In former days every sound still had its meaning and application. When the smith's hammer resounded, it cried, "Strike away! strike away." When the carpenter's plane grated, it said, "Here goes! here goes." If the mill wheel began to clack, it said, "Help, Lord God! help, Lord God!" And if the miller was a cheat and happened to leave the mill, it spoke high German, and first asked slowly, "Who is there? Who is there?" and then answered quickly, "The miller! the miller!" and at last quite in a hurry, "He steals bravely! he steals bravely! three pecks in a bushel."
At this time the birds also had their own language which every one understood; now it only sounds like chirping, screeching, and whistling, and to some like music without words. It came into the bird's mind, however, that they would no longer be without a ruler, and would choose one of themselves to be their King. One alone amongst them, the green plover, was opposed to this. He had lived free, and would die free, and anxiously flying hither and thither, he cried, "Where shall I go? where shall I go?" He retired into a solitary and unfrequented marsh, and showed himself no more among his fellows.
The birds now wished to discuss the matter, and on a fine May morning they all gathered together from the woods and fields: eagles and chaffinches, owls and crows, larks and sparrows, how can I name them all? Even the cuckoo came, and the hoopoe, his clerk, who is so called because he is always heard a few days before him, and a very small bird which as yet had no name, mingled with the band. The hen, which by some accident had heard nothing of the whole matter, was astonished at the great assemblage. "What, what, what is going to be done?" she cackled; but the cock calmed his beloved hen, and said, "Only rich people," and told her what they had on hand. It was decided, however, that the one who could fly the highest should be King. A tree-frog which was sitting among the bushes, when he heard that, cried a warning, "No, no, no! no!" because he thought that many tears would be shed because of this; but the crow said, "Caw, caw," and that all would pass off peaceably. It was now determined that on this fine morning they should at once begin to ascend, so that hereafter no one should be able to say, "I could easily have flown much higher, but the evening came on, and I could do no more." On a given signal, therefore, the whole troop rose up in the air. The dust ascended from the land, and there was tremendous fluttering and whirring and beating of wings, and it looked as if a black cloud was rising up. The little birds were, however, soon left behind. They could go no farther, and fell back to the ground. The larger birds held out longer, but none could equal the eagle, who mounted so high that he could have picked the eyes out of the sun. And when he saw that the others could not get up to him, he thought, "Why shouldst thou fly still higher, thou art the King?" and began to let himself down again. The birds beneath him at once cried to him. "Thou must be our King, no one has flown so high as thou." - "Except me," screamed the little fellow without a name, who had crept into the breast-feathers of the eagle. And as he was not at all tired, he rose up and mounted so high that he reached heaven itself. When, however, he had gone as far as this, he folded his wings together, and called down with clear and penetrating voice, "I am King! I am King."
"Thou, our King?" cried the birds angrily. "Thou hast compassed it by trick and cunning!" So they made another condition. He should be King who could go down lowest in the ground. How the goose did flap about with its broad breast when it was once more on the land! How quickly the cock scratched a hole! The duck came off the worst of all, for she leapt into a ditch, but sprained her legs, and waddled away to a neighboring pond, crying, "Cheating, cheating!" The little bird without a name, however, sought out a mouse- hole, slipped down into it, and cried out of it with his small voice, "I am King! I am King!"
"Thou our King!" cried the birds still more angrily. "Dost thou think thy cunning shall prevail?" They determined to keep him a prisoner in the hole and starve him out. The owl was placed as sentinel in front of it, and was not to let the rascal out if she had any value for her life. When evening was come all the birds were feeling very tired after exerting their wings so much, so they went to bed with their wives and children. The owl alone remained standing by the mouse-hole, gazing steadfastly into it with her great eyes. In the meantime she, too, had grown tired and thought to herself, "You might certainly shut one eye, you will still watch with the other, and the little miscreant shall not come out of his hole." So she shut one eye, and with the other looked straight at the mouse-hole. The little fellow put his head out and peeped, and wanted to slip away, but the owl came forward immediately, and he drew his head back again. Then the owl opened the one eye again, and shut the other, intending to shut them in turn all through the night.
But when she next shut the one eye, she forgot to open the other, and as soon as both her eyes were shut she fell asleep. The little fellow soon observed that, and slipped away.
From that day forth, the owl has never dared to show herself by daylight, for if she does the other birds chase her and pluck her feathers out. She only flies out by night, but hates and pursues mice because they make such ugly holes. The little bird, too, is very unwilling to let himself be seen, because he is afraid it will cost him his life if he is caught. He steals about in the hedges, and when he is quite safe, he sometimes cries, "I am King," and for this reason, the other birds call him in mockery, 'King of the hedges' (Zaunkönig). No one, however, was so happy as the lark at not having to obey the little King. As soon as the sun appears, she ascends high in the air and cries, "Ah, how beautiful that is! beautiful that is! beautiful, beautiful! ah, how beautiful that is!"
这时候，鸟类也有它们自己的语言，人人都能听懂。 如今只剩下啾啾声、唧唧声、吹哨声，有些就像没有词的曲儿。 尽管这样，鸟类们想，它们不能长久没有个领头。 大伙儿决定从它们当中选一位来做它们的王，唯独淡水鸟反对。 它自由自在地生活惯了，也想自由地了此一生，于是它焦急地飞来飞去，口里叫道："我往何处？我往何处？"它飞到了一个偏僻的，人迹罕至的沼泽地，从此不再在鸟类中露面。
如今鸟类都在讨论这件事。 五月的一个上午，天气晴朗，它们从森林里和田野里纷纷飞到一起。 来的有老鹰和苍头鹰、猫头鹰和乌鸦，还有百灵和麻雀，……我哪能一一说出它的名字呢？ 就连布谷鸟也来了，还有它的司事戴胜。 戴胜所以叫做司事，因为它总在布谷前几天叫。 还有十分小的、还没有名字的鸟混在鸟群中。 大母鸡不了解这全部事情，看见大集会就惊讶起来，嘟嘟地叫道："干嘛？干嘛？这究竟是干嘛？"公鸡却安慰它亲爱的母鸡说："很多有钱的人。"便向它讲它们所要做的事。 最终它们决定了，谁能够飞得最高，谁就做王。 丛林里住着青蛙，听到这个，警告地叫道："不，不，不！不，不，不！"因为他认为，这样会惹出很多眼泪。 可乌鸦回答："没问题！"它认为一切都会很顺利。
现在决定了，它们要趁晴朗的早上一起飞到天上，免得后面有谁说："我本来还可以飞得高些，但是到了晚上，我就不能了。"信号一发 ，鸟儿全都飞向了蓝天，田野扬起灰尘，鸟们大声喊叫，喧哗，鼓翼，好像一阵黑云掠过似的。 小鸟们很快就落后了，再也飞不动了，只好重新回到地面；大一点的坚持得久些，但没有一个能同雄鹰比，它飞得那样高，几乎把太阳的眼睛都啄下来了。 当它看见其它的鸟都没自己飞得高时，就想："你不用飞得更高，你已经是鸟中之王了。"于是往下降。 在它下面的鸟儿齐声喊道："鸟王只能是你，没有谁比你飞得更高了。""除我之外，"那只没有名字的小鸟大声叫道，原来它刚才藏在了鹰的胸毛里，便不感到累，这时飞向了空中，飞得比鹰还要高，以至它能看见坐在椅子上的上帝了。 当它飞得那样高了，就合起翅膀沉了下来，在下面打着尖锐的声音叫道："我当王！我当王！"
"什么，你是我们的王？"鸟儿们更愤怒了，"你以为你的阴谋会得逞？"它们决定把小鸟关在它呆的洞里，让它饿死。 猫头鹰被派在洞前当守卫，要不它就休想活命。 到了晚上，鸟们因为飞得使劲，感到很疲倦了，便带着它们的老婆孩子上床去了。 猫头鹰独自在老鼠洞口立着，用它的大眼睛一眨不眨地盯着地面。 可是它很快也疲倦了，它想："我可以闭着这一只眼，用另一只眼看守着，不叫那小坏蛋溜出来。"于是他闭上了一只眼，用另一只眼斜盯着老鼠洞口。 那小东西探出头来瞅了瞅，企图溜掉，猫头鹰立刻走了过去，小东西便缩回了头。 不一会儿，猫头鹰又睁开了另一只眼，闭上这一只，想这样换一整夜。 但是当它又闭上那一只时，忘记睁开这一只了，不久两只眼睛都闭着，睡着了，那小鸟一见就溜之大吉。
从此以后，猫头鹰不敢再在白天露面，否则别的鸟会追赶它，拔光它身上的羽毛。 它只是在夜里飞出来，但是它痛恨并且追捕老鼠 ，因为它们做这种坏洞。 那小鸟也不愿意出现，因为它怕被捉住就没命。 它在篱笆间钻来钻去，感到绝对安全了，才时不时地叫两声，"我当王！"所以别的鸟都笑它叫"篱笆王"。 没有谁比云雀更高兴了，因为它不用听"篱笆王"的使唤。 太阳一出来，它就飞到空中高唱："啊，多么美好！真是美好呀！真美好！真美好！啊，哪有这般美好！"