THE BURGESS BIRD BOOK FOR CHILDREN
By Thornton W. Burgess
TO THE CHILDREN AND THE BIRDS OF AMERICA THAT THE BONDS OF LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN THEM MAY BE STRENGTHENED THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED
This book was written to supply a definite need. Its preparation was undertaken at the urgent request of booksellers and others who have felt the lack of a satisfactory medium of introduction to bird life for little children. As such, and in no sense whatever as a competitor with the many excellent books on this subject, but rather to supplement these, this volume has been written.
Its primary purpose is to interest the little child in, and to make him acquainted with, those feathered friends he is most likely to see. Because there is no method of approach to the child mind equal to the story, this method of conveying information has been adopted. So far as I am aware the book is unique in this respect. In its preparation an earnest effort has been made to present as far as possible the important facts regarding the appearance, habits and characteristics of our feathered neighbors. It is intended to be at once a story book and an authoritative handbook. While it is intended for little children, it is hoped that children of larger growth may find in it much of both interest and helpfulness.
Mr. Louis Agassiz Fuertes, artist and naturalist, has marvelously supplemented such value as may be in the text by his wonderful drawings in full color. They were made especially for this volume and are so accurate, so true to life, that study of them will enable any one to identify the species shown. I am greatly indebted to Mr. Fuertes for his cooperation in the endeavor to make this book of real assistance to the beginner in the study of our native birds.
It is offered to the reader without apologies of any sort. It was written as a labor of love—love for little children and love for the birds. If as a result of it even a few children are led to a keener interest in and better understanding of our feathered friends, its purpose will have been accomplished.
THORNTON W. BURGESS
I JENNY WREN ARRIVES Introducing the House Wren.
II THE OLD ORCHARD BULLY The English or House Sparrow.
III JENNY HAS A GOOD WORD FOR SOME SPARROWS The Song, White-throated and Fox Sparrows.
IV CHIPPY, SWEETVOICE AND DOTTY The Chipping, Vesper and Tree Sparrows.
V PETER LEARNS SOMETHING HE HADN'T GUESSED The Bluebird and the Robin.
VI AN OLD FRIEND IN A NEW HOME The Phoebe and the Least Flycatcher.
VII THE WATCHMAN OF THE OLD ORCHARD The Kingbird and the Great Crested Flycatcher.
VIII OLD CLOTHES AND OLD HOUSES The Wood Peewee and Some Nesting Places.
IX LONGBILL AND TEETER The Woodcock and the Spotted Sandpiper.
X REDWING AND YELLOW WING The Red-winged Blackbird and the Golden-winged Flicker.
XI DRUMMERS AND CARPENTERS The Downy, Hairy and Red-headed Woodpeckers.
XII SOME UNLIKE RELATIVES The Cowbird and the Baltimore Oriole.
XIII MORE OF THE BLACKBIRD FAMILY The Orchard Oriole and the Bobolink.
XIV BOB WHITE AND CAROL THE MEADOW LARK The So-called Quail and the Meadow Lark.
XV A SWALLOW AND ONE WHO ISN'T The Tree Swallow and the Chimney Swift.
XVI A ROBBER IN THE OLD ORCHARD The Purple Martin and the Barn Swallow.
XVII MORE ROBBERS The Crow and the Blue Jay.
XVIII SOME HOMES IN THE GREEN FOREST The Crow, the Oven Bird and the Red-tailed Hawk.
XIX A MAKER OF THUNDER AND A FRIEND IN BLACK The Ruffed Grouse and the Crow Blackbird.
XX A FISHERMAN ROBBED The Osprey and the Bald-headed Eagle.
XXI A FISHING PARTY The Great Blue Heron and the Kingfisher.
XXII SOME FEATHERED DIGGERS The Bank Swallow, the Kingfisher and the Sparrow Hawk.
XXIII SOME BIG MOUTHS The Nighthawk, the Whip-poor-will and Chuck-wills-widow.
XXIV THE WARBLERS ARRIVE The Redstart and the Yellow Warbler.
XXV THREE COUSINS QUITE UNLIKE The Black and White Warbler, the Maryland Yellow-Throat and the Yellow-breasted Chat.
XXVI PETER GETS A LAME NECK The Parula, Myrtle and Magnolia Warblers.
XXVII A NEW FRIEND AND AN OLD ONE The Cardinal and the Catbird.
XXVIII PETER SEES ROSEBREAST AND FINDS REDCOAT The Rose-breasted Grosbeak and the Scarlet Tanager.
XXIX THE CONSTANT SINGERS The Red-eyed, Warbling and Yellow-throated Vireos.
XXX JENNY WREN'S COUSINS The Brown Thrasher and the Mockingbird.
XXXI VOICE OF THE DUSK The Wood, Hermit and Wilson's Thrushes.
XXXII PETER SAVES A FRIEND AND LEARNS SOMETHING The Towhee and the Indigo Bunting.
XXXIII A ROYAL DRESSER AND A LATE NESTER The Purple Linnet and the Goldfinch.
XXXIV MOURNER THE DOVE AND CUCKOO The Mourning Dove and the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
XXXV A BUTCHER AND A HUMMER The Shrike and the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
XXXVI A STRANGER AND A DANDY The English Starling and the Cedar Waxwing.
XXXVII FAREWELLS AND WELCOMES The Chickadee.
XXXVIII HONKER AND DIPPY ARRIVE The Canada Goose and the Loon.
XXXIX PETER DISCOVERS TWO OLD FRIENDS The White-breasted Nuthatch and the Brown Creeper.
XL SOME MERRY SEED-EATERS The Tree Sparrow and the Junco.
XLI MORE FRIENDS COME WITH THE SNOW The Snow Bunting and the Horned Lark.
XLII PETER LEARNS SOMETHING ABOUT SPOOKY The Screech Owl.
XLIII QUEER FEET AND A QUEERER BILL The Ruffed Grouse and the Crossbills.
XLIV MORE FOLKS IN RED The Pine Grosbeak and the Redpoll.
XLV PETER SEES TWO TERRIBLE FEATHERED HUNTERS The Goshawk and the Great Horned Owl.
THE BURGESS BIRD BOOK FOR CHILDREN
CHAPTER I. Jenny Wren Arrives.
Lipperty-lipperty-lip scampered Peter Rabbit behind the tumble-down stone wall along one side of the Old Orchard. It was early in the morning, very early in the morning. In fact, jolly, bright Mr. Sun had hardly begun his daily climb up in the blue, blue sky. It was nothing unusual for Peter to see jolly Mr. Sun get up in the morning. It would be more unusual for Peter not to see him, for you know Peter is a great hand to stay out all night and not go back to the dear Old Briar-patch, where his home is, until the hour when most folks are just getting out of bed.
Peter had been out all night this time, but he wasn't sleepy, not the least teeny, weeny bit. You see, sweet Mistress Spring had arrived, and there was so much happening on every side, and Peter was so afraid he would miss something, that he wouldn't have slept at all if he could have helped it. Peter had come over to the Old Orchard so early this morning to see if there had been any new arrivals the day before.
"Birds are funny creatures," said Peter, as he hopped over a low place in the old stone wall and was fairly in the Old Orchard.
"Tut, tut, tut, tut, tut!" cried a rather sharp scolding voice. "Tut, tut, tut, tut, tut! You don't know what you are talking about, Peter Rabbit. They are not funny creatures at all. They are the most sensible folks in all the wide world."
Peter cut a long hop short right in the middle, to sit up with shining eyes. "Oh, Jenny Wren, I'm so glad to see you! When did you arrive?" he cried.
"Mr. Wren and I have just arrived, and thank goodness we are here at last," replied Jenny Wren, fussing about, as only she can, in a branch above Peter. "I never was more thankful in my life to see a place than I am right this minute to see the Old Orchard once more. It seems ages and ages since we left it."
"Well, if you are so fond of it what did you leave it for?" demanded Peter. "It is just as I said before—you birds are funny creatures. You never stay put; at least a lot of you don't. Sammy Jay and Tommy Tit the Chickadee and Drummer the Woodpecker and a few others have a little sense; they don't go off on long, foolish journeys. But the rest of you—"
"Tut, tut, tut, tut, tut!" interrupted Jenny Wren. "You don't know what you are talking about, and no one sounds so silly as one who tries to talk about something he knows nothing about."
Peter chuckled. "That tongue of yours is just as sharp as ever," said he. "But just the same it is good to hear it. We certainly would miss it. I was beginning to be a little worried for fear something might have happened to you so that you wouldn't be back here this summer. You know me well enough, Jenny Wren, to know that you can't hurt me with your tongue, sharp as it is, so you may as well save your breath to tell me a few things I want to know. Now if you are as fond of the Old Orchard as you pretend to be, why did you ever leave it?"
Jenny Wren's bright eyes snapped. "Why do you eat?" she asked tartly.
"Because I'm hungry," replied Peter promptly.
"What would you eat if there were nothing to eat?" snapped Jenny.
"That's a silly question," retorted Peter.
"No more silly than asking me why I leave the Old Orchard," replied Jenny. "Do give us birds credit for a little common sense, Peter. We can't live without eating any more than you can, and in winter there is no food at all here for most of us, so we go where there is food. Those who are lucky enough to eat the kinds of food that can be found here in winter stay here. They are lucky. That's what they are—lucky. Still—" Jenny Wren paused.
"Still what?" prompted Peter.
"I wonder sometimes if you folks who are at home all the time know just what a blessed place home is," replied Jenny. "It is only six months since we went south, but I said it seems ages, and it does. The best part of going away is coming home. I don't care if that does sound rather mixed; it is true just the same. It isn't home down there in the sunny South, even if we do spend as much time there as we do here. THIS is home, and there's no place like it! What's that, Mr. Wren? I haven't seen all the Great World? Perhaps I haven't, but I've seen enough of it, let me tell you that! Anyone who travels a thousand miles twice a year as we do has a right to express an opinion, especially if they have used their eyes as I have mine. There is no place like home, and you needn't try to tease me by pretending that there is. My dear, I know you; you are just as tickled to be back here as I am."
"He sings as if he were," said Peter, for all the time Mr. Wren was singing with all his might.
Jenny Wren looked over at Mr. Wren fondly. "Isn't he a dear to sing to me like that? And isn't it a perfectly beautiful spring song?" said she. Then, without waiting for Peter to reply, her tongue rattled on. "I do wish he would be careful. Sometimes I am afraid he will overdo. Just look at him now! He is singing so hard that he is shaking all over. He always is that way. There is one thing true about us Wrens, and this is that when we do things we do them with all our might. When we work we work with all our might. When Mr. Wren sings he sings with all his might."
"And, when you scold you scold with all your might," interrupted Peter mischievously.
Jenny Wren opened her mouth for a sharp reply, but laughed instead. "I suppose I do scold a good deal," said she, "but if I didn't goodness knows who wouldn't impose on us. I can't bear to be imposed on."
"Did you have a pleasant journey up from the sunny South?" asked Peter.
"Fairly pleasant," replied Jenny. "We took it rather easily, Some birds hurry right through without stopping, but I should think they would be tired to death when they arrive. We rest whenever we are tired, and just follow along behind Mistress Spring, keeping far enough behind so that if she has to turn back we will not get caught by Jack Frost. It gives us time to get our new suits on the way. You know everybody expects you to have new things when you return home. How do you like my new suit, Peter?" Jenny bobbed and twisted and turned to show it off. It was plain to see that she was very proud of it.
"Very much," replied Peter. "I am very fond of brown. Brown and gray are my favorite colors." You know Peter's own coat is brown and gray.
"That is one of the most sensible things I have heard you say," chattered Jenny Wren. "The more I see of bright colors the better I like brown. It always is in good taste. It goes well with almost everything. It is neat and it is useful. If there is need of getting out of sight in a hurry you can do it if you wear brown. But if you wear bright colors it isn't so easy. I never envy anybody who happens to have brighter clothes than mine. I've seen dreadful things happen all because of wearing bright colors."
"What?" demanded Peter.
"I'd rather not talk about them," declared Jenny in a very emphatic way. "'Way down where we spent the winter some of the feathered folks who live there all the year round wear the brightest and most beautiful suits I've ever seen. They are simply gorgeous. But I've noticed that in times of danger these are the folks dreadful things happen to. You see they simply can't get out of sight. For my part I would far rather be simply and neatly dressed and feel safe than to wear wonderful clothes and never know a minute's peace. Why, there are some families I know of which, because of their beautiful suits, have been so hunted by men that hardly any are left. But gracious, Peter Rabbit, I can't sit here all day talking to you! I must find out who else has arrived in the Old Orchard and must look my old house over to see if it is fit to live in."
CHAPTER II. The Old Orchard Bully.
Peter Rabbit's eyes twinkled when Jenny Wren said that she must look her old house over to see if it was fit to live in. "I can save you that trouble," said he.
"What do you mean?" Jenny's voice was very sharp.
"Only that our old house is already occupied," replied Peter. "Bully the English Sparrow has been living in it for the last two months. In fact, he already has a good-sized family there."
"What?" screamed Jenny and Mr. Wren together. Then without even saying good-by to Peter, they flew in a great rage to see if he had told them the truth. Presently he heard them scolding as fast as their tongues could go, and this is very fast indeed.
"Much good that will do them," chuckled Peter. "They will have to find a new house this year. All the sharp tongues in the world couldn't budge Bully the English sparrow. My, my, my, my, just hear that racket! I think I'll go over and see what is going on."
So Peter hopped to a place where he could get a good view of Jenny Wren's old home and still not be too far from the safety of the old stone wall. Jenny Wren's old home had been in a hole in one of the old apple-trees. Looking over to it, Peter could see Mrs. Bully sitting in the little round doorway and quite filling it. She was shrieking excitedly. Hopping and flitting from twig to twig close by were Jenny and Mr. Wren, their tails pointing almost straight up to the sky, and scolding as fast as they could make their tongues go. Flying savagely at one and then at the other, and almost drowning their voices with his own harsh cries, was Bully himself. He was perhaps one fourth larger than Mr. Wren, although he looked half again as big. But for the fact that his new spring suit was very dirty, due to his fondness for taking dust baths and the fact that he cares nothing about his personal appearance and takes no care of himself, he would have been a fairly good-looking fellow. His back was more or less of an ashy color with black and chestnut stripes. His wings were brown with a white bar on each. His throat and breast were black, and below that he was of a dirty white. The sides of his throat were white and the back of his neck chestnut.
By ruffling up his feathers and raising his wings slightly as he hopped about, he managed to make himself appear much bigger than he really was. He looked like a regular little fighting savage. The noise had brought all the other birds in the Old Orchard to see what was going on, and every one of them was screaming and urging Jenny and Mr. Wren to stand up for their rights. Not one of them had a good word for Bully and his wife. It certainly was a disgraceful neighborhood squabble.
Bully the English Sparrow is a born fighter. He never is happier than when he is in the midst of a fight or a fuss of some kind. The fact that all his neighbors were against him didn't bother Bully in the least.
Jenny and Mr. Wren are no cowards, but the two together were no match for Bully. In fact, Bully did not hesitate to fly fiercely at any of the onlookers who came near enough, not even when they were twice his own size. They could have driven him from the Old Orchard had they set out to, but just by his boldness and appearance he made them afraid to try.
All the time Mrs. Bully sat in the little round doorway, encouraging him. She knew that as long as she sat there it would be impossible for either Jenny or Mr. Wren to get in. Truth to tell, she was enjoying it all, for she is as quarrelsome and as fond of fighting as is Bully himself.
"You're a sneak! You're a robber! That's my house, and the sooner you get out of it the better!" shrieked Jenny Wren, jerking her tail with every word as she hopped about just out of reach of Bully.
"It may have been your house once, but it is mine now, you little snip-of-nothing!" cried Bully, rushing at her like a little fury. "Just try to put us out if you dare! You didn't make this house in the first place, and you deserted it when you went south last fall. It's mine now, and there isn't anybody in the Old Orchard who can put me out."
Peter Rabbit nodded. "He's right there," muttered Peter. "I don't like him and never will, but it is true that he has a perfect right to that house. People who go off and leave things for half a year shouldn't expect to find them just as they left them. My, my, my what a dreadful noise! Why don't they all get together and drive Bully and Mrs. Bully out of the Old Orchard? If they don't I'm afraid he will drive them out. No one likes to live with such quarrelsome neighbors. They don't belong over in this country, anyway, and we would be a lot better off if they were not here. But I must say I do have to admire their spunk."
All the time Bully was darting savagely at this one and that one and having a thoroughly good time, which is more than could be said of any one else, except Mrs. Bully.
"I'll teach you folks to know that I am in the Old Orchard to stay!" shrieked Bully. "If you don't like it, why don't you fight? I am not afraid of any of you or all of you together." This was boasting, plain boasting, but it was effective. He actually made the other birds believe it. Not one of them dared stand up to him and fight. They were content to call him a bully and all the bad names they could think of, but that did nothing to help Jenny and Mr. Wren recover their house. Calling another bad names never hurts him. Brave deeds and not brave words are what count.
How long that disgraceful squabble in the Old Orchard would have lasted had it not been for something which happened, no one knows. Right in the midst of it some one discovered Black Pussy, the cat who lives in Farmer Brown's house, stealing up through the Old Orchard, her tail twitching and her yellow eyes glaring eagerly. She had heard that dreadful racket and suspected that in the midst of such excitement she might have a chance to catch one of the feathered folks. You can always trust Black Pussy to be on hand at a time like that.
No sooner was she discovered than everything else was forgotten. With Bully in the lead, and Jenny and Mr. Wren close behind him, all the birds turned their attention to Black Pussy. She was the enemy of all, and they straightway forgot their own quarrel. Only Mrs. Bully remained where she was, in the little round doorway of her house. She intended to take no chances, but she added her voice to the general racket. How those birds did shriek and scream! They darted down almost into the face of Black Pussy, and none went nearer than Bully the English Sparrow and Jenny Wren.
Now Black Pussy hates to be the center of so much attention. She knew that, now she had been discovered, there wasn't a chance in the world for her to catch one of those Old Orchard folks. So, with tail still twitching angrily, she turned and, with such dignity as she could, left the Old Orchard. Clear to the edge of it the birds followed, shrieking, screaming, calling her bad names, and threatening to do all sorts of dreadful things to her, quite as if they really could.
When finally she disappeared towards Farmer Brown's barn, those angry voices changed. It was such a funny change that Peter Rabbit laughed right out. Instead of anger there was triumph in every note as everybody returned to attend to his own affairs. Jenny and Mr. Wren seemed to have forgotten all about Bully and his wife in their old house. They flew to another part of the Old Orchard, there to talk it all over and rest and get their breath. Peter Rabbit waited to see if they would not come over near enough to him for a little more gossip. But they didn't, and finally Peter started for his home in the dear Old Briar-patch. All the way there he chuckled as he thought of the spunky way in which Jenny and Mr. Wren had stood up for their rights.
CHAPTER III. Jenny Has a Good Word for Some Sparrows.
The morning after the fight between Jenny and Mr. Wren and Bully the English Sparrow found Peter Rabbit in the Old Orchard again. He was so curious to know what Jenny Wren would do for a house that nothing but some very great danger could have kept him away from there. Truth to tell, Peter was afraid that not being able to have their old house, Jenny and Mr. Wren would decide to leave the Old Orchard altogether. So it was with a great deal of relief that as he hopped over a low place in the old stone wall he heard Mr. Wren singing with all his might.
The song was coming from quite the other side of the Old Orchard from where Bully and Mrs. Bully had set up housekeeping. Peter hurried over. He found Mr. Wren right away, but at first saw nothing of Jenny. He was just about to ask after her when he caught sight of her with a tiny stick in her bill. She snapped her sharp little eyes at him, but for once her tongue was still. You see, she couldn't talk and carry that stick at the same time. Peter watched her and saw her disappear in a little hole in a big branch of one of the old apple-trees. Hardly had she popped in than she popped out again. This time her mouth was free, and so was her tongue.
"You'd better stop singing and help me," she said to Mr. Wren sharply. Mr. Wren obediently stopped singing and began to hunt for a tiny little twig such as Jenny had taken into that hole.
"Well!" exclaimed Peter. "It didn't take you long to find a new house, did it?"
"Certainly not," snapped Jenny "We can't afford to sit around wasting time like some folk I know."
Peter grinned and looked a little foolish, but he didn't resent it. You see he was quite used to that sort of thing. "Aren't you afraid that Bully will try to drive you out of that house?" he ventured.
Jenny Wren's sharp little eyes snapped more than ever. "I'd like to see him try!" said she. "That doorway's too small for him to get more than his head in. And if he tries putting his head in while I'm inside, I'll peck his eyes out! She said this so fiercely that Peter laughed right out.
"I really believe you would," said he.
"I certainly would," she retorted. "Now I can't stop to talk to you, Peter Rabbit, because I'm too busy. Mr. Wren, you ought to know that that stick is too big." Jenny snatched it out of Mr. Wren's mouth and dropped it on the ground, while Mr. Wren meekly went to hunt for another. Jenny joined him, and as Peter watched them he understood why Jenny is so often spoken of as a feathered busybody.
For some time Peter Rabbit watched Jenny and Mr. Wren carry sticks and straws into that little hole until it seemed to him they were trying to fill the whole inside of the tree. Just watching them made Peter positively tired. Mr. Wren would stop every now and then to sing, but Jenny didn't waste a minute. In spite of that she managed to talk just the same.
"I suppose Little Friend the Song Sparrow got here some time ago," said she.
Peter nodded. "Yes," said he. "I saw him only a day or two ago over by the Laughing Brook, and although he wouldn't say so, I'm sure that he has a nest and eggs already."
Jenny Wren jerked her tail and nodded her head vigorously. "I suppose so," said she. "He doesn't have to make as long a journey as we do, so he gets here sooner. Did you ever in your life see such a difference as there is between Little Friend and his cousin, Bully? Everybody loves Little Friend."
Once more Peter nodded. "That's right," said he. "Everybody does love Little Friend. It makes me feel sort of all glad inside just to hear him sing. I guess it makes everybody feel that way. I wonder why we so seldom see him up here in the Old Orchard."
"Because he likes damp places with plenty of bushes better," replied Jenny Wren. "It wouldn't do for everybody to like the same kind of a place. He isn't a tree bird, anyway. He likes to be on or near the ground. You will never find his nest much above the ground, not more than a foot or two. Quite often it is on the ground. Of course I prefer Mr. Wren's song, but I must admit that Little Friend has one of the happiest songs of any one I know. Then, too, he is so modest, just like us Wrens."
Peter turned his head aside to hide a smile, for if there is anybody who delights in being both seen and heard it is Jenny Wren, while Little Friend the Song Sparrow is shy and retiring, content to make all the world glad with his song, but preferring to keep out of sight as much as possible.
Jenny chattered on as she hunted for some more material for her nest. "I suppose you've noticed," said she, "that he and his wife dress very much alike. They don't go in for bright colors any more than we Wrens do. They show good taste. I like the little brown caps they wear, and the way their breasts and sides are streaked with brown. Then, too, they are such useful folks. It is a pity that that nuisance of a Bully doesn't learn something from them. I suppose they stay rather later than we do in the fall."
"Yes," replied Peter. "They don't go until Jack Frost makes them. I don't know of any one that we miss more than we do them."
"Speaking of the sparrow family, did you see anything of Whitethroat?" asked Jenny Wren, as she rested for a moment in the doorway of her new house and looked down at Peter Rabbit.
Peter's face brightened. "I should say I did!" he exclaimed. "He stopped for a few days on his way north. I only wish he would stay here all the time. But he seems to think there is no place like the Great Woods of the North. I could listen all day to his song. Do you know what he always seems to be saying?"
"What?" demanded Jenny.
"I live happ-i-ly, happ-i-ly, happ-i-ly," replied Peter. "I guess he must too, because he makes other people so happy."
Jenny nodded in her usual emphatic way. "I don't know him as well as I do some of the others," said she, "but when I have seen him down in the South he always has appeared to me to be a perfect gentleman. He is social, too; he likes to travel with others."
"I've noticed that," said Peter. "He almost always has company when he passes through here. Some of those Sparrows are so much alike that it is hard for me to tell them apart, but I can always tell Whitethroat because he is one of the largest of the tribe and has such a lovely white throat. He really is handsome with his black and white cap and that bright yellow spot before each eye. I am told that he is very dearly loved up in the north where he makes his home. They say he sings all the time."
"I suppose Scratcher the Fox Sparrow has been along too," said Jenny. "He also started sometime before we did."
"Yes," replied Peter. "He spent one night in the dear Old Briar-patch. He is fine looking too, the biggest of all the Sparrow tribe, and HOW he can sing. The only thing I've got against him is the color of his coat. It always reminds me of Reddy Fox, and I don't like anything that reminds me of that fellow. When he visited us I discovered something about Scratcher which I don't believe you know."
"What?" demanded Jenny rather sharply.
"That when he scratches among the leaves he uses both feet at once," cried Peter triumphantly. "It's funny to watch him."
"Pooh! I knew that," retorted Jenny Wren. "What do you suppose my eyes are make for? I thought you were going to tell me something I didn't know."
Peter looked disappointed.
CHAPTER IV. Chippy, Sweetvoice, and Dotty.
For a while Jenny Wren was too busy to talk save to scold Mr. Wren for spending so much time singing instead of working. To Peter it seemed as if they were trying to fill that tree trunk with rubbish. "I should think they had enough stuff in there for half a dozen nests," muttered Peter. "I do believe they are carrying it in for the fun of working." Peter wasn't far wrong in this thought, as he was to discover a little later in the season when he found Mr. Wren building another nest for which he had no use.
Finding that for the time being he could get nothing more from Jenny Wren, Peter hopped over to visit Johnny Chuck, whose home was between the roots of an old apple-tree in the far corner of the Old Orchard. Peter was still thinking of the Sparrow family; what a big family it was, yet how seldom any of them, excepting Bully the English Sparrow, were to be found in the Old Orchard.
"Hello, Johnny Chuck!" cried Peter, as he discovered Johnny sitting on his doorstep. "You've lived in the Old Orchard a long time, so you ought to be able to tell me something I want to know. Why is it that none of the Sparrow family excepting that noisy nuisance, Bully, build in the trees of the Old Orchard? Is it because Bully has driven all the rest out?"
Johnny Chuck shook his head. "Peter," said he, "whatever is the matter with your ears? And whatever is the matter with your eyes?"
"Nothing," replied Peter rather shortly. "They are as good as yours any day, Johnny Chuck."
Johnny grinned. "Listen!" said Johnny. Peter listened. From a tree just a little way off came a clear "Chip, chip, chip, chip." Peter didn't need to be told to look. He knew without looking who was over there. He knew that voice for that of one of his oldest and best friends in the Old Orchard, a little fellow with a red-brown cap, brown back with feathers streaked with black, brownish wings and tail, a gray waistcoat and black bill, and a little white line over each eye—altogether as trim a little gentleman as Peter was acquainted with. It was Chippy, as everybody calls the Chipping Sparrow, the smallest of the family.
Peter looked a little foolish. "I forgot all about Chippy," said he. "Now I think of it, I have found Chippy here in the Old Orchard ever since I can remember. I never have seen his nest because I never happened to think about looking for it. Does he build a trashy nest like his cousin, Bully?"
Johnny Chuck laughed. "I should say not!" he exclaimed. "Twice Chippy and Mrs. Chippy have built their nest in this very old apple-tree. There is no trash in their nest, I can tell you! It is just as dainty as they are, and not a bit bigger than it has to be. It is made mostly of little fine, dry roots, and it is lined inside with horse-hair."
"What's that?" Peter's voice sounded as it he suspected that Johnny Chuck was trying to fool him.
"It's a fact," said Johnny, nodding his head gravely. "Goodness knows where they find it these days, but find it they do. Here comes Chippy himself; ask him."
Chippy and Mrs. Chippy came flitting from tree to tree until they were on a branch right over Peter and Johnny. "Hello!" cried Peter. "You folks seem very busy. Haven't you finished building your nest yet?"
"Nearly," replied Chippy. "It is all done but the horsehair. We are on our way up to Farmer Brown's barnyard now to look for some. You haven't seen any around anywhere, have you?"
Peter and Johnny shook their heads, and Peter confessed that he wouldn't know horsehair if he saw it. He often had found hair from the coats of Reddy Fox and Old Man Coyote and Digger the Badger and Lightfoot the Deer, but hair from the coat of a horse was altogether another matter.
"It isn't hair from the coat of a horse that we want," cried Chippy, as he prepared to fly after Mrs. Chippy. "It is long hair form the tail or mane of a horse that we must have. It makes the very nicest kind of lining for a nest."
Chippy and Mrs. Chippy were gone a long time, but when they did return each was carrying a long black hair. They had found what they wanted, and Mrs. Chippy was in high spirits because, as she took pains to explain to Peter, that little nest would not soon be ready for the four beautiful little blue eggs with black spots on one end she meant to lay in it.
"I just love Chippy and Mrs. Chippy," said Peter, as they watched their two little feathered friends putting the finishing touches to the little nest far out on a branch of one of the apple-trees.
"Everybody does," replied Johnny. "Everybody loves them as much as they hate Bully and his wife. Did you know that they are sometimes called Tree Sparrows? I suppose it is because they so often build their nests in trees?"
"No," said Peter, "I didn't. Chippy shouldn't be called Tree Sparrow, because he has a cousin by that name."
Johnny Chuck looked as if he doubted that, "I never heard of him," he grunted.
Peter grinned. Here was a chance to tell Johnny Chuck something, and Peter never is happier than when he can tell folks something they don't know. "You'd know him if you didn't sleep all winter," said Peter. "Dotty the Tree Sparrow spends the winter here. He left for his home in the Far North about the time you took it into your head to wake up."
"Why do you call him Dotty?" asked Johnny Chuck.
"Because he has a little round black dot right in the middle of his breast," replied Peter. "I don't know why they call him Tree Sparrow; he doesn't spend his time in the trees the way Chippy does, but I see him much oftener in low bushes or on the ground. I think Chippy has much more right to the name of Tree Sparrow than Dotty has. Now I think of it, I've heard Dotty called the Winter Chippy."
"Gracious, what a mix-up!" exclaimed Johnny Chuck. "With Chippy being called a Tree Sparrow and a Tree Sparrow called Chippy, I should think folks would get all tangled up."
"Perhaps they would," replied Peter, "if both were here at the same time, but Chippy comes just as Dotty goes, and Dotty comes as Chippy goes. That's a pretty good arrangement, especially as they look very much alike, excepting that Dotty is quite a little bigger than Chippy and always has that black dot, which Chippy does not have. Goodness gracious, it is time I was back in the dear Old Briar-patch! Good-by, Johnny Chuck."
Away went Peter Rabbit, lipperty-lipperty-lip, heading for the dear Old Briar-patch. Out of the grass just ahead of him flew a rather pale, streaked little brown bird, and as he spread his tail Peter saw two white feathers on the outer edges. Those two white feathers were all Peter needed to recognize another little friend of whom he is very fond. It was Sweetvoice the Vesper Sparrow, the only one of the Sparrow family with white feathers in his tail.
"Come over to the dear Old Briar-patch and sing to me," cried Peter.
Sweetvoice dropped down into the grass again, and when Peter came up, was very busy getting a mouthful of dry grass. "Can't," mumbled Sweetvoice. "Can't do it now, Peter Rabbit. I'm too busy. It is high time our nest was finished, and Mrs. Sweetvoice will lose her patience if I don't get this grass over there pretty quick."
"Where is your nest; in a tree?" asked Peter innocently.
"That's telling," declared Sweetvoice. "Not a living soul knows where that nest is, excepting Mrs. Sweetvoice and myself. This much I will tell you, Peter: it isn't in a tree. And I'll tell you this much more: it is in a hoofprint of Bossy the Cow."
"In a WHAT?" cried Peter.
"In a hoofprint of Bossy the Cow," repeated Sweetvoice, chuckling softly. "You know when the ground was wet and soft early this spring, Bossy left deep footprints wherever she went. One of these makes the nicest kind of a place for a nest. I think we have picked out the very best one on all the Green Meadows. Now run along, Peter Rabbit, and don't bother me any more. I've got too much to do to sit here talking. Perhaps I'll come over to the edge of the dear Old Briar-patch and sing to you a while just after jolly, round, red Mr. Sun goes to bed behind the Purple Hills. I just love to sing then."
"I'll be watching for you," replied Peter. "You don't love to sing any better than I love to hear you. I think that is the best time of all the day in which to sing. I mean, I think it's the best time to hear singing," for of course Peter himself does not sing at all.
That night, sure enough, just as the Black Shadows came creeping out over the Green Meadows, Sweetvoice, perched on the top of a bramble-bush over Peter's head, sang over and over again the sweetest little song and kept on singing even after it was quite dark. Peter didn't know it, but it is this habit of singing in the evening which has given Sweetvoice his name of Vesper Sparrow.
CHAPTER V. Peter Learns Something He Hadn't Guessed.
Running over to the Old Orchard very early in the morning for a little gossip with Jenny Wren and his other friends there had become a regular thing with Peter Rabbit. He was learning a great many things, and some of them were most surprising.
Now two of Peter's oldest and best friends in the Old Orchard were Winsome Bluebird and Welcome Robin. Every spring they arrived pretty nearly together, though Winsome Bluebird usually was a few days ahead of Welcome Robin. This year Winsome had arrived while the snow still lingered in patches. He was, as he always is, the herald of sweet Mistress Spring. And when Peter had heard for the first time Winsome's soft, sweet whistle, which seemed to come from nowhere in particular and from everywhere in general, he had kicked up his long hind legs from pure joy. Then, when a few days later he had heard Welcome Robin's joyous message of "Cheer-up! Cheer-up! Cheer-up! Cheer-up! Cheer!" from the tiptop of a tall tree, he had known that Mistress Spring really had arrived.
Peter loves Winsome Bluebird and Welcome Robin, just as everybody else does, and he had known them so long and so well that he thought he knew all there was to know about them. He would have been very indignant had anybody told him he didn't.
"Those cousins don't look much alike, do they?" remarked Jenny Wren, as she poked her head out of her house to gossip with Peter.
"What cousins?" demanded Peter, staring very hard in the direction in which Jenny Wren was looking.
"Those two sitting on the fence over there. Where are your eyes, Peter?" replied Jenny rather sharply.
Peter stared harder than ever. On one post sat Winsome Bluebird, and on another post sat Welcome Robin. "I don't see anybody but Winsome and Welcome, and they are not even related," replied Peter with a little puzzled frown.
"Tut, tut, tut, tut, tut, Peter!" exclaimed Jenny Wren. "Tut, tut, tut, tut, tut! Who told you any such nonsense as that? Of course they are related. They are cousins. I thought everybody knew that. They belong to the same family that Melody the Thrush and all the other Thrushes belong to. That makes them all cousins."
"What?" exclaimed Peter, looking as if he didn't believe a word of what Jenny Wren had said. Jenny repeated, and still Peter looked doubtful.
Then Jenny lost her temper, a thing she does very easily. "If you don't believe me, go ask one of them," she snapped, and disappeared inside her house, where Peter could hear her scolding away to herself.
The more he thought of it, the more this struck Peter as good advice. So he hopped over to the foot of the fence post on which Winsome Bluebird was sitting. "Jenny Wren says that you and Welcome Robin are cousins. She doesn't know what she is talking about, does she?" asked Peter.
Winsome chuckled. It was a soft, gentle chuckle. "Yes," said he, nodding his head, "we are. You can trust that little busybody to know what she is talking about, every time. I sometimes think she knows more about other people's affairs than about her own. Welcome and I may not look much alike, but we are cousins just the same. Don't you think Welcome is looking unusually fine this spring?"
"Not a bit finer than you are yourself, Winsome," replied Peter politely. "I just love that sky-blue coat of yours. What is the reason that Mrs. Bluebird doesn't wear as bright a coat as you do?"
"Go ask Jenny Wren," chuckled Winsome Bluebird, and before Peter could say another word he flew over to the roof of Farmer Brown's house.
Back scampered Peter to tell Jenny Wren that he was sorry he had doubted her and that he never would again. Then he begged Jenny to tell him why it was that Mrs. Bluebird was not as brightly dressed as was Winsome.
"Mrs. Bluebird, like most mothers, is altogether too busy to spend much time taking care of her clothes; and fine clothes need a lot of care," replied Jenny. "Besides, when Winsome is about he attracts all the attention and that gives her a chance to slip in and out of her nest without being noticed. I don't believe you know, Peter Rabbit, where Winsome's nest is."
Peter had to admit that he didn't, although he had tried his best to find out by watching Winsome. "I think it's over in that little house put up by Farmer Brown's boy," he ventured. "I saw both Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird go in it when they first came, and I've seen Winsome around it a great deal since, so I guess it is there."
"So you guess it is there!" mimicked Jenny Wren. "Well, your guess is quite wrong, Peter; quite wrong. As a matter of fact, it is in one of those old fence posts. But just which one I am not going to tell you. I will leave that for you to find out. Mrs. Bluebird certainly shows good sense. She knows a good house when she sees it. The hole in that post is one of the best holes anywhere around here. If I had arrived here early enough I would have taken it myself. But Mrs. Bluebird already had her nest built in it and four eggs there, so there was nothing for me to do but come here. Just between you and me, Peter, I think the Bluebirds show more sense in nest building than do their cousins the Robins. There is nothing like a house with stout walls and a doorway just big enough to get in and out of comfortably."
Peter nodded quite as if he understood all about the advantages of a house with walls. "That reminds me," said he. "The other day I saw Welcome Robin getting mud and carrying it away. Pretty soon he was joined by Mrs. Robin, and she did the same thing. They kept it up till I got tired of watching them. What were they doing with that mud?"
"Building their nest, of course, stupid," retorted Jenny. "Welcome Robin, with that black head, beautiful russet breast, black and white throat and yellow bill, not to mention the proud way in which he carries himself, certainly is a handsome fellow, and Mrs. Robin is only a little less handsome. How they can be content to build the kind of a home they do is more than I can understand. People think that Mr. Wren and I use a lot of trash in our nest. Perhaps we do, but I can tell you one thing, and that is it is clean trash. It is just sticks and clean straws, and before I lay my eggs I see to it that my nest is lined with feathers. More than this, there isn't any cleaner housekeeper than I am, if I do say it.
"Welcome Robin is a fine looker and a fine singer, and everybody loves him. But when it comes to housekeeping, he and Mrs. Robin are just plain dirty. They make the foundation of their nest of mud,—plain, common, ordinary mud. They cover this with dead grass, and sometimes there is mighty little of this over the inside walls of mud. I know because I've seen the inside of their nest often. Anybody with any eyes at all can find their nest. More than once I've known them to have their nest washed away in a heavy rain, or have it blown down in a high wind. Nothing like that ever happens to Winsome Bluebird or to me."
Jenny disappeared inside her house, and Peter waited for her to come out again. Welcome Robin flew down on the ground, ran a few steps, and then stood still with his head on one side as if listening. Then he reached down and tugged at something, and presently out of the ground came a long, wriggling angleworm. Welcome gulped it down and ran on a few steps, then once more paused to listen. This time he turned and ran three or four steps to the right, where he pulled another worm out of the ground.
"He acts as if he heard those worms in the ground," said Peter, speaking aloud without thinking.
"He does," said Jenny Wren, poking her head out of her doorway just as Peter spoke. "How do you suppose he would find them when they are in the ground if he didn't hear them?"
"Can you hear them?" asked Peter.
"I've never tried, and I don't intend to waste my time trying," retorted Jenny. "Welcome Robin may enjoy eating them, but for my part I want something smaller and daintier, young grasshoppers, tender young beetles, small caterpillars, bugs and spiders."
Peter had to turn his head aside to hide the wry face he just had to make at the mention of such things as food. "Is that all Welcome Robin eats?" he asked innocently.
"I should say not," laughed Jenny. "He eats a lot of other kinds of worms, and he just dearly loves fruit like strawberries and cherries and all sorts of small berries. Well, I can't stop here talking any longer. I'm going to tell you a secret, Peter, if you'll promise not to tell."
Of course Peter promised, and Jenny leaned so far down that Peter wondered how she could keep from falling as she whispered, "I've got seven eggs in my nest, so if you don't see much of me for the next week or more, you'll know why. I've just got to sit on those eggs and keep them warm."
CHAPTER VI. An Old Friend In a New Home.
Every day brought newcomers to the Old Orchard, and early in the morning there were so many voices to be heard that perhaps it is no wonder if for some time Peter Rabbit failed to miss that of one of his very good friends. Most unexpectedly he was reminded of this as very early one morning he scampered, lipperty-lipperty-lip, across a little bridge over the Laughing Brook.
"Dear me! Dear me! Dear me!" cried rather a plaintive voice. Peter stopped so suddenly that he all but fell heels over head. Sitting on the top of a tall, dead, mullein stalk was a very soberly dressed but rather trim little fellow, a very little larger than Bully the English Sparrow. Above, his coat was of a dull olive-brown, while underneath he was of a grayish-white, with faint tinges of yellow in places. His head was dark, and his bill black. The feathers on his head were lifted just enough to make the tiniest kind of crest. His wings and tail were dusky, little bars of white showing very faintly on his wings, while the outer edges of his tail were distinctly white. He sat with his tail hanging straight down, as if he hadn't strength enough to hold it up.
"Hello, Dear Me!" cried Peter joyously. "What are you doing way down here? I haven't seen you since you first arrived, just after Winsome Bluebird got here." Peter started to say that he had wondered what had become of Dear Me, but checked himself, for Peter is very honest and he realized now that in the excitement of greeting so many friends he hadn't missed Dear Me at all.
Dear Me the Phoebe did not reply at once, but darted out into the air, and Peter heard a sharp click of that little black bill. Making a short circle, Dear Me alighted on the mullein stalk again.
"Did you catch a fly then?" asked Peter.
"Dear me! Dear me! Of course I did," was the prompt reply. And with each word there was a jerk of that long hanging tail. Peter almost wondered if in some way Dear Me's tongue and tail were connected. "I suppose," said he, "that it is the habit of catching flies and bugs in the air that has given your family the name of Flycatchers."
Dear Me nodded and almost at once started into the air again. Once more Peter heard the click of that little black bill, then Dear Me was back on his perch. Peter asked again what he was doing down there.
"Mrs. Phoebe and I are living down here," replied Dear Me. "We've made our home down here and we like it very much."
Peter looked all around, this way, that way, every way, with the funniest expression on his face. He didn't see anything of Mrs. Phoebe and he didn't see any place in which he could imagine Mr. and Mrs. Phoebe building a nest. "What are you looking for?" asked Dear Me.
"For Mrs. Phoebe and your home," declared Peter quite frankly. "I didn't suppose you and Mrs. Phoebe ever built a nest on the ground, and I don't see any other place around here for one."
Dear Me chuckled. "I wouldn't tell any one but you, Peter," said he, "but I've known you so long that I'm going to let you into a little secret. Mrs. Phoebe and our home are under the very bridge you are sitting on."
"I don't believe it!" cried Peter.
But Dear Me knew from the way Peter said it that he really didn't mean that. "Look and see for yourself," said Dear Me.
So Peter lay flat on his stomach and tried to stretch his head over the edge of the bridge so as to see under it. But his neck wasn't long enough, or else he was afraid to lean over as far as he might have. Finally he gave up and at Mr. Phoebe's suggestion crept down the bank to the very edge of the Laughing Brook. Dear Me darted out to catch another fly, then flew right in under the bridge and alighted on a little ledge of stone just beneath the floor. There, sure enough, was a nest, and Peter could see Mrs. Phoebe's bill and the top of her head above the edge of it. It was a nest with a foundation of mud covered with moss and lined with feathers.
"That's perfectly splendid!" cried Peter, as Dear Me resumed his perch on the old mullein stalk. "How did you ever come to think of such a place? And why did you leave the shed up at Farmer Brown's where you have build your home for the last two or three years?"
"Oh," replied Dear Me, "we Phoebes always have been fond of building under bridges. You see a place like this is quite safe. Then, too, we like to be near water. Always there are many insects flying around where there is water, so it is an easy matter to get plenty to eat. I left the shed at Farmer Brown's because that pesky cat up there discovered our nest last year, and we had a dreadful time keeping our babies out of her clutches. She hasn't found us down here, and she wouldn't be able to trouble us if she should find us."
"I suppose," said Peter, "that as usual you were the first of your family to arrive."
"Certainly. Of course," replied Dear Me. "We always are the first. Mrs. Phoebe and I don't go as far south in winter as the other members of the family do. They go clear down into the Tropics, but we manage to pick up a pretty good living without going as far as that. So we get back here before the rest of them, and usually have begun housekeeping by the time they arrive. My cousin, Chebec the Least Flycatcher, should be here by this time. Haven't you heard anything of him up in the Old Orchard?"
"No," replied Peter, "but to tell the truth I haven't looked for him. I'm on my way to the Old Orchard now, and I certainly shall keep my ears and eyes open for Chebec. I'll tell you if I find him. Good-by."
"Dear me! Dear me! Good-by Peter. Dear me!" replied Mr. Phoebe as Peter started off for the Old Orchard.
Perhaps it was because Peter was thinking of him that almost the first voice he heard when he reached the Old Orchard was that of Chebec, repeating his own name over and over as if he loved the sound of it. It didn't take Peter long to find him. He was sitting out on the up of one of the upper branches of an apple-tree where he could watch for flies and other winged insects. He looked so much like Mr. Phoebe, save that he was smaller, that any one would have know they were cousins. "Chebec! Chebec! Chebec!" he repeated over and over, and with every note jerked his tail. Now and then he would dart out into the air and snap up something so small that Peter, looking up from the ground, couldn't see it at all.
"Hello, Chebec!" cried Peter. "I'm glad to see you back again. Are you going to build in the Old Orchard this year?"
"Of course I am," replied Chebec promptly. "Mrs. Chebec and I have built here for the last two or three years, and we wouldn't think of going anywhere else. Mrs. Chebec is looking for a place now. I suppose I ought to be helping her, but I learned a long time ago, Peter Rabbit, that in matters of this kind it is just as well not to have any opinion at all. When Mrs. Chebec has picked out just the place she wants, I'll help her build the nest. It certainly is good to be back here in the Old Orchard and planning a home once more. We've made a terribly long journey, and I for one am glad it's over."
"I just saw your cousins, Mr. and Mrs. Phoebe, and they already have a nest and eggs," said Peter.
"The Phoebes are a funny lot," replied Chebec. "They are the only members of the family that can stand cold weather. What pleasure they get out of it I don't understand. They are queer anyway, for they never build their nests in trees as the rest of us do."
"Are you the smallest in the family?" asked Peter, for it had suddenly struck him that Chebec was a very little fellow indeed.
Chebec nodded. "I'm the smallest," said he. "That's why they call me Least Flycatcher. I may be least in size, but I can tell you one thing, Peter Rabbit, and that is that I can catch just as many bugs and flies as any of them." Suiting action to the word, he darted out into the air. His little bill snapped and with a quick turn he was back on his former perch, jerking his tail and uttering his sharp little cry of, "Chebec! Chebec! Chebec!" until Peter began to wonder which he was the most fond of, catching flies, or the sound of his own voice.
Presently they both heard Mrs. Chebec calling from somewhere in the middle of the Old Orchard. "Excuse me, Peter," said Chebec, "I must go at once. Mrs. Chebec says she has found just the place for our nest, and now we've got a busy time ahead of us. We are very particular how we build a nest."
"Do you start it with mud the way Welcome Robin and your cousins, the Phoebes, do?" asked Peter.
"Mud!" cried Chebec scornfully. "Mud! I should say not! I would have you understand, Peter, that we are very particular about what we use in our nest. We use only the finest of rootlets, strips of soft bark, fibers of plants, the brown cotton that grows on ferns, and perhaps a little hair when we can find it. We make a dainty nest, if I do say it, and we fasten it securely in the fork made by two or three upright little branches. Now I must go because Mrs. Chebec is getting impatient. Come see me when I'm not so busy Peter."
CHAPTER VII. The Watchman of the Old Orchard.
A few days after Chebec and his wife started building their nest in the Old Orchard Peter dropped around as usual for a very early call. He found Chebec very busy hunting for materials for that nest, because, as he explained to Peter, Mrs. Chebec is very particular indeed about what her nest is made of. But he had time to tell Peter a bit of news.
"My fighting cousin and my handsomest cousin arrived together yesterday, and now our family is very well represented in the Old Orchard," said Chebec proudly.
Slowly Peter reached over his back with his long left hind foot and thoughtfully scratched his long right ear. He didn't like to admit that he couldn't recall those two cousins of Chebec's. "Did you say your fighting cousin?" he asked in a hesitating way.
"That's what I said," replied Chebec. "He is Scrapper the Kingbird, as of course you know. The rest of us always feel safe when he is about."
"Of course I know him," declared Peter, his face clearing. "Where is he now?"
At that very instant a great racket broke out on the other side of the Old Orchard and in no time at all the feathered folks were hurrying from every direction, screaming at the top of their voices. Of course, Peter couldn't be left out of anything like that, and he scampered for the scene of trouble as fast as his legs could take him. When he got there he saw Redtail the Hawk flying up and down and this way and that way, as if trying to get away from something or somebody.
For a minute Peter couldn't think what was the trouble with Redtail, and then he saw. A white-throated, white-breasted bird, having a black cap and back, and a broad white band across the end of his tail, was darting at Redtail as if he meant to pull out every feather in the latter's coat.
He was just a little smaller than Welcome Robin, and in comparison with him Redtail was a perfect giant. But this seemed to make no difference to Scrapper, for that is who it was. He wasn't afraid, and he intended that everybody should know it, especially Redtail. It is because of his fearlessness that he is called Kingbird. All the time he was screaming at the top of his lungs, calling Redtail a robber and every other bad name he could think of. All the other birds joined him in calling Redtail bad names. But none, not even Bully the English Sparrow, was brave enough to join him in attacking big Redtail.
When he had succeeded in driving Redtail far enough from the Old Orchard to suit him, Scrapper flew back and perched on a dead branch of one of the trees, where he received the congratulations of all his feathered neighbors. He took them quite modestly, assuring them that he had done nothing, nothing at all, but that he didn't intend to have any of the Hawk family around the Old Orchard while he lived there. Peter couldn't help but admire Scrapper for his courage.
As Peter looked up at Scrapper he saw that, like all the rest of the flycatchers, there was just the tiniest of hooks on the end of his bill. Scrapper's slightly raised cap seemed all black, but if Peter could have gotten close enough, he would have found that hidden in it was a patch of orange-red. While Peter sat staring up at him Scrapper suddenly darted out into the air, and his bill snapped in quite the same way Chebec's did when he caught a fly. But it wasn't a fly that Scrapper had. It was a bee. Peter saw it very distinctly just as Scrapper snapped it up. It reminded Peter that he had often heard Scrapper called the Bee Martin, and now he understood why.
"Do you live on bees altogether?" asked Peter.
"Bless your heart, Peter, no," replied Scrapper with a chuckle. "There wouldn't be any honey if I did. I like bees. I like them first rate. But they form only a very small part of my food. Those that I do catch are mostly drones, and you know the drones are useless. They do no work at all. It is only by accident that I now and then catch a worker. I eat all kinds of insects that fly and some that don't. I'm one of Farmer Brown's best friends, if he did but know it. You can talk all you please about the wonderful eyesight of the members of the Hawk family, but if any one of them has better eyesight than I have, I'd like to know who it is. There's a fly 'way over there beyond that old apple-tree; watch me catch it."
Peter knew better than to waste any effort trying to see that fly. He knew that he couldn't have seen it had it been only one fourth that distance away. But if he couldn't see the fly he could hear the sharp click of Scrapper's bill, and he knew by the way Scrapper kept opening and shutting his mouth after his return that he had caught that fly and it had tasted good.
"Are you going to build in the Old Orchard this year?" asked Peter.
"Of course I am," declared Scrapper. "I—"
Just then he spied Blacky the Crow and dashed out to meet him. Blacky saw him coming and was wise enough to suddenly appear to have no interest whatever in the Old Orchard, turning away toward the Green Meadows instead.
Peter didn't wait for Scrapper to return. It was getting high time for him to scamper home to the dear Old Briar-patch and so he started along, lipperty-lipperty-lip. Just as he was leaving the far corner of the Old Orchard some one called him. "Peter! Oh, Peter Rabbit!" called the voice. Peter stopped abruptly, sat up very straight, looked this way, looked that way and looked the other way, every way but the right way.
"Look up over your head," cried the voice, rather a harsh voice. Peter looked, then all in a flash it came to him who it was Chebec had meant by the handsomest member of his family. It was Cresty the Great Crested Flycatcher. He was a wee bit bigger than Scrapper the Kingbird, yet not quite so big as Welcome Robin, and more slender. His throat and breast were gray, shading into bright yellow underneath. His back and head were of a grayish-brown with a tint of olive-green. A pointed cap was all that was needed to make him quite distinguished looking. He certainly was the handsomest as well as the largest of the Flycatcher family.
"You seem to be in a hurry, so don't let me detain you, Peter," said Cresty, before Peter could find his tongue. "I just want to ask one little favor of you."
"What is it?" asked Peter, who is always glad to do any one a favor.
"If in your roaming about you run across an old cast-off suit of Mr. Black Snake, or of any other member of the Snake family, I wish you would remember me and let me know. Will you, Peter?" said Cresty.
"A—a—a—what?" stammered Peter.
"A cast-off suit of clothes from any member of the Snake family," replied Cresty somewhat impatiently. "Now don't forget, Peter. I've got to go house hunting, but you'll find me there or hereabouts, if it happens that you find one of those cast-off Snake suits."
Before Peter could say another word Cresty had flown away. Peter hesitated, looking first towards the dear Old Briar-patch and then towards Jenny Wren's house. He just couldn't understand about those cast-off suits of the Snake family, and he felt sure that Jenny Wren could tell him. Finally curiosity got the best of him, and back he scampered, lipperty-lipperty-lip, to the foot of the tree in which Jenny Wren had her home.
"Jenny!" called Peter. "Jenny Wren! Jenny Wren!" No one answered him. He could hear Mr. Wren singing in another tree, but he couldn't see him. "Jenny! Jenny Wren! Jenny Wren!" called Peter again. This time Jenny popped her head out, and her little eyes fairly snapped. "Didn't I tell you the other day, Peter Rabbit, that I'm not to be disturbed? Didn't I tell you that I've got seven eggs in here, and that I can't spend any time gossiping? Didn't I, Peter Rabbit? Didn't I? Didn't I?"
"You certainly did, Jenny. You certainly did, and I'm sorry to disturb you," replied Peter meekly. "I wouldn't have thought of doing such a thing, but I just didn't know who else to go to."
"Go to for what?" snapped Jenny Wren. "What is it you've come to me for?"
"Snake skins," replied Peter.
"Snake skins! Snake skins!" shrieked Jenny Wren. "What are you talking about, Peter Rabbit? I never have anything to do with Snake skins and don't want to. Ugh! It makes me shiver just to think of it."
"You don't understand," cried Peter hurriedly. "What I want to know is, why should Cresty the Flycatcher ask me to please let him know if I found any cast-off suits of the Snake family? He flew away before I could ask him why he wants them, and so I came to you, because I know you know everything, especially everything concerning your neighbors."
Jenny Wren looked as if she didn't know whether to feel flattered or provoked. But Peter looked so innocent that she concluded he was trying to say something nice.
CHAPTER VIII. Old Clothes and Old Houses.
"I can't stop to talk to you any longer now, Peter Rabbit," said Jenny Wren, "but if you will come over here bright and early to-morrow morning, while I am out to get my breakfast, I will tell you about Cresty the Flycatcher and why he wants the cast-off clothes of some of the Snake family. Perhaps I should say WHAT he wants of them instead of WHY he wants them, for why any one should want anything to do with Snakes is more then I can understand."
With this Jenny Wren disappeared inside her house, and there was nothing for Peter to do but once more start for the dear Old Briar-patch. On his way he couldn't resist the temptation to run over to the Green Forest, which was just beyond the Old Orchard. He just HAD to find out if there was anything new over there. Hardly had he reached it when he heard a plaintive voice crying, "Pee-wee! Pee-wee! Pee-wee!" Peter chuckled happily. "I declare, there's Pee-wee," he cried. "He usually is one of the last of the Flycatcher family to arrive. I didn't expect to find him yet. I wonder what has brought him up so early."
It didn't take Peter long to find Pewee. He just followed the sound of that voice and presently saw Pewee fly out and make the same kind of a little circle as the other members of the family make when they are hunting flies. It ended just where it had started, on a dead twig of a tree in a shady, rather lonely part of the Green Forest. Almost at once he began to call his name in a rather sad, plaintive tone, "Pee-wee! Pee-wee! Pee-wee!" But he wasn't sad, as Peter well knew. It was his way of expressing how happy he felt. He was a little bigger than his cousin, Chebec, but looked very much like him. There was a little notch in the end of his tail. The upper half of his bill was black, but the lower half was light. Peter could see on each wing two whitish bars, and he noticed that Pewee's wings were longer than his tail, which wasn't the case with Chebec. But no one could ever mistake Pewee for any of his relatives, for the simple reason that he keeps repeating his own name over and over.
"Aren't you here early?" asked Peter.
Pewee nodded. "Yes," said he. "It has been unusually warm this spring, so I hurried a little and came up with my cousins, Scrapper and Cresty. That is something I don't often do."
"If you please," Peter inquired politely, "why do folks call you Wood Pewee?"
Pewee chuckled happily. "It must be," said he, "because I am so very fond of the Green Forest. It is so quiet and restful that I love it. Mrs. Pewee and I are very retiring. We do not like too many near neighbors."
"You won't mind if I come to see you once in a while, will you?" asked Peter as he prepared to start on again for the dear Old Briar-patch.
"Come as often as you like," replied Pewee. "The oftener the better."
Back in the Old Briar-patch Peter thought over all he had learned about the Flycatcher family, and as he recalled how they were forever catching all sorts of flying insects it suddenly struck him that they must be very useful little people in helping Old Mother Nature take care of her trees and other growing things which insects so dearly love to destroy.
But most of all Peter thought about that queer request of Cresty's, and a dozen times that day he found himself peeping under old logs in the hope of finding a cast-off coat of Mr. Black Snake. It was such a funny thing for Cresty to ask for that Peter's curiosity would allow him no peace, and the next morning he was up in the Old Orchard before jolly Mr. Sun had kicked his bedclothes off.
Jenny Wren was as good as her word. While she flitted and hopped about this way and that way in that fussy way of hers, getting her breakfast, she talked. Jenny couldn't keep her tongue still if she wanted to.
"Did you find any old clothes of the Snake family?" she demanded. Then as Peter shook his head her tongue ran on without waiting for him to reply. "Cresty and his wife always insist upon having a piece of Snake skin in their nest," said she. "Why they want it, goodness knows! But they do want it and never can seem to settle down to housekeeping unless they have it. Perhaps they think it will scare robbers away. As for me, I should have a cold chill every time I got into my nest if I had to sit on anything like that. I have to admit that Cresty and his wife are a handsome couple, and they certainly have good sense in choosing a house, more sense than any other member of their family to my way of thinking. But Snake skins! Ugh!"
"By the way, where does Cresty build?" asked Peter.
"In a hole in a tree, like the rest of us sensible people," retorted Jenny Wren promptly.
Peter looked quite as surprised as he felt. "Does Cresty make the hole?" he asked.
"Goodness gracious, no!" exclaimed Jenny Wren. "Where are your eyes, Peter? Did you ever see a Flycatcher with a bill that looked as if it could cut wood?" She didn't wait for a reply, but rattled on. "It is a good thing for a lot of us that the Woodpecker family are so fond of new houses. Look! There is Downy the Woodpecker hard at work on a new house this very minute. That's good. I like to see that. It means that next year there will be one more house for some one here in the Old Orchard. For myself I prefer old houses. I've noticed there are a number of my neighbors who feel the same way about it. There is something settled about an old house. It doesn't attract attention the way a new one does. So long as it has got reasonably good walls, and the rain and the wind can't get in, the older it is the better it suits me. But the Woodpeckers seem to like new houses best, which, as I said before, is a very good thing for the rest of us."
"Who is there besides you and Cresty and Bully the English Sparrow who uses these old Woodpecker houses?" asked Peter.
"Winsome Bluebird, stupid!" snapped Jenny Wren.
Peter grinned and looked foolish. "Of course," said he. "I forgot all about Winsome."
"And Skimmer the Tree Swallow," added Jenny.
"That's so; I ought to have remembered him," exclaimed Peter. "I've noticed that he is very fond of the same house year after year. Is there anybody else?"
Again Jenny Wren nodded. "Yank-Yank the Nuthatch uses an old house, I'm told, but he usually goes up North for his nesting," said she. "Tommy Tit the Chickadee sometimes uses an old house. Then again he and Mrs. Chickadee get fussy and make a house for themselves. Yellow Wing the flicker, who really is a Woodpecker, often uses an old house, but quite often makes a new one. Then there are Killy the Sparrow Hawk and Spooky the Screech Owl."
Peter looked surprised. "I didn't suppose THEY nested in holes in trees!" he exclaimed.
"They certainly do, more's the pity!" snapped Jenny. "It would be a good thing for the rest of us if they didn't nest at all. But they do, and an old house of Yellow Wing the Flicker suits either of them. Killy always uses one that is high up, and comes back to it year after year. Spooky isn't particular so long as the house is big enough to be comfortable. He lives in it more or less the year around. Now I must get back to those eggs of mine. I've talked quite enough for one morning."
"Oh, Jenny," cried Peter, as a sudden thought struck him.
Jenny paused and jerked her tail impatiently. "Well, what is it now?" she demanded.
"Have you got two homes?" asked Peter.
"Goodness gracious, no!" exclaimed Jenny. "What do you suppose I want of two homes? One is all I can take care of."
"Then why," demanded Peter triumphantly, "does Mr. Wren work all day carrying sticks and straws into a hole in another tree? It seems to me that he has carried enough in there to build two or three nests."
Jenny Wren's eyes twinkled, and she laughed softly. "Mr. Wren just has to be busy about something, bless his heart," said she. "He hasn't a lazy feather on him. He's building that nest to take up his time and keep out of mischief. Besides, if he fills that hollow up nobody else will take it, and you know we might want to move some time. Good-by, Peter." With a final jerk of her tail Jenny Wren flew to the little round doorway of her house and popped inside.
CHAPTER IX. Longbill and Teeter.
From the decided way in which Jenny Wren had popped into the little round doorway of her home, Peter knew that to wait in the hope of more gossip with her would be a waste of time. He wasn't ready to go back home to the dear Old Briar-patch, yet there seemed nothing else to do, for everybody in the Old Orchard was too busy for idle gossip. Peter scratched a long ear with a long hind foot, trying to think of some place to go. Just then he heard the clear "peep, peep, peep" of the Hylas, the sweet singers of the Smiling Pool.
"That's where I'll go!" exclaimed Peter. "I haven't been to the Smiling Pool for some time. I'll just run over and pay my respects to Grandfather Frog, and to Redwing the Blackbird. Redwing was one of the first birds to arrive, and I've neglected him shamefully."
When Peter thinks of something to do he wastes no time. Off he started, lipperty-lipperty-lip, for the Smiling Pool. He kept close to the edge of the Green Forest until he reached the place where the Laughing Brook comes out of the Green Forest on its way to the Smiling Pool in the Green Meadows. Bushes and young trees grow along the banks of the Laughing Brook at this point. The ground was soft in places, quite muddy. Peter doesn't mind getting his feet damp, so he hopped along carelessly. From right under his very nose something shot up into the air with a whistling sound. It startled Peter so that he stopped short with his eyes popping out of his head. He had just a glimpse of a brown form disappearing over the tops of some tall bushes. Then Peter chuckled. "I declare," said he, "I had forgotten all about my old friend, Longbill the Woodcock. He scared me for a second."
"Then you are even," said a voice close at hand. "You scared him. I saw you coming, but Longbill didn't."
Peter turned quickly. There was Mrs. Woodcock peeping at him from behind a tussock of grass.
"I didn't mean to scare him," apologized Peter. "I really didn't mean to. Do you think he was really very much scared?"
"Not too scared to come back, anyway," said Longbill himself, dropping down just in front of Peter. "I recognized you just as I was disappearing over the tops of the bushes, so I came right back. I learned when I was very young that when startled it is best to fly first and find out afterwards whether or not there is real danger. I am glad it is no one but you, Peter, for I was having a splendid meal here, and I should have hated to leave it. You'll excuse me while I go on eating, I hope. We can talk between bites."
"Certainly I'll excuse you," replied Peter, staring around very hard to see what it could be Longbill was making such a good meal of. But Peter couldn't see a thing that looked good to eat. There wasn't even a bug or a worm crawling on the ground. Longbill took two or three steps in rather a stately fashion. Peter had to hide a smile, for Longbill had such an air of importance, yet at the same time was such an odd looking fellow. He was quite a little bigger than Welcome Robin, his tail was short, his legs were short, and his neck was short. But his bill was long enough to make up. His back was a mixture of gray, brown, black and buff, while his breast and under parts were a beautiful reddish-buff. It was his head that made him look queer. His eyes were very big and they were set so far back that Peter wondered if it wasn't easier for him to look behind him than in front of him.
Suddenly Longbill plunged his bill into the ground. He plunged it in for the whole length. Then he pulled it out and Peter caught a glimpse of the tail end of a worm disappearing down Longbill's throat. Where that long bill had gone into the ground was a neat little round hole. For the first time Peter noticed that there were many such little round holes all about. "Did you make all those little round holes?" exclaimed Peter.
"Not at all," replied Longbill. "Mrs. Woodcock made some of them."
"And was there a worm in every one?" asked Peter, his eyes very wide with interest.
Longbill nodded. "Of course," said he. "You don't suppose we would take the trouble to bore one of them if we didn't know that we would get a worm at the end of it, do you?"
Peter remembered how he had watched Welcome Robin listen and then suddenly plunge his bill into the ground and pull out a worm. But the worms Welcome Robin got were always close to the surface, while these worms were so deep in the earth that Peter couldn't understand how it was possible for any one to know that they were there. Welcome Robin could see when he got hold of a worm, but Longbill couldn't. "Even if you know there is a worm down there in the ground, how do you know when you've reached him? And how is it possible for you to open your bill down there to take him in?" asked Peter.
Longbill chuckled. "That's easy," said he. "I've got the handiest bill that ever was. See here!" Longbill suddenly thrust his bill straight out in front of him and to Peter's astonishment he lifted the end of the upper half without opening the rest of his bill at all. "That's the way I get them," said he. "I can feel them when I reach them, and then I just open the top of my bill and grab them. I think there is one right under my feet now; watch me get him." Longbill bored into the ground until his head was almost against it. When he pulled his bill out, sure enough, there was a worm. "Of course," explained Longbill, "it is only in soft ground that I can do this. That is why I have to fly away south as soon as the ground freezes at all."
"It's wonderful," sighed Peter. "I don't suppose any one else can find hidden worms that way."
"My cousin, Jack Snipe, can," replied Longbill promptly. "He feeds the same way I do, only he likes marshy meadows instead of brushy swamps. Perhaps you know him."
Peter nodded. "I do," said he. "Now you speak of it, there is a strong family resemblance, although I hadn't thought of him as a relative of yours before. Now I must be running along. I'm ever so glad to have seen you, and I'm coming over to call again the first chance I get."
So Peter said good-by and kept on down the Laughing Brook to the Smiling Pool. Right where the Laughing Brook entered the Smiling Pool there was a little pebbly beach. Running along the very edge of the water was a slim, trim little bird with fairly long legs, a long slender bill, brownish-gray back with black spots and markings, and a white waistcoat neatly spotted with black. Every few steps he would stop to pick up something, then stand for a second bobbing up and down in the funniest way, as if his body was so nicely balanced on his legs that it teetered back and forth like a seesaw. It was Teeter the Spotted Sandpiper, an old friend of Peter's. Peter greeted him joyously.
"Peet-weet! Peet-weet!" cried Teeter, turning towards Peter and bobbing and bowing as only Teeter can. Before Peter could say another word Teeter came running towards him, and it was plain to see that Teeter was very anxious about something. "Don't move, Peter Rabbit! Don't move!" he cried.
"Why not?" demanded Peter, for he could see no danger and could think of no reason why he shouldn't move. Just then Mrs. Teeter came hurrying up and squatted down in the sand right in front of Peter.
"Thank goodness!" exclaimed Teeter, still bobbing and bowing. "If you had taken another step, Peter Rabbit, you would have stepped right on our eggs. You gave me a dreadful start."
Peter was puzzled. He showed it as he stared down at Mrs. Teeter just in front of him. "I don't see any nest or eggs or anything," said he rather testily.
Mrs. Teeter stood up and stepped aside. Then Peter saw right in a little hollow in the sand, with just a few bits of grass for a lining, four white eggs with big dark blotches on them. They looked so much like the surrounding pebbles that he never would have seen them in the world but for Mrs. Teeter. Peter hastily backed away a few steps. Mrs. Teeter slipped back on the eggs and settled herself comfortably. It suddenly struck Peter that if he hadn't seen her do it, he wouldn't have known she was there. You see she looked so much like her surroundings that he never would have noticed her at all.
"My!" he exclaimed. "I certainly would have stepped on those eggs if you hadn't warned me," said he. "I'm so thankful I didn't. I don't see how you dare lay them in the open like this."
Mrs. Teeter chuckled softly. "It's the safest place in the world, Peter," said she. "They look so much like these pebbles around here that no one sees them. The only time they are in danger is when somebody comes along, as you did, and is likely to step on them without seeing them. But that doesn't happen often."
CHAPTER X. Redwing and Yellow Wing.
Peter had come over to the Smiling Pool especially to pay his respects to Redwing the Blackbird, so as soon as he could, without being impolite, he left Mrs. Teeter sitting on her eggs, and Teeter himself bobbing and bowing in the friendliest way, and hurried over to where the bulrushes grow. In the very top of the Big Hickory-tree, a little farther along on the bank of the Smiling Pool, sat some one who at that distance appeared to be dressed all in black. He was singing as if there were nothing but joy in all the great world. "Quong-ka-reee! Quong-ka-reee! Quong-ka-reee!" he sang. Peter would have known from this song alone that it was Redwing the Blackbird, for there is no other song quite like it.
As soon as Peter appeared in sight Redwing left his high perch and flew down to light among the broken-down bulrushes. As he flew, Peter saw the beautiful red patch on the bend of each wing, from which Redwing gets his name. "No one could ever mistake him for anybody else," thought Peter, "For there isn't anybody else with such beautiful shoulder patches."
"What's the news, Peter Rabbit?" cried Redwing, coming over to sit very near Peter.
"There isn't much," replied Peter, "excepting that Teeter the Sandpiper has four eggs just a little way from here."
Redwing chuckled. "That is no news, Peter," said he. "Do you suppose that I live neighbor to Teeter and don't know where his nest is and all about his affairs? There isn't much going on around the Smiling Pool that I don't know, I can tell you that."
Peter looked a little disappointed, because there is nothing he likes better than to be the bearer of news. "I suppose," said he politely, "that you will be building a nest pretty soon yourself, Redwing."
Redwing chuckled softly. It was a happy, contented sort of chuckle. "No, Peter," said he. "I am not going to build a nest."
"What?" exclaimed Peter, and his two long ears stood straight up with astonishment.
"No," replied Redwing, still chuckling. "I'm not going to build a nest, and if you want to know a little secret, we have four as pretty eggs as ever were laid."
Peter fairly bubbled over with interest and curiosity. "How splendid!" he cried. "Where is your nest, Redwing? I would just love to see it. I suppose it is because she is sitting on those eggs that I haven't seen Mrs. Redwing. It was very stupid of me not to guess that folks who come as early as you do would be among the first to build a home. Where is it, Redwing? Do tell me."
Redwing's eyes twinkled.
"A secret which is known by three Full soon will not a secret be,"
said he. "It isn't that I don't trust you, Peter. I know that you wouldn't intentionally let my secret slip out. But you might do it by accident. What you don't know, you can't tell."
"That's right, Redwing. I am glad you have so much sense," said another voice, and Mrs. Redwing alighted very near to Redwing.
Peter couldn't help thinking that Old Mother Nature had been very unfair indeed in dressing Mrs. Redwing. She was, if anything, a little bit smaller than her handsome husband, and such a plain, not to say homely, little body that it was hard work to realize that she was a Blackbird at all. In the first place she wasn't black. She was dressed all over in grayish-brown with streaks of darker brown which in places were almost black. She wore no bright-colored shoulder patches. In fact, there wasn't a bright feather on her anywhere. Peter wanted to ask why it was that she was so plainly dressed, but he was too polite and decided to wait until he should see Jenny Wren. She would be sure to know. Instead, he exclaimed, "How do you do, Mrs. Redwing? I'm ever so glad to see you. I was wondering where you were. Where did you come from?"
"Straight from my home," replied Mrs. Redwing demurely. "And if I do say it, it is the best home we've ever had."
Redwing chuckled. He was full of chuckles. You see, he had noticed how eagerly Peter was looking everywhere.
"This much I will tell you, Peter," said Redwing; "our nest is somewhere in these bulrushes, and if you can find it we won't say a word, even if you don't keep the secret."
Then Redwing chuckled again and Mrs. Redwing chuckled with him. You see, they knew that Peter doesn't like water, and that nest was hidden in a certain clump of brown, broken-down rushes, with water all around. Suddenly Redwing flew up in the air with a harsh cry. "Run, Peter! Run!" he screamed. "Here comes Reddy Fox!"
Peter didn't wait for a second warning. He knew by the sound of Redwing's voice that Redwing wasn't joking. There was just one place of safety, and that was an old hole of Grandfather Chuck's between the roots of the Big Hickory-tree. Peter didn't waste any time getting there, and he was none too soon, for Reddy was so close at his heels that he pulled some white hairs out of Peter's tail as Peter plunged headfirst down that hole. It was a lucky thing for Peter that that hole was too small for Reddy to follow and the roots prevented Reddy from digging it any bigger.
For a long time Peter sat in Grandfather Chuck's old house, wondering how soon it would be safe for him to come out. For a while he heard Mr. and Mrs. Redwing scolding sharply, and by this he knew that Reddy Fox was still about. By and by they stopped scolding, and a few minutes later he heard Redwing's happy song. "That means," thought Peter, "that Reddy Fox has gone away, but I think I'll sit here a while longer to make sure."
Now Peter was sitting right under the Big Hickory-tree. After a while he began to hear faint little sounds, little taps, and scratching sounds as of claws. They seemed to come from right over his head, but he knew that there was no one in that hole but himself. He couldn't understand it at all.
Finally Peter decided it would be safe to peek outside. Very carefully he poked his head out. Just as he did so, a little chip struck him right on the nose. Peter pulled his head back hurriedly and stared at the little chip which lay just in front of the hole. Then two or three more little chips fell. Peter knew that they must come from up in the Big Hickory-tree, and right away his curiosity was aroused. Redwing was singing so happily that Peter felt sure no danger was near, so he hopped outside and looked up to find out where those little chips had come from. Just a few feet above his head he saw a round hole in the trunk of the Big Hickory-tree. While he was looking at it, a head with a long stout bill was thrust out and in that bill were two or three little chips. Peter's heart gave a little jump of glad surprise.
"Yellow Wing!" he cried. "My goodness, how you startled me!"
The chips were dropped and the head was thrust farther out. The sides and throat were a soft reddish-tan and on each side at the beginning of the bill was a black patch. The top of the head was gray and just at the back was a little band of bright red. There was no mistaking that head. It belonged to Yellow Wing the Flicker beyond a doubt.
"Hello, Peter!" exclaimed Yellow Wing, his eyes twinkling. "What are you doing here?"
"Nothing," replied Peter, "but I want to know what you are doing. What are all those chips?"
"I'm fixing up this old house of mine," replied Yellow Wing promptly. "It wasn't quite deep enough to suit me, so I am making it a little deeper. Mrs. Yellow Wing and I haven't been able to find another house to suit us, so we have decided to live here again this year." He came wholly out and flew down on the ground near Peter. When his wings were spread, Peter saw that on the under sides they were a beautiful golden-yellow, as were the under sides of his tail feathers. Around his throat was a broad, black collar. From this, clear to his tail, were black dots. When his wings were spread, the upper part of his body just above the tail was pure white.
"My," exclaimed Peter, "you are a handsome fellow! I never realized before how handsome you are."
Yellow Wing looked pleased. Perhaps he felt a little flattered. "I am glad you think so, Peter," said he. "I am rather proud of my suit, myself. I don't know of any member of my family with whom I would change coats."
A sudden thought struck Peter. "What family do you belong to?" He asked abruptly.
"The Woodpecker family," replied Yellow Wing proudly.
CHAPTER XI. Drummers and Carpenters.
Peter Rabbit was so full of questions that he hardly knew which one to ask first. But Yellow Wing the Flicker didn't give him a chance to ask any. From the edge of the Green forest there came a clear, loud call of, "Pe-ok! Pe-ok! Pe-ok!"
"Excuse me, Peter, there's Mrs. Yellow Wing calling me," exclaimed Yellow Wing, and away he went. Peter noticed that as he flew he went up and down. It seemed very much as if he bounded through the air just as Peter bounds over the ground. "I would know him by the way he flies just as far as I could see him," thought Peter, as he started for home in the dear Old Briar-patch. "Somehow he doesn't seem like a Woodpecker because he is on the ground so much. I must ask Jenny Wren about him."
It was two or three days before Peter had a chance for a bit of gossip with Jenny Wren. When he did the first thing he asked was if Yellow Wing is a true Woodpecker.
"Certainly he is," replied Jenny Wren. "Of course he is. Why under the sun should you think he isn't?"
"Because it seems to me he is on the ground more than he's in the trees," retorted Peter. "I don't know any other Woodpeckers who come down on the ground at all."
"Tut, tut, tut, tut!" scolded Jenny. "Think a minute, Peter! Think a minute! Haven't you ever seen Redhead on the ground?"
Peter blinked his eyes. "Ye-e-s," he said slowly. "Come to think of it, I have. I've seen him picking up beechnuts in the fall. The Woodpeckers are a funny family. I don't understand them."
Just then a long, rolling rat-a-tat-tat rang out just over their heads. "There's another one of them," chuckled Jenny. "That's Downy, the smallest of the whole family. He certainly makes an awful racket for such a little fellow. He is a splendid drummer and he's just as good a carpenter. He made the very house I am occupying now."
Peter was sitting with his head tipped back trying to see Downy. At first he couldn't make him out. Then he caught a little movement on top of a dead limb. It was Downy's head flying back and forth as he beat his long roll. He was dressed all in black and white. On the back of his head was a little scarlet patch. He was making a tremendous racket for such a little chap, only a little bigger than one of the Sparrow family.
"Is he making a hole for a nest up there?" asked Peter eagerly.
"Gracious, Peter, what a question! What a perfectly silly question!" exclaimed Jenny Wren scornfully. "Do give us birds credit for a little common sense. If he were cutting a hole for a nest, everybody within hearing would know just where to look for it. Downy has too much sense in that little head of his to do such a silly thing as that. When he cuts a hole for a nest he doesn't make any more noise than is absolutely necessary. You don't see any chips flying, do you?"
"No-o," replied Peter slowly. "Now you speak of it, I don't. Is—is he hunting for worms in the wood?"
Jenny laughed right out. "Hardly, Peter, hardly," said she. "He's just drumming, that's all. That hollow limb makes the best kind of a drum and Downy is making the most of it. Just listen to that! There isn't a better drummer anywhere."
But Peter wasn't satisfied. Finally he ventured another question. "What's he doing it for?"
"Good land, Peter!" cried Jenny. "What do you run and jump for in the spring? What is Mr. Wren singing for over there? Downy is drumming for precisely the same reason—happiness. He can't run and jump and he can't sing, but he can drum. By the way, do you know that Downy is one of the most useful birds in the Old Orchard?"
Just then Downy flew away, but hardly had he disappeared when another drummer took his place. At first Peter thought Downy had returned until he noticed that the newcomer was just a bit bigger than Downy. Jenny Wren's sharp eyes spied him at once.
"Hello!" she exclaimed. "There's Hairy. Did you ever see two cousins look more alike? If it were not that Hairy is bigger than Downy it would be hard work to tell them apart. Do you see any other difference, Peter?"
Peter stared and blinked and stared again, then slowly shook his head. "No," he confessed, "I don't."
"That shows you haven't learned to use your eyes, Peter," said Jenny rather sharply. "Look at the outside feathers of his tail; they are all white. Downy's outside tail feathers have little bars of black. Hairy is just as good a carpenter as is Downy, but for that matter I don't know of a member of the Woodpecker family who isn't a good carpenter. Where did you say Yellow Wing the Flicker is making his home this year?"
"Over in the Big Hickory-tree by the Smiling Pool," replied Peter. "I don't understand yet why Yellow Wing spends so much time on the ground."
"Ants," replied Jenny Wren. "Just ants. He's as fond of ants as is Old Mr. Toad, and that is saying a great deal. If Yellow Wing keeps on he'll become a ground bird instead of a tree bird. He gets more than half his living on the ground now. Speaking of drumming, did you ever hear Yellow Wing drum on a tin roof?"
Peter shook his head.
"Well, if there's a tin roof anywhere around, and Yellow Wing can find it, he will be perfectly happy. He certainly does love to make a noise, and tin makes the finest kind of a drum."