The Golden Bird
Who is stealing the king’s golden apples? The youngest brother sees the culprit: the golden bird. But how to catch it?
The Golden Bird is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about the youngest of three princes who sets out to catch the golden bird. Helped by a fox he also acquires a princess and a golden horse. His brothers try to kill him, but fail. The fox transforms into a man and they live happily together.
Complete text The Golden Bird
The king’s golden apples are stolen
In the old time there was a king who had behind his palace a beautiful garden. There was a tree in there that bore golden apples.
When the apples were getting ripe they were counted, but on the very next morning one was missing. This was told to the king, and he ordered that a watch should be kept every night beneath the tree.
The king had three sons. As soon as night came on, he sent the eldest one into the garden. But when midnight came he could not keep himself from sleeping. Next morning another apple was gone.
The following night the second son had to keep watch. It fared no better with him; as soon as twelve o’clock had struck he fell asleep and in the morning another apple was gone.
Now it came to the turn of the third son to watch. He was quite ready, but the King had not much trust in him. He thought that he would be of less use even than his brothers, but at last he let him go.
The young man lay down beneath the tree, but kept awake. He did not let sleep master him. When it struck twelve, something rustled through the air. In the moonlight he saw a bird coming whose feathers were all shining with gold.
The bird settled on the tree and had just plucked off an apple, when the young man shot an arrow at him. The bird flew off, but the arrow had struck his feathers and one of the golden feathers fell down.
He picked it up and took it the next morning to the King, telling him what he had seen in the night. The king called his council together. Everyone declared that a feather like this was worth more than the whole kingdom.
“If the feather is so precious,” the King declared, “one alone will not do for me; I must and will have the whole bird!”
The eldest son sets out to capture the golden bird
The eldest son set out, trusting his cleverness and thinking that he would easily find the golden bird. After walking for a while he saw a fox sitting at the edge of a wood. He cocked his gun and took aim at him.
The fox cried, “Do not shoot me! In return I will give you some good counsel. You are on the way to the golden bird; this evening you will come to a village in which stand two inns opposite each other. One of them is lighted up brightly, and all goes on merrily within, but do not go into it; go rather into the other, even though it seems a bad one.”
“How can such a silly beast give wise advice?” the king’s son thought and he pulled the trigger. He missed the fox, who stretched out his tail and ran quickly into the wood.
He continued on his way and by evening came to the village where the two inns were. In one they were singing and dancing; the other had a poor, miserable look. “I should be a fool, indeed,” he thought, “if I were to go into the shabby tavern and pass by the good one.” So he went into the cheerful one, lived there in riot and revel and forgot the bird, his father and all good counsels.
The second son sets out to capture the golden bird
When some time had passed, and the eldest son did not return for month after month, the second set out, wishing to find the golden bird. The fox met him as he had met the eldest. He gave him the good advice of which he took no heed. He came to the two inns and his brother was standing at the window of the one from which the music came. His elder brother saw him, called out to him and he could not resist, but went inside and lived only for pleasure.
The youngest son sets out to capture the golden bird
Again some time passed, and then the king’s youngest son wanted to set off and try his luck, but his father would not allow it. “It is of no use,” said he, “he will find the golden bird still less than his brothers, and if a mishap were to befall him he knows not how to help himself; he is a little wanting at the best.” But at last, as he had no peace, he let him go.
Again the fox was sitting outside the forest. He begged for his life and offered his good advice. The youngest son was kind and said, “Be easy, little fox, I will do you no harm.”
“You shall not regret that,” answered the fox; “and that you may get on more quickly, get up behind on my tail.”
As soon as he had seated himself the fox began to run. Away he went over stock and stone till his hair whistled in the wind. When they came to the village the youngest son got off. He followed the good advice. Without looking around he turned into the little inn, where he spent the night quietly.
The next morning he met the fox as soon as he got into the open country.
He said, “I will tell you further what you have to do. Go on quite straight. At last you will come to a castle, in front of which a whole regiment of soldiers is lying, but do not trouble yourself about them, for they will all be asleep and snoring. Go through the midst of them straight into the castle.”
He continued, “Go through all the rooms till at last you will come to a chamber where a golden bird is hanging in a wooden cage. Close by, there stands an empty gold cage for show, but beware of taking the bird out of the common cage and putting it into the fine one, or it may go badly with you.”
With these words the fox again stretched out his tail. The king’s son seated himself upon it and away he went over stock and stone till his hair whistled in the wind.
The youngest son enters the castle and meets the golden bird
When he came to the castle he found everything as the fox had said. The king’s son went into the chamber where the golden bird was shut up in a wooden cage. A golden cage stood close by, and the three golden apples lay about the room.
“But,” thought he, “it would be absurd if I were to leave the beautiful bird in the common and ugly cage,” so he opened the door, laid hold of it, and put it into the golden cage.
At the same moment the bird uttered a shrill cry. The soldiers awoke, rushed in and took him off to prison. The next morning he was taken before a court of justice. As he confessed everything he was sentenced to death.
The king, however, said that he would grant him his life on one condition: if he brought him the golden horse which ran faster than the wind. In that case he would receive, over and above, as a reward, the golden bird.
The king’s son sets out to find the golden horse
The king’s son set off, sighing and sorrowful, for how was he to find the golden horse?
Suddenly he saw his old friend the fox sitting on the road.
“Look at yourself,” said the fox, “this has happened because you did not give heed to me. However, cheer up! I will give you my help and tell you how to get to the golden horse.”
“You must go straight on. You will come to a castle. In the stable stands the horse. The grooms will be lying in front of the stable; but they will be asleep and snoring and you can quietly lead out the golden horse.”
“Take heed of one thing: put on him the common saddle of wood and leather. Not the golden one, which hangs close by, else it will go ill with you.”
The fox stretched out his tail, the king’s son seated himself upon it, and away he went over stock and stone until his hair whistled in the wind.
Everything happened just as the fox had said. The prince came to the stable in which the golden horse was standing. Just as he was going to put the common saddle upon him, he thought, “It will be a shame to such a beautiful beast, if I do not give him the good saddle which belongs to him by right.”
Immediately when the golden saddle touched the horse he began to neigh loudly. The grooms awoke, seized him and threw him into prison. The next morning he was sentenced by the court to death; but the king promised to grant him his life, and the golden horse as well, if he could bring back the beautiful princess from the golden castle.
The king’s son sets out for the beautiful princess in the golden castle
With a heavy heart he set out. Lucky for him he soon found the trusty fox.
“I should leave you to your fate,” the fox said, “but I pity you, and will help you once more out of your trouble.”
“This road takes you straight to the golden castle. You will reach it in the evening. At night when everything is quiet the beautiful princess goes to the bathing house to bathe. When she enters it, run up to her and give her a kiss. She will follow you and you can take her away with you; only do not allow her to take leave of her parents first or it will go ill with you.”
The fox stretched out his tail, the king’s son seated himself upon it, and away the fox went, over stock and stone, till his hair whistled in the wind.
When he reached the golden castle it was just as the fox had said. He waited until midnight, when everything lay in deep sleep and the beautiful princess was going to the bathing house. He sprang out and gave her a kiss. She said that she would like to go with him, but she asked him pitifully, and with tears, to allow her first to take leave of her parents.
At first he withstood her prayer, but when she wept more and more, and fell at his feet, he at last gave in. No sooner had the young woman reached the bedside of her father than he and all the rest in the castle awoke, and he was captured and put into prison.
The king’s son needs to take away a big hill
The next morning the king said to him, “Your life is forfeited, and you can only find mercy if you take away the hill which stands in front of my windows and prevents my seeing beyond it. You must finish it all within eight days. If you do that you shall have my daughter as your reward.”
He began, dug and shoveled without leaving off. After seven days he saw how little he had done and how all his work was as good as nothing. He fell into great sorrow and gave up all hope.
On the evening of the seventh day the fox appeared and said, “You do not deserve that I should take any trouble about you; but just go away and lie down to sleep and I will do the work for you.”
The next morning when he awoke and looked out of the window the hill was gone. Full of joy he ran to the king and told him that the task was fulfilled. Whether he liked it or not, the king had to hold to his word and give him his daughter.
So the two set forth together, and it was not long before the trusty fox came up with them.
Getting the golden horse
“You have certainly got what is best,” said he, “but the golden horse also belongs to the princess of the golden castle.”
“How shall I get it?” asked the young man.
“That I will tell you,” the fox answered; “first take the beautiful princess to the king who sent you to the golden castle. There will be unheard-of rejoicing. They will gladly give you the golden horse and will bring it out to you.”
“Mount it as soon as possible and offer your hand to all in farewell; last of all to the beautiful princess. As soon as you have taken her hand swing her up on to the horse and gallop away. No one will be able to bring you back for the horse runs faster than the wind.”
All was carried out successfully, and the king’s son carried off the beautiful princess on the golden horse.
Getting the golden bird
The fox did not remain behind and he said, “Now I will help you to get the golden bird. When you come near to the castle where the golden bird is to be found, let the princess get down and I will take her into my care. Then ride with the golden horse into the castle yard.”
“There will be great rejoicing at the sight and they will bring out the golden bird for you. As soon as you have the cage in your hand gallop back to us, and take the princess away again.”
The fox has a strange wish
When the plan had succeeded, and the king’s son was about to ride home with his treasures, the fox said, “Now you shall reward me for my help.”
“What is it that you need?” asked the king’s son.
“When you get into that forest over there, shoot me dead and chop off my head and feet.”
“That is no way to say thanks!”, said the king’s son. “I cannot possibly do that for you.”
The fox said, “If you will not do it I must leave you. Before I go away I will give you a piece of good advice. Be careful about two things: buy no gallows’ flesh and do not sit at the edge of any well.”
After these words, the fox ran into the forest.
The younger brother rescues his older brothers
The young man thought, “That is a wonderful beast, but he has strange ideas sometimes. Who is going to buy gallows’ flesh? And the desire to sit at the edge of a well? It has never yet seized me.”
He rode on with the beautiful princess. His road took him again through the village in which his two brothers had remained. There was a great stir and noise. When he asked what was going on, he was told that two men were going to be hanged.
As he came nearer to the place he saw that they were his brothers, who had been playing all kinds of wicked pranks and had squandered all their wealth. He inquired whether they could not be set free.
“If you will pay for them,” the people answered; “but why should you waste your money on wicked men, and buy them free.”
He did not think twice about it, but paid for them. When they were set free they all went on their way together.
The older brothers throw their younger brother into a well
They came to the forest where the fox had first met them. It was cool and pleasant in the forest. The two brothers said, “Let us rest a little by the well, eat something and drink something.”
He agreed. While they were talking he forgot himself and sat down upon the edge of the well without thinking of any evil.
The two brothers threw him backwards into the well, took the princess, the horse and the bird and went home to their father.
“Here we bring you not only the golden bird,” they said; “we have won the golden horse also and the princess from the golden castle.” There great joy; but the horse would not eat, the bird would not sing, and the princess sat and wept.
The youngest brother travels home
The youngest brother was not dead. By good fortune the well was dry. He fell upon soft moss without being hurt, but he could not get out again. Even now the faithful fox did not leave him: it came and leapt down to him. The fox scolded him for having forgotten its advice.
“But yet I cannot give it up so,” he said; “I will help you up again into daylight.”
He told him to grasp his tail and keep a tight hold of it; then he pulled him up.
“You are not out of all danger yet,” said the fox.
“Your brothers were not sure of your death. They have surrounded the wood with watchers, who are to kill you if you let yourself be seen.”
Luckily there was a poor man sitting at the road with whom he changed clothes.
He got to the king’s palace. No one knew him, but the bird began to sing, the horse began to eat and the beautiful princess stopped weeping.
The king was astonished and asked, “What does this mean?”
Then the princess said, “I do not know, but I have been so sorrowful and now I am so happy! I feel as if my true bridegroom has come.”
She told him all that had happened, although the other brothers had threatened her with death if she were to betray anything.
The king commanded that all people who were in his castle should be brought before him. Among them came he in his ragged clothes; but the princess knew him at once and fell upon his neck. The wicked brothers were seized and put to death, but he was married to the beautiful princess and declared heir to the king.
The end of the misery of the fox
How did it fare with the poor fox? Long afterwards the king’s son was once again walking in the wood, when the fox met him and said, “You have everything now that you can wish for, but there is never an end to my misery, and yet it is in your power to free me.”
Again he asked him with tears to shoot him dead and chop off his head and feet.
So he did it. Scarcely was it done when the fox was changed into a man. None other than the brother of the beautiful princess, who at last was freed from the magic charm which had been laid upon him.
And now nothing more was missing in their happiness as long as they lived.
Tips for Telling The Golden Bird
- This is quite a long fairy tale to tell. Look at the scenes and judge which parts of the stories need their length and which ones can be shortened. Example: you don’t need to tell both the advice of the fox and what really happened…
- The fairy tale is about the youngest son of the king, but it is as much about the fox. Tell the tale as an exercise for yourself as the fox, to get more into his skin.
- What about the passive princess? While I think it’s a bad habit to comment on a fairy tale while telling it, you might want to think a little about her behavior beforehand.
All Questions Answered
This fairy tale was published by the Brothers Grimm in the first edition of their Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Their source: Dortchen Wild.
The Brothers Grimm included it in the 1812 edition of the Grimm’s fairy tales.
The Golden Bird is also known as ‘The Fox’s Brush’. There are many variants of this story in other countries.
More useful information
Fairy tales with a bird
- Fitcher’s Bird
- Hansel and Gretel
- The Brave Little Tailor
- The Golden Bird
- The Juniper Tree
- The Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage
- The Three Languages
Fairy tales with a fox
- The Fox and His Cousin
- The Fox and the Cat
- The Fox and the Geese
- The Fox and the Horse
- The Golden Bird
- The Hare’s Bride
- The Wedding of Mrs. Fox
- The Wolf and the Fox
- The Wolf and the Man
- The Wonderful Musician
Fairy tales with a horse
- Faithful John
- Sleeping Beauty
- The Dog and the Sparrow
- The Fox and the Horse
- The Golden Bird
- The Riddle
Photo credits: Ray Miller from Pixabay
The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales on this website are based on the authentic translation of Margaret Hunt. They were edited and reformatted for pleasant reading and telling by Storyteller Rudolf Roos.
See the complete list of The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales (link to internationalstoryteller.com).