feathery,” or “fabulous” for long. Because after the storm rolled in, his tail would reach its tail-end!

NARRATOR: How do you think Motmot will lose his fabulous tail?

We’ll find out what happens, after a quick break.


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

NARRATOR: Before the break, Motmot refused to help Vulture, Toucan, Parrot, and Pelican prepare for the storm. The colorful bird believed he was too fabulous to help build a shelter or collect food. So he flew off and lounged in a laurel tree, preening his fluffy tail.

Then… the storm rolled in.

NARRATOR: Lightning flashed and thunder crashed as heavy gray clouds unleashed a torrent of rain. Vulture flapped his great wings and strained against the whistling wind as he flew into the birds’ makeshift shelter.

VULTURE: Toucan! Parrot! Pelican! Get in here!

TOUCAN: Sure thing, Vulture!

PARROT: Gladly, Vulture!

PELICAN: With pleasure, Vulture!

NARRATOR: Once the group was safe inside, Pelican handed out the fruits, nuts, and seeds he had collected in his bill.

VULTURE: Thank you, Pelican!

TOUCAN: Much obliged, Pelican!

PARROT: We really appreciate this, Pelican!

PELICAN: Happy to help, friends. Happy to help!

NARRATOR: But… while Vulture, Toucan, Parrot, and Pelican were all warm, snuggly and safe, Motmot…

MOTMOT: Ugh!!!!

NARRATOR: …was not.

MOTMOT: It’s getting awfully cold up here in this tree! Wet, too! Maybe the other birds won’t mind if I join them in their shelter?

NARRATOR: But when he took to the air, he realized he had no idea where the shelter was!

MOTMOT: Oh dear! Where did Vulture, Toucan, Parrot, and Pelican build that shelter of theirs? Is it in that tree there…? (beat) No. How about this one here…? (beat) No. Behind this bush then…? (beat) No!

NARRATOR: Motmot flew around and around until he was worn-out and water-logged.

MOTMOT: (exhausted) Ugh! I can’t keep flying around like this! I need to rest! And get dry! (beat) But where can I go???

NARRATOR: His bright red eyes scanned the world below. And then…

MOTMOT: (exhausted, but excited) Oh! That wall of rock down there! It has a crack in it! A narrow crevice that should be just big enough for me to fit inside!

NARRATOR: Motmot swooped down and tried squeezing through the crack in the wall.

MOTMOT: (ad-lib squeezing/shimmying inside)

NARRATOR: It was so narrow he could barely fit his colorful body inside... let alone his long, fluffy tail! But he shimmied in as far as he could. Then, in no time at all, the bone-tired bird dropped off to sleep.

MOTMOT: (ad-lib sleeping/humorous snoring)

NARRATOR: Hours later, he woke up again.

MOTMOT: (ad-lib stretching/yawning/waking up) Would you look at that! The storm is over and the sun is shining bright! Now I can go back out into the world and show off my fabulous, feathery tail!

NARRATOR: Motmot spread his wings and took to the sky. When he landed at the top of a cedarwood tree, he looked down and spied Vulture, Toucan, Parrot, and Pelican emerging from their hiding place.

MOTMOT: Well hello down there! Did you birds miss me? Wait. Don’t answer that. Of course you did!

NARRATOR: The other birds lifted their heads. When they caught sight of Motmot… their beaks and bills dropped wide open!

MOTMOT: Well don’t look so stunned! Did you think I wouldn’t weather the storm? Just because I refused to knuckle down and help you toil away? 

NARRATOR: The others remained silent. They just kept staring at Motmot. Or rather, they kept staring at Motmot’s back side.

MOTMOT: Ohhhh! I get it! You’re goggling at my tail! You must have forgotten how fabulous it is! All thick lush, and feathery…

NARRATOR: The other birds exchanged a look.

VULTURE: Ummm… actually, Motmot… we don't know how to tell you this…

TOUCAN: …but that “fabulous” tail of yours?

PARROT: …It isn’t “thick, lush, and feathery” at all!

PELICAN: …Not anymore, anyway!

MOTMOT: What???? What are you talking about???

NARRATOR: Motmot swung his head around and stared at his bottom. And that’s when his beak dropped open.

MOTMOT: (GASP!) It can’t be! It can’t!

NARRATOR: And yet… it could. All that was left of Motmot’s lush, fabulous tail were two long, skinny feathers, slender as two bones, with a round clump of plumage at the end. Kind of like a lollipop… or a badminton racket… or the pendulum of a clock.

And do you know why?

Well… when Motmot squeezed and shimmied his orange, green, and blue body into that crevice in the wall, he didn’t realize his tail was sticking out! So as the storm raged on, his fabulous, feathery appendage was buffeted by wind and pelted by rain. And by the time the skies cleared, the weather had done its worst, and torn most of his tail feathers clean away.

MOTMOT: Oh this is so embarrassing. So embarrassing! I can’t let anyone see me like this!

NARRATOR: Mortified little Motmot flapped his wings and took to the air. He flew deep into the forest, where he found a secluded spot, burrowed a deep, deep tunnel in the ground, and made it his new home – after making sure his entire body fit inside, of course!

And that’s why, to this day, Motmot keeps to himself. Though I’d like to think that when the other birds need him to help with something, our little “clock bird” is willing to come out and say yes – and think with his heartnot his tail!

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



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