The Burgess Bird Book for Children
Thornton W. Burgess
Part 4 out of 5
Chewink nodded. "Of course," said he. "As a matter of fact, I've
got a nest in this very thicket. Mrs. Towhee is on it right now,
and I suspect she's worrying and anxious to know what happened
over here when you warned me about Reddy Fox. I think I must go
over and set her mind at rest."
Peter was just about to ask if he might go along and see that
nest when a new voice broke in.
"What are you fellows talking about?" it demanded, and there
flitted just in front of Peter a little bird the size of a
Sparrow but lovelier than any Sparrow of Peter's acquaintance. At
first glance he seemed to be all blue, and such a lovely bright
blue. But as he paused for an instant Peter saw that his wings
and tail were mostly black and that the lovely blue was brightest
on his head and back. It was Indigo the Bunting.
"We were talking about our family," replied Chewink. "I was
telling Peter that we belong to the largest family among the
"But you didn't say anything about Indigo," interrupted Peter.
"Do you mean to say that he belongs to the same family?"
"I surely do," replied Indigo. "I'm rather closely related to the
Sparrow branch. Don't I look like a Sparrow?"
Peter looked at Indigo closely. "In size and shape you do," he
confessed, "but just the same I should never in the world have
thought of connecting you with the Sparrows."
"How about me?" asked another voice, and a little brown bird flew
up beside Indigo, twitching her tail nervously. She looked very
Sparrow-like indeed, so much so, that if Peter had not seen her
with her handsome mate, for she was Mrs. Indigo, he certainly
would have taken her for a Sparrow.
Only on her wings and tail was there any of the blue which made
Indigo's coat so beautiful, and this was only a faint tinge.
"I'll have to confess that so far as you are concerned it isn't
hard to think of you as related to the Sparrows," declared Peter.
"Don't you sometimes wish you were as handsomely dressed as
Mrs. Indigo shook her head in a most decided way. "Never!" she
declared. "I have worries enough raising a family as it is, but
if I had a coat like his I wouldn't have a moment of peace. You
have no idea how I worry about him sometimes. You ought to be
thankful, Peter Rabbit, that you haven't a coat like his. It
attracts altogether too much attention."
Peter tried to picture himself in a bright blue coat and laughed
right out at the mere thought, and the others joined with him.
Then Indigo flew up to the top of a tall tree not far away and
began to sing. It was a lively song and Peter enjoyed it
thoroughly. Mrs. Indigo took this opportunity to slip away
unobserved, and when Peter looked around for Chewink, he too had
disappeared. He had gone to tell Mrs. Cbewink that he was quite
safe and that she bad nothing to worry about.
CHAPTER XXXIII A Royal Dresser and a Late Nester.
Jenny and Mr. Wren were busy. If there were any busier little
folks anywhere Peter Rabbit couldn't imagine who they could be.
You see, everyone of those seven eggs in the Wren nest had
hatched, and seven mouths are a lot to feed, especially when
every morsel of food must be hunted for and carried from a
distance. There was little time for gossip now. Just as soon as
it was light enough to see Jenny and Mr. Wren began feeding those
always hungry babies, and they kept at it with hardly time for an
occasional mouthful themselves, until the Black Shadows came
creeping out from the Purple Hills. Wren babies, like all other
bird babies, grow very fast, and that means that each one of them
must have a great deal of food every day. Each one of them often
ate its own weight in food in a day and all their food had to be
hunted for and when found carried back and put into the gaping
little mouths. Hardly would Jenny Wren disappear in the little
round doorway of her home with a caterpillar in her bill than she
would hop out again, and Mr. Wren would take her place with a
spider or a fly and then hurry away for something more.
Peter tried to keep count of the number of times they came and
went but soon gave it up as a bad job. He began to wonder where
all the worms and bugs and spiders came from, and gradually he
came to have a great deal of respect for eyes sharp enough to
find them so quickly. Needless to say Jenny was shorter-tempered
than ever. She had no time to gossip and said so most
emphatically. So at last Peter gave up the idea of trying to find
out from her certain things he wanted to know, and hopped off to
look for some one who was less busy. He had gone but a short
distance when his attention was caught by a song so sweet and so
full of little trills that he first stopped to listen, then went
to look for the singer.
It didn't take long to find him, for he was sitting on the very
tiptop of a fir-tree in Farmer Brown's yard. Peter didn't dare go
over there, for already it was broad daylight, and he had about
made up his mind that he would have to content himself with just
listening to that sweet singer when the latter flew over in the
Old Orchard and alighted just over Peter's head. "Hello, Peter!"
"Hello, Linnet!" cried Peter. "I was wondering who it could be
who was singing like that. I ought to have known, but you see
it's so long since I've heard you sing that I couldn't just
remember your song. I'm so glad you came over here for I'm just
dying to talk to somebody."
Linnet the Purple Finch, for this is who it was, laughed right
out. "I see you're still the same old Peter," said he. "I suppose
you're just as full of curiosity as ever and just as full of
questions. Well, here I am, so what shall we talk about?"
"You," replied Peter bluntly. "Lately I've found out so many
surprising things about my feathered friends that I want to know
more. I'm trying to get it straight in my head who is related to
who, and I've found out some things which have begun to make me
feel that I know very little about my feathered neighbors. It's
getting so that I don't dare to even guess who a person's
relatives are. If you please, Linnet, what family do you belong
Linnet flew down a little nearer to Peter. "Look me over, Peter,"
said he with twinkling eyes. "Look me over and see if you can't
tell for yourself."
Peter stared solemnly at Linnet. He saw a bird of Sparrow size
most of whose body was a rose-red, brightest on the head, darkest
on the back, and palest on the breast. Underneath he was whitish.
His wings and tail were brownish, the outer parts of the feathers
edged with rose-red. His bill was short and stout.
Before Peter could reply, Mrs. Linnet appeared. There wasn't so
much as a touch of that beautiful rose-red about her. Her
grayish-brown back was streaked with black, and her white breast
and sides were spotted and streaked with brown. If Peter hadn't
seen her with Linnet he certainly would have taken her for a
Sparrow. She looked so much like one that he ventured to say, "I
guess you belong to the Sparrow family."
"That's pretty close, Peter. That's pretty close," declared
Linnet. "We belong to the Finch branch of the family, which makes
the sparrows own cousins to us. Folks may get Mrs. Linnet mixed
with some of our Sparrow cousins, but they never can mistake me.
There isn't anybody else my size with a rose-red coat like mine.
If you can't remember my song, which you ought to, because there
is no other song quite like it, you can always tell me by the
color of my coat. Hello! Here comes Cousin Chicoree. Did you ever
see a happier fellow than he is? I'll venture to say that he has
been having such a good time that he hasn't even yet thought of
building a nest, and here half the people of the Old Orchard have
grown families. I've a nest and eggs myself, but that madcap
is just roaming about having a good time. Isn't that so,
"Isn't what so?" demanded Chicoree the Goldfinch, perching very
near to where Linnet was sitting.
"Isn't it true that you haven't even begun thinking about a
nest?" demanded Linnet. Chicoree flew down in the grass almost
under Peter's nose and began to pull apart a dandelion which had
gone to seed. He snipped the seeds from the soft down to which
they were attached and didn't say a word till he was quite
through. Then he flew up in the tree near Linnet, and while he
dressed his feathers, answered Linnet's question.
"It's quite true, but what of it?" said he. "There's time enough
to think about nest-building and household cares later. Mrs.
Goldfinch and I will begin to think about them about the first of
July. Meanwhile we are making the most of this beautiful season
to roam about and have a good time. For one thing we like
thistledown to line our nest, and there isn't any thistledown
yet. Then, there is no sense in raising a family until there is
plenty of the right kind of food, and you know we Goldfinches
live mostly on seeds. I'll venture to say that we are the
greatest seed-eaters anywhere around. Of course when the babies
are small they have to have soft food, but one can find plenty of
worms and bugs any time during the summer. Just as soon as the
children are big enough to hunt their own food they need seeds,
so there is no sense in trying to raise a family until there are
plenty of seeds for them when needed. Meanwhile we are having a
good time. How do you like my summer suit, Peter?"
"It's beautiful," cried Peter. "I wouldn't know you for the same
bird I see so often in the late fall and sometimes in the winter.
I don't know of anybody who makes a more complete change. That
black cap certainly is very smart and becoming."
Chicoree cocked his head on one side, the better to show off that
black cap. The rest of his head and his whole body were bright
yellow. His wings were black with two white bars on each. His
tail also was black, with some white on it. In size he was a
little smaller than Linnet and altogether one of the smartest
appearing of all the little people who wear feathers. It was a
joy just to look at him. If Peter had known anything about
Canaries, which of course he didn't, because Canaries are always
kept in cages, he would have understood why Chicoree the
Goldfinch is often called the Wild Canary.
Mrs. Goldfinch now joined her handsome mate and it was plain to
see that she admired him quite as much as did Peter. Her wings
and tail were much like his but were more brownish than black.
She wore no cap it all and her back and head were a grayish-brown
with an olive tinge. Underneath she was lighter, with a tinge of
yellow. All together she was a very modestly dressed small
person. As Peter recalled Chicoree's winter suit, it was very
much like that now worn by Mrs. Goldfinch, save that his wings
and tail were as they now appeared.
All the time Chicoree kept up a continual happy twittering,
breaking out every few moments into song. It was clear that he
was fairly bubbling over with joy.
"I suppose," said Peter, "it sounds foolish of me to ask if you
are a member of the same family as Linnet."
"Very foolish, Peter. Very foolish," laughed Chicoree. "Isn't my
name Goldfinch, and isn't his name Purple Finch? We belong to the
same family and a mighty fine family it is. Now I must go over to
the Old Pasture to see how the thistles are coming on."
Away he flew calling, "Chic-o-ree, per-chic-o-ree, chic-o-ree!"
Mrs. Goldfinch followed. As they flew, they rose and fell in the
air in very much the same way that Yellow Wing the Flicker does.
"I'd know them just by that, even if Chicoree didn't keep calling
his own name," thought Peter. "It's funny how they often stay
around all winter yet are among the last of all the birds to set
up housekeeping. As I once said to Jenny Wren, birds certainly
are funny creatures."
"Tut, tut, tut, tut, tut! It's no such thing, Peter Rabbit. It's
no such thing," scolded Jenny Wren as she flew last Peter on her
way to hunt for another worm for her hungry babies.
CHAPTER, XXXIV Mourner the Dove and Cuckoo.
A long lane leads from Farmer Brown's barnyard down to his
cornfield on the Green Meadows. It happened that very early one
morning Peter Rabbit took it into his funny little head to run
down that long lane to see what he might see. Now at a certain
place beside that long lane was a gravelly bank into which Farmer
Brown had dug for gravel to put on the roadway up near his house.
As Peter was scampering past this place where Farmer Brown had
dug he caught sight of some one very busy in that gravel pit.
Peter stopped short, then sat up to stare.
It was Mourner the Dove whom Peter saw, an old friend of whom
Peter is very fond. His body was a little bigger than that of
Welcome Robin, but his long slender neck, and longer tail and
wings made him appear considerably larger. In shape he reminded
Peter at once of the Pigeons up at Farmer Brown's. His back was
grayish-brown, varying to bluish-gray. The crown and upper parts
of his head were bluish-gray. His breast was reddish-buff,
shading down into a soft buff. His bill was black and his feet
red. The two middle feathers of his tail were longest and of the
color of his back. The other feathers were slaty-gray with little
black bands and tipped with white. On his wings were a few
scattered black spots. Just under each ear was a black spot. But
it was the sides of his slender neck which were the most
beautiful part of Mourner. When untouched by the Jolly Little
Sunbeams the neck feathers appeared to be in color very like his
breast, but the moment they were touched by the Jolly Little
Sunbeams they seemed to be constantly changing, which, as you
know, is called iridescence. Altogether Mourner was lovely in a
But it was not his appearance which made Peter stare; it was what
he was doing. He was walking about and every now and then picking
up something quite as if he were getting his breakfast in that
gravel pit, and Peter couldn't imagine anything good to eat down
there. He knew that there were not even worms there. Besides,
Mourner is not fond of worms; he lives almost altogether on seeds
and grains of many kinds. So Peter was puzzled. But as yon know
he isn't the kind to puzzle long over anything when he can use
"Hello, Mourner!" he cried. "What under the sun are you doing in
there? Are you getting your breakfast?"
"Hardly, Peter; hardly," cooed Mourner in the softest of voices.
"I've had my breakfast and now I'm picking up a little gravel for
my digestion." He picked up a tiny pebble and swallowed it.
"Well, of all things!" cried Peter. "You must be crazy. The idea
of thinking that gravel is going to help your digestion. I should
say the chances are that it will work just the other way."
Mourner laughed. It was the softest of little cooing laughs, very
pleasant to hear. "I see that as usual you are judging others by
yourself," said he. "You ought to know by this time that you can
do nothing more foolish. I haven't the least doubt that a
breakfast of gravel would give you the worst kind of a
stomach-ache. But you are you and I am I, and there is all the
difference in the world. You know I eat grain and hard seeds. Not
having any teeth I have to swallow them whole. One part of my
stomach is called a gizzard and its duty is to grind and crush my
food so that it may be digested. Tiny pebbles and gravel help
grind the food and so aid digestion. I think I've got enough now
for this morning, and it is time for a dust bath. There is a
dusty spot over in the lane where I take a dust bath every day."
"If you don't mind," said Peter, "I'll go with you."
Mourner said he didn't mind, so Peter followed him over to the
dusty place in the long lane. There Mourner was joined by Mrs.
Dove, who was dressed very much like him save that she did not
have so beautiful a neck. While they thoroughly dusted themselves
they chatted with Peter.
"I see you on the ground so much that I've often wondered if you
build your nest on the ground," said Peter.
"No," replied Mourner. "Mrs. Dove builds in a tree, but usually
not very far above the ground. Now if you'll excuse us we must
get back home. Mrs. Dove has two eggs to sit on and while she is
siting I like to be close at hand to keep her company and make
love to her."
The Doves shook the loose dust from their feathers and flew away.
Peter watched to see where they went, but lost sight of them
behind some trees, so decided to run up to the Old Orchard. There
he found Jenny and Mr. Wren as busy as ever feeding that growing
family of theirs. Jenny wouldn't stop an instant to gossip. Peter
was so brimful of what he had found out about Mr. and Mrs. Dove
that he just had to tell some one. He heard Kitty the Catbird
meowing among the bushes along the old stone wall, so hurried
over to look for him. As soon as he found him Peter began to tell
what he had learned about Mourner the Dove.
"That's no news, Peter," interrupted Kitty. "I know all about
Mourner and his wife. They are very nice people, though I must
say Mrs. Dove is one of the poorest housekeepers I know of. I
take it you never have seen her nest."
Peter shook his head. "No," said he, "I haven't. What is it
Kitty the Catbird laughed. "It's about the poorest apology for a
nest I know of," said he. "It is made of little sticks and mighty
few of them. How they hold together is more than I can understand.
I guess it is a good thing that Mrs. Dove doesn't lay more than
two eggs, and it's a wonder to me that those two stay in the
nest. Listen! There's Mourner's voice now. For one who is so
happy he certainly does have the mournfullest sounding voice. To
hear him you'd think he was sorrowful instead of happy. It always
makes me feel sad to hear him."
"That's true," replied Peter, "but I like to hear him just the
same. Hello! Who's that?"
>From one of the trees in the Old Orchard sounded a long, clear,
"Kow-kow-kow-kow-kow-kow!" It was quite unlike any voice Peter
had heard that spring.
"That's Cuckoo," said Kitty. "Do you mean to say you don't know
"Of course I know him," retorted Peter. "I had forgotten the
sound of his voice, that's all." Tell me, Kitty, is it true that
Mrs. Cuckoo is no better than Sally Sly the Cowbird and goes
about laying her eggs in the nests of other birds? I've heard
that said of her."
"There isn't a word of truth in it," declared Kitty emphatically.
"She builds a nest, such as it is, which isn't much, and she
looks after her own children. The Cuckoos have been given a bad
name because of some good-for-nothing cousins of theirs who live
across the ocean where Bully the English Sparrow belongs, and
who, if all reports are true, really are no better than Sally Sly
the Cowbird. It's funny how a bad name sticks. The Cuckoos have
been accused of stealing the eggs of us other birds, but I've
never known them to do it and I've lived neighbor to them for a
long time, I guess they get their bad name because of their
habit of slipping about silently and keeping out of sight as much
as possible, as if they were guilty of doing something wrong and
trying to keep from being seen. As a matter of fact, they are
mighty useful birds. Farmer Brown ought to be tickled to death
that Mr. and Mrs. Cuckoo have come back to the Old Orchard this
"Why?" demanded Peter.
"Do you see that cobwebby nest with all those hairy caterpillars
on it and around it up in that tree?" asked Kitty.
Peter replied that he did and that he had seen a great many nests
just like it, and had noticed how the caterpillars ate all the
leaves near them.
"I'll venture to say that you won't see very many leaves eaten
around that nest," replied Kitty. "Those are called
tent-caterpillars, and they do an awful lot of damage. I can't
bear them myself because they are so hairy, and very few birds
will touch them. But Cuckoo likes them. There he comes now; just
A long, slim Dove-like looking bird alighted close to the
caterpillar's nest. Above he was brownish-gray with just a little
greenish tinge. Beneath he was white. His wings were
reddish-brown. His tail was a little longer than that of Mourner
the Dove. The outer feathers were black tipped with white, while
the middle feathers were the color of his back. The upper half of
his bill was black, but the under half was yellow, and from this
he is called the Yellow-billed Cuckoo. He has a cousin very much
like himself in appearance, save that his bill is all black and
he is listed the Black-billed Cuckoo.
Cuckoo made no sound but began to pick off the hairy caterpillars
and swallow them. When he had eaten all those in sight he made
holes in the silken web of the nest and picked out the
caterpillars that were inside. Finally, having eaten his fill, he
flew off as silently as he had come and disappeared among the
bushes farther along the old stone wall. A moment later they
heard his voice, "Kow-kow-how-kow-kow-kow-kow-kow!"
"I suppose some folks would think that it is going to rain,"
remarked Kitty the Catbird. "They have the silly notion that
Cuckoo only calls just before rain, and so they call him the Rain
Crow. But that isn't so at all. Well, Peter, I guess I've
gossiped enough for one morning. I must go see how Mrs. Catbird
is getting along."
Kitty disappeared and Peter, having no one to talk to, decided
that the best thing he could do would be to go home to the dear
CHAPTER XXXV A Butcher and a Hummer.
Not far from the Old Orchard grew a thorn-tree which Peter Rabbit
often passed. He never had paid particular attention to it. One
morning he stopped to rest under it. Happening to look up, he saw
a most astonishing thing. Fastened on the sharp thorns of one of
the branches were three big grasshoppers, a big moth, two big
caterpillars, a lizard, a small mouse and a young English
Sparrow. Do you wonder that Peter thought he must be dreaming? He
couldn't imagine how those creatures could have become fastened
on those long sharp thorns. Somehow it gave him an uncomfortable
feeling and he hurried on to the Old Orchard, bubbling over with
desire to tell some one of the strange and dreadful thing he had
seen in the thorn-tree.
As he entered the Old Orchard in the far corner he saw Johnny
Chuck sitting on his doorstep and hurried over to tell him the
strange news. Johnny listened until Peter was through, then told
him quite frankly that never had he heard of such a thing, and
that he thought Peter must have been dreaming and didn't know it.
"You're wrong, Johnny Chuck. Peter hasn't been dreaming at all,"
said Skimmer the Swallow, who, you remember, lived in a hole in a
tree just above the entrance to Johnny Chuck's house. He had been
sitting where he could hear all that Peter had said.
"Well, if you know so much about it, please explain," said Johnny
Chuck rather crossly.
"It's simple enough," replied Skimmer. "Peter just happened to
find the storehouse of Butcher the Loggerhead Shrike. It isn't a
very pleasant sight, I must admit, but one must give Butcher
credit for being smart enough to lay up a store of food when it
"And who is Butcher the Shrike?" demanded Peter. "He's a new one
"He's new to this location," replied Skimmer, "and you probably
haven't noticed him. I've seen him in the South often. There he
is now, on the tiptop of that tree over yonder."
Peter and Johnny looked eagerly. They saw a bird who at first
glance appeared not unlike Mocker the Mockingbird. He was dressed
wholly in black, gray and white. When he turned his head they
noticed a black stripe across the side of his face and that the
tip of his bill was hooked. These are enough to make them forget
that otherwise he was like Mocker. While they were watching him
he flew down into the grass and picked up a grasshopper. Then he
flew with a steady, even flight, only a little above the ground,
for some distance, suddenly shooting up and returning to the
perch where they had first seen him. There he ate the grasshopper
and resumed his watch for something else to catch.
"He certainly has wonderful eyes," said Skimmer admiringly. "He
mast have seen that grasshopper way over there in the grass
before he started after it, for he flew straight there. He
doesn't waste time and energy hunting aimlessly. He sits on a
high perch and watches until he sees something he wants. Many
times I've seen him sitting on top of a telegraph pole. I
understand that Bully the English Sparrow has become terribly
nervous since the arrival of Butcher. He is particularly fond of
English Sparrows. I presume it was one of Bully's children you
saw in the thorn-tree, Peter. For my part I hope he'll frighten
Bully into leaving the Old Orchard. It would he a good thing for
the rest of us."
"But I don't understand yet why he fastens his victims on those
long thorns," said Peter.
"For two reasons," replied Skimmer. "When he catches more
grasshoppers and other insects than he can eat, he sticks them on
those thorns so that later he may be sure of a good meal if it
happens there are no more to be caught when he is hungry. Mice,
Sparrows, and things too big for him to swallow he sticks on the
thorns so that he can pull them to pieces easier. You see his
feet and claws are not big and stout enough to hold his victims
while he tears them to pieces with his hooked bill. Sometimes,
instead of sticking them on thorns, he sticks them on the barbed
wire of a fence and sometimes he wedges them into the fork of two
"Does he kill many birds?" asked Peter.
"Not many," replied Skimmer, "and most of those he does kill are
English Sparrows. The rest of us have learned to keep out of his
way. He feeds mostly on insects, worms and caterpillars, but he
is very fond of mice and he catches a good many. He is a good
deal like Killy the Sparrow Hawk in this respect. He has a
cousin, the Great Northern Shrike, who sometimes comes down in
the winter, and is very much like him. Hello! Now what's
A great commotion had broken out not far away in the Old Orchard.
Instantly Skimmer flew over to see what it was all about and
Peter followed. He got there just in time to see Chatterer the
Red Squirrel dodging around the trunk of a tree, first on one
side, then on the other, to avoid the sharp bills of the angry
feathered folk who had discovered him trying to rob a nest of its
Peter chuckled. "Chatterer is getting just what is due him, I
guess," he muttered. "It reminds me of the time I got into a
Yellow Jacket's nest. My, but those birds are mad!"
Chatterer continued to dodge from side to side of the tree while
the birds darted down at him, all screaming at the top of their
voices. Finally Chatterer saw his chance to run for the old stone
wall. Only one bird was quick enough to catch up with him and
that one was such a tiny fellow that he seemed hardly bigger than
a big insect. It was Hammer the Hummingbird. He followed
Chatterer clear to the old stone wall. A moment later Peter heard
a humming noise just over his head and looked up to see Hummer
himself alight on a twig, where he squeaked excitedly for a few
minutes, for his voice is nothing but a little squeak.
Often Peter had seen Hummer darting about from flower to flower
and holding himself still in mid-air in front of each as he
thrust his long bill into the heart of the blossom to get the
tiny insects there and the sweet juices he is so fond of. But
this was the first time Peter had ever seen him sitting still. He
was such a mite of a thing that it was hard to realize that he
was a bird. His back was a bright, shining green. His wings and
tail were brownish with a purplish tinge. Underneath he was
whitish, But it was his throat on which Peter fixed his eyes. It
was a wonderful ruby-red that glistened and shone in the sun like
Hummer lifted one wing and with his long needle-like bill
smoothed the feathers under it. Then he darted out into the air,
his wings moving so fast that Peter couldn't see them at all. But
if he couldn't see them he could hear them. You see they moved so
fast that they made a sound very like the humming of Bumble the
Bee. It is because of this that he is called the Hummingbird. A
fey' minutes later he was back again and now he was joined by
Mrs. Hummer. She was dressed very much like Hummer but did not
have the beautiful ruby throat. She stopped only a minute or two,
then darted over to what looked for all the world like a tiny cup
of moss. It was their nest.
Just then Jenny Wren came along, and being quite worn out with
the work of feeding her seven babies, she was content to rest for
a few moments and gossip. Peter told her what he had discovered.
"I know all about that," retorted Jenny. "You don't suppose I
hunt these trees over for food without knowing where my neighbors
are living, do you? I'd have you to understand, Peter, that that
is the daintiest nest in the Old Orchard. It is made wholly of
plant down and covered on the outside with bits of that gray
moss-like stuff that grows on the bark of the trees and is called
lichens. That is what makes that nest look like nothing more than
a knot on the branch. Chatterer made a big mistake when he
visited this tree. Hummer may he a tiny fellow but he isn't
afraid of anybody under the sun. That bill of his is so sharp and
he is so quick that few folks ever bother him more than once.
Why, there isn't a single member of the Hawk family that Hummer
won't attack. There isn't a cowardly feather on him."
"Does he go very far south for the winter?" asked Peter. "He is
such a tiny fellow I don't see how he can stand a very long
"Huh!" exclaimed Jenny Wren. "Distance doesn't bother Hummer any.
You needn't worry about those wings of his. He goes clear down to
South America. He has ever so many relatives down there. You
ought to see his babies when they first hatch out. They are no
bigger than bees. But they certainly do grow fast. Why, they are
flying three weeks from the time they hatch. I'm glad I don't
have to pump food down the throats of my youngsters the way Mrs.
Hummingbird has to down hers."
Peter looked perplexed. "What do you mean by pumping food down
their throats?" he demanded.
"Just what I say," retorted Jenny Wren. "Mrs. Hummer sticks her
bill right down their throats and then pumps up the food she has
already swallowed. I guess it is a good thing that the babies
have short bills."
"Do they?" asked Peter, opening his eyes very wide with surprise.
"Yes," replied Jenny. "When they hatch out they have short bills,
but it doesn't take them a great while to grow long."
"How many babies does Mrs. Hummer usually have?" asked Peter.
"Just two," replied Jenny. "Just two. That's all that nest will
hold. But goodness gracious, Peter, I can't stop gossiping here
any longer. You have no idea what a care seven babies are."
With a jerk of her tail off flew Jenny Wren, and Peter hurried
back to tell Johnny Chuck all he had found out about Hummer the
CHAPTER XXXVI A Stranger and a Dandy.
Butcher the Shrike was not the only newcomer in the Old Orchard.
There was another stranger who, Peter Rabbit soon discovered, was
looked on with some suspicion by all the other birds of the Old
Orchard. The first time Peter saw him, he was walking about on
the ground some distance off. He didn't hop but walked, and at
that distance he looked all black. The way he carried himself and
his movements as he walked made Peter think of Creaker the
Grackle. In fact, Peter mistook him for Creaker. That was because
he didn't really look at him. If he had he would have seen at
once that the stranger was smaller than Creaker.
Presently the stranger flew up in a tree and Peter saw that his
tail was little more than half as long as that of Creaker. At
once it came over Peter that this was a stranger to him, and of
course his curiosity was aroused. He didn't have any doubt
whatever that this was a member of the Blackbird family, but
which one it could be he hadn't the least idea. "Jenny Wren will
know," thought Peter and scampered off to hunt her up.
"Who is that new member of the Blackbird family who has come
to live in the Old Orchard?" Peter asked as soon as he found
"There isn't any new member of the Blackbird family living in
the Old Orchard," retorted Jenny Wren tartly.
"There is too," contradicted Peter. "I saw him with my own
eyes. I can see him now. He's sitting in that tree over yonder
this very minute. He's all black, so of course he must be a
member of the Blackbird family."
"Tut, tut, tut, tut, tut!" scolded Jenny Wren. "Tut, tut,
tut, tut, tut! That fellow isn't a member of the Blackbird
family at all, and what's more, he isn't black. Go over there
and take a good look at him; then come back and tell me if you
still think he is black."
Jenny turned her back on Peter and went to hunting worms. There
being nothing else to do, Peter hopped over where he could get
a good look at the stranger. The sun was shining full on him, and
he wasn't black at all. Jenny Wren was right. For the most part
he was very dark green. At least, that is what Peter thought at
first glance. Then, as the stranger moved, he seemed to be a
rich purple in places. In short he changed color as he turned.
His feathers were like those of Creaker the Grackle--iridescent.
All over he was speckled with tiny light spots. Underneath he
was dark brownish-gray. His wings and tail were of the same color,
with little touches of buff. His rather large bill was yellow.
Peter hurried back to Jenny Wren and it must be confessed he
looked sheepish. "You were right, Jenny Wren; he isn't black at
all," confessed Peter. "Of course I was right. I usually am,"
retorted Jenny. "He isn't black, he isn't even related to the
Blackbird family, and he hasn't any business in the Old Orchard.
In fact, if you ask me, he hasn't any business in this country
anyway. He's a foreigner. That's what he is--a foreigner."
"But you haven't told me who he is," protested Peter.
"He is Speckles the Starling, and he isn't really an American at
all," replied Jenny. "He comes from across the ocean the same as
Bully the English Sparrow. Thank goodness he hasn't such a
quarrelsome disposition as Bully. Just the same, the rest of us
would be better satisfied if he were not here. He has taken
possession of one of the old homes of Yellow Wing the Flicker,
and that means one less house for birds who really belong here.
If his family increases at the rate Bully's family does, I'm
afraid some of us will soon be crowded out of the Old Orchard.
Did you notice that yellow bill of his?"
Peter nodded. "I certainly did," said he. "I couldn't very well
help noticing it."
"Well, there's a funny thing about that bill," replied Jenny.
"In winter it turns almost black. Most of us wear a different
colored suit in winter, but our bills remain the same."
"Well, he seems to be pretty well fixed here, and I don't see
but what the thing for the rest of you birds to do is to make
the best of the matter," said Peter. "What I want to know is
whether or not he is of any use."
"I guess he must do some good," admitted Jenny Wren rather
grudgingly. "I've seen him picking up worms and grubs, but he
likes grain, and I have a suspicion that if his family becomes
very numerous, and I suspect it will, they will eat more of
Farmer Brown's grain than they will pay for by the worms and bugs
they destroy. Hello! There's Dandy the Waxwing and his friends."
A flock of modestly dressed yet rather distinguished looking
feathered folks had alighted in a cherry-tree and promptly began
to help themselves to Farmer Brown's cherries. They were about
the size of Winsome Bluebird, but did not look in the least like
him, for they were dressed almost wholly in beautiful, rich, soft
grayish-brown. Across the end of each tail was a yellow band. On
each, the forehead, chin and a line through each eye was
velvety-black. Each wore a very stylish pointed cap, and on the
wings of most of them were little spots of red which looked like
sealing-wax, and from which they get the name of Waxwings. They
were slim and trim and quite dandified, and in a quiet way were
As Peter watched them he began to wonder if Farmer Brown would
have any cherries left. Peter himself can do pretty well in the
matter of stuffing his stomach, but even he marvelled at the way
those birds put the cherries out of sight. It was quite clear to
him why they are often called Cberrybirds.
"If they stay long, Farmer Brown won't have any cherries left,"
"Don't worry," replied Jenny Wren. "They won't stay long. I
don't know anybody equal to them for roaming about. Here are most
of us with families on our hands and Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird with a
second family and Mr. and Mrs. Robin with a second set of eggs,
while those gadabouts up there haven't even begun to think about
housekeeping yet. They certainly do like those cherries, but I
guess Farmer Brown can stand the loss of what they eat. He may
have fewer cherries, but he'll have more apples because of them."
"Bow's that?" demanded Peter.
"Oh," replied Jenny Wren, "they were over here a while ago when
those little green cankerworms threatened to eat up the whole
orchard, and they stuffed themselves on those worms just the same
as they are stuffing themselves on cherries now. They are very
fond of small fruits but most of those they eat are the wild kind
which are of no use at all to Farmer Brown or anybody else. Now
just look at that performance, will you?"
There were five of the Waxwings and they were now seated side by
side on a branch of the cherry tree. One of them had a plump
cherry which he passed to the next one. This one passed it on to
the next, and so it went to the end of the row and halfway back
before it was finally eaten. Peter laughed right out. "Never in
my life have I seen such politeness," said he.
"Huh!" exclaimed Jenny Wren. "I don't believe it was politeness
at all. I guess if you got at the truth of the matter you would
find that each one was stuffed so full that he thought he didn't
have room for that cherry and so passed it along."
"Well, I think that was politeness just the same," retorted
Peter. "The first one might have dropped the cherry if he
couldn't eat it instead of passing it along." Just then the
Waxwings flew away.
It was the very middle of the summer before Peter Rabbit again
saw Dandy the Waxwing. Quite by chance he discovered Dandy
sitting on the tiptop of an evergreen tree, as if on guard. He
was on guard, for in that tree was his nest, though Peter didn't
know it at the time. In fact, it was so late in the summer that
most of Peter's friends were through nesting and he had quite
lost interest in nests. Presently Dandy flew down to a lower
branch and there he was joined by Mrs. Waxwing. Then Peter was
treated to one of the prettiest sights he ever had seen. They
rubbed their bills together as if kissing. They smoothed each
other's feathers and altogether were a perfect picture of two
little lovebirds. Peter couldn't think of another couple who
appeared quite so gentle and loving.
Late in the fall Peter saw Mr. and Mrs. Waxwing and their family
together. They were in a cedar tree and were picking off and
eating the cedar berries as busily as the five Waxwings had picked
Farmer Brown's cherries in the early summer. Peter didn't know it
but because of their fondness for cedar berries the Waxwings were
often called Cedarbirds or Cedar Waxwings.
CHAPTER XXXVII Farewells and Welcomes.
All through the long summer Peter Rabbit watched his feathered
friends and learned things in regard to their ways he never had
suspected. As he saw them keeping the trees of the Old Orchard
free of insect pests working in Farmer Brown's garden, and
picking up the countless seeds of weeds everywhere, he began to
understand something of the wonderful part these feathered
folks have in keeping the Great World beautiful and worth while
He had many a hearty laugh as he watched the bird babies learn
to fly and to find their own food. All summer long they were
going to school all about him, learning how to watch out for
danger, to use their eyes and ears, and all the things a bird
must know who would live to grow up.
As autumn drew near Peter discovered that his friends were
gathering in flocks, roaming here and there. It was one of the
first signs that summer was nearly over, and it gave him just a
little feeling of sadness. He heard few songs now, for the
singing season was over. Also he discovered that many of the most
beautifully dressed of his feathered friends had changed their
finery for sober traveling suits in preparation for the long
journey to the far South where they would spend the winter. In
fact he actually failed to recognize some of them at first.
September came, and as the days grew shorter, some of Peter's
friends bade him good-by. They were starting on the long journey,
planning to take it in easy stages for the most part. Each day
saw some slip away. As Peter thought of the dangers of the long
trip before them he wondered if he would ever see them again. But
some there were who lingered even after Jack Frost's first visit.
Welcome and Mrs. Robin, Winsome and Mrs. Bluebird. Little Friend
the Song Sparrow and his wife were among these. By and by even
they were forced to leave.
Sad indeed and lonely would these days have been for Peter had it
not been that with the departure of the friends he had spent so
many happy hours with came the arrival of certain other friends
from the Far North where they had made their summer homes. Some
of these stopped for a few days in passing. Others came to stay,
and Peter was kept busy looking for and welcoming them.
A few old friends there were who would stay the year through.
Sammy Jay was one. Downy and Hairy the Woodpeckers were others.
And one there was whom Peter loves dearly. It was Tommy Tit the
Now Tommy Tit had not gone north in the spring. In fact, he had
made his home not very far from the Old Orchard. It just happened
that Peter hadn't found that home, and had caught only one or two
glimpses of Tommy Tit. Now, with household cares ended and his
good-sized family properly started in life, Tommy Tit was no
longer interested in the snug little home he had built in a
hollow birch-stub, and he and Mrs. Chickadee spent their time
flitting about hither, thither, and yon, spreading good cheer.
Every time Peter visited the Old Orchard he found him there, and
as Tommy was always ready for a bit of merry gossip, Peter soon
ceased to miss Jenny Wren.
"Don't you dread the winter, Tommy Tit?" asked Peter one day,
as he watched Tommy clinging head down to a twig as he picked
some tiny insect eggs from the under side.
"Not a bit," replied Tommy. "I like winter. I like cold weather.
It makes a fellow feel good from the tips of his claws to the
tip of his bill. I'm thankful I don't have to take that long
journey most of the birds have to. I discovered a secret a long
time ago, Peter; shall I tell it to you?"
"Please, Tommy," cried Peter. "You know how I love secrets."
"Well," replied Tommy Tit, "this is it: If a fellow keeps his
stomach filled he will beep his toes warm."
Peter looked a, little puzzled. "I--I--don't just see what your
stomach has to do with your toes," said he.
Tommy Tit chuckled. It was a lovely throaty little chuckle. "Dee,
dee, dee!" said he. "What I mean is, if a fellow has plenty to
eat he will keep the cold out, and I've found that if a fellow
uses his eyes and isn't afraid of a little work, he can find
plenty to eat. At least I can. The only time I ever get really
worried is when the trees are covered with ice. If it were not
that Farmer Brown's boy is thoughtful enough to hang a piece of
suet in a tree for me, I should dread those ice storms more than
I do. As I said before, plenty of food keeps a fellow warm."
"I thought it was your coat of feathers that kept you warm," said
"Oh, the feathers help," replied Tommy Tit. "Food makes heat and
a warm coat keeps the heat in the body. But the heat has got to
be there first, or the feathers will do no good. It's just the
same way with your own self, Peter. You know you are never really
warm in winter unless you have plenty to eat..."
"That's so," replied Peter thoughtfully. "I never happened to
think of it before. Just the same, I don't see how you find food
enough on the trees when they are all bare in winter."
"Dee, Dee, Chickadee!
Leave that matter just to me,"
Chuckled Tommy Tit. "You ought to know by this time Peter Rabbit,
that a lot of different kinds of bugs lay eggs on the twigs and
trunks of trees. Those eggs would stay there all winter and in
the spring hatch out into lice and worms if it were not for me.
Why, sometimes in a single day I find and eat almost five hundred
eggs of those little green plant lice that do so much damage in
the spring and summer. Then there are little worms that bore in
just under the bark, and there are other creatures who sleep the
winter away in little cracks in the bark. Oh, there is plenty for
me to do in the winter. I am one of the policemen of the trees.
Downy and Hairy the Woodpeckers, Seep-Seep the Brown Creeper and
Yank-Yank the Nuthatch are others. If we didn't stay right here
on the job all winter, I don't know what would become of the Old
Tommy Tit hung head downward from a twig while he picked some tiny
insect eggs from the under side of it. It didn't seem to make the
least difference to Tommy whether he was right side up or upside
down. He was a little animated bunch of black and white feathers,
not much bigger than Jenny Wren. The top of his head, back of his
neck and coat were shining black. The sides of his head and neck
were white. His back was ashy. His sides were a soft cream-buff,
and his wing and tail feathers were edged with white. His tiny
bill was black, and his little black eyes snapped and twinkled in
a way good to see. Not one among all Peter's friends is such a
merry-hearted little fellow as Tommy Tit the Chickadee. Merriment
and happiness bubble out of him all the time, no matter what the
weather is. He is the friend of everyone and seems to feel that
everyone is his friend.
"I've noticed," said Peter, "that birds who do not sing at any
other time of year sing in the spring. Do you have a spring song,
"Well, I don't know as you would call it a song, Peter," chuckled
Tommy. "No, I hardly think you would call it a song. But I have a
little love call then which goes like this: Phoe-be! Phoe-be!"
It was the softest, sweetest little whistle, and Tommy had
rightly called it a love call. "Why, I've often heard that in the
spring and didn't know it was your voice at all," cried Peter.
"You say Phoebe plainer than does the bird who is named Phoebe,
and it is ever so much softer and sweeter. I guess that is
because you whistle it."
"I guess you guess right," replied Tommy Tit. "Now I can't stop
to talk any longer. These trees need my attention. I want Farmer
Brown's boy to feel that I have earned that suet I am sure he
will put out for me as soon as the snow and ice come. I'm not the
least bit afraid of Farmer Brown's boy. I had just as soon take
food from his hand as from anywhere else. He knows I like
chopped-up nut-meats, and last winter I used to feed from his
hand every day." Peter's eyes opened very wide with surprise.
"Do you mean to say," said he, "that you and Farmer Brown's boy
are such friends that you dare sit on his hand?"
Tommy Tit nodded his little black-capped head vigorously.
"Certainly," said he. "Why not? What's the good of having friends
if you can't trust them? The more you trust them the better
friends they'll be."
Just the same, I don't see how you dare to do it," Peter replied.
"I know Farmer Brown's boy is the friend of all the little
people, and I'm not much afraid of him myself, but just the same
I wouldn't dare go near enough for him to touch me."
"Pooh!" retorted Tommy Tit. "That's no way of showing true
friendship. You've no idea, Peter, what a comfortable feeling it
is to know that you can trust a friend, and I feel that Farmer
Brown's boy is one of the best friends I've got. I wish more boys
and girls were like him."
CHAPTER XXXVIII Honker and Dippy Arrive.
The leaves of the trees turned yellow and red and brown and then
began to drop, a few at first, then more and more every day until
all but the spruce-trees and the pine-trees and the hemlock-trees
and the fir-trees and the cedar-trees were bare. By this time
most of Peter's feathered friends of the summer had departed, and
there were days when Peter had oh, such a lonely feeling. The fur
of his coat was growing thicker. The grass of the Green Meadows
had turned brown. All these things were signs which Peter knew
well. He knew that rough Brother North Wind and Jack Frost were
on their way down from the Far North.
Peter had few friends to visit now. Johnny Chuck had gone to
sleep for the winter 'way down in his little bedroom under
ground. Grandfather Frog had also gone to sleep. So had Old Mr.
Toad. Peter spent a great deal of time in the dear Old
Briar-patch just sitting still and listening. What he was
listening for he didn't know. It just seemed to him that there
was something he ought to hear at this time of year, and so he
sat listening and listening and wondering what he was listening
for. Then, late one afternoon, there came floating down to him
from high up in the sky, faintly at first but growing louder, a
sound unlike any Peter had heard all the long summer through. The
sound was a voice. Rather it was many voices mingled "Honk, honk,
honk, honk, honk, honk, honk!" Peter gave a little jump.
"That's what I've been listening for!" he cried. "Honker the
Goose and his friends are coming. Oh, I do hope they will stop
where I can pay them a call."
He hopped out to the edge of the dear Old Briar-patch that he
might see better, and looked up in the sky. High up, flying in
the shape of a letter V, he saw a flock of great birds flying
steadily from the direction of the Far North. By the sound of
their voices he knew that they had flown far that day and were
tired. One bird was in the lead and this he knew to be his old
friend, Honker. Straight over his head they passed and as Peter
listened to their voices he felt within him the very spirit of
the Far North, that great, wild, lonely land which he had never
seen but of which he had so often heard.
As Peter watched, Honker suddenly turned and headed in the
direction of the Big River. Then he began to slant down, his
flock following him. And presently they disappeared behind the
trees along the bank of the Great River. Peter gave a happy
little sigh. "They are going to spend the night there," thought
he. "When the moon comes up, I will run over there, for they will
come ashore and I know just where. Now that they have arrived I
know that winter is not far away. Honker's voice is as sure a
sign of the coming of winter as is Winsome Bluebird's that spring
will soon be here."
Peter could hardly wait for the coming of the Black Shadows, and
just as soon as they had crept out over the Green Meadows he
started for the Big River. He knew just where to go, because he
knew that Honker and his friends would rest and spend the night
in the same place they had stopped at the year before. He knew
that they would remain out in the middle of the Big River until
the Black Shadows had made it quite safe for them to swim in. He
reached the bank of the Big River just as sweet Mistress Moon was
beginning to throw her silvery light over the Great World. There
was a sandy bar in the Great River at this point, and Peter
squatted on the bank just where this sandy bar began.
It seemed to Peter that he had sat there half the night, but
really it was only a short time, before he heard a low signal out
in the Black Shadows which covered the middle of the Big River.
It was the voice of Honker. Then Peter saw little silvery lines
moving on the water and presently a dozen great shapes appeared
in the moonlight. Honker and his friends were swimming in. The
long neck of each of those great birds was stretched to its full
height, and Peter knew that each bird was listening for the
slightest suspicious sound. Slowly they drew near, Honker in the
lead. They were a picture of perfect caution. When they reached
the sandy bar they remained quiet, looking and listening for some
time. Then, sure that all was safe, Honker gave a low signal and
at once a low gabbling began as the big birds relaxed their
watchfulness and came out on the sandy bar, all save one. That
one was the guard, and he remained with neck erect on watch. Some
swam in among the rushes growing in the water very near to where
Peter was sitting and began to feed. Others sat on the sandy bar
and dressed their feathers. Honker himself came ashore close to
where Peter was sitting.
"Oh, Honker," cried Peter, "I'm so glad you're back here safe and
Honker gave a little start, but instantly recognizing Peter, came
over close to him. As he stood there in the moonlight he was
truly handsome. His throat and a large patch on each side of his
head were white. The rest of his head and long, slim neck were
black. His short tail was also black. His back, wings, breast and
sides were a soft grayish-brown. He was white around the base of
his tail and he wore a white collar.
"Hello, Peter," said he. "It is good to have an old friend greet
me. I certainly am glad to be back safe and sound, for the
hunters with terrible guns have been at almost every one of our
resting places, and it has been hard work to get enough to eat.
It is a relief to find one place where there are no terrible
"Have you come far?" asked Peter.
"Very far, Peter; very far," replied Honker. "And we still have
very far to go. I shall be thankful when the journey is over, for
on me depends the safety of all those with me, and it is a great
"Will winter soon be here?" asked Peter eagerly.
"Rough Brother North Wind and Jack Frost were right behind us,"
replied Honker. "You know we stay in the Far North just as long
as we can. Already the place where we nested is frozen and
covered with snow. For the first part of the journey we kept only
just ahead of the snow and ice, but as we drew near to where men
make their homes we were forced to make longer journeys each day,
for the places where it is safe to feed and rest are few and far
between. Now we shall hurry on until we reach the place in the
far-away South where we will make our winter home."
Just then Honker was interrupted by wild, strange sounds from the
middle of the Great River. It sounded like crazy laughter. Peter
jumped at the sound, but Honker merely chuckled. "It's Dippy the
Loon," said he. "He spent the summer in the Far North not far
from us. He started south just before we did."
"I wish he would come in here so that I can get a good look at
him and make his acquaintance," said Peter.
"He may, but I doubt it," replied Honker. "He and his mate are
great people to keep by themselves. Then, too, they don't have
to come ashore for food. You know Dippy feeds altogether on fish.
He really has an easier time on the long journey than we do,
because he can get his food without running so much risk of being
shot by the terrible hunters. He practically lives on the water.
He's about the most awkward fellow on land of any one I know."
"Why should he be any more awkward on land then you?" asked
Peter, his curiosity aroused at once.
"Because," replied Honker, "Old Mother Nature has given him very
short legs and has placed them so far back on his body that he
can't keep his balance to walk, and has to use his wings and bill
to help him over the ground. On shore he is about the most
helpless thing you can imagine. But on water he is another fellow
altogether. He's just as much at home under water as on top. My,
how that fellow can dive! When he sees the flash of a gun he will
get under water before the shot can reach him. That's where he
has the advantage of us Geese. You know we can't dive. He could
swim clear across this river under water if he wanted to, and he
can go so fast under water that he can catch a fish. It is
because his legs have been placed so far back that he can swim so
fast. You know his feet are nothing but big paddles. Another
funny thing is that he can sink right down in the water when he
wants to, with nothing but his head out. I envy him that. It
would be a lot easier for us Geese to escape the dreadful hunters
if we could sink down that way."
"Has he a bill like yours?" asked Peter innocently.
"Of course not," replied Honker. "Didn't I tell you that he lives
on fish? How do you suppose he would hold on to his slippery fish
if he had a broad bill like mine? His bill is stout, straight and
sharp pointed. He is rather a handsome fellow. He is pretty
nearly as big as I am, and his back, wings, tail and neck are
black with bluish or greenish appearance in the sun. His back and
wings are spotted with white, and there are streaks of white on
his throat and the sides of his neck. On his breast and below he
is all white. You certainly ought to get acquainted with Dippy,
Peter, for there isn't anybody quite like him."
"I'd like to," replied Peter. "But if he never comes to shore,
how can I? I guess I will have to be content to know him just by
his voice. I certainly never will forget that. It's about as
crazy sounding as the voice of Old Man Coyote, and that is saying
a great deal."
"There's one thing I forgot to tell you," said Honker. "Dippy
can't fly from the land; he must be on the water in order to get
up in the air."
"You can, can't you?" asked Peter.
"Of course I can," replied Honker. "Why, we Geese get a lot of
our food on land. When it is safe to do so we visit the grain
fields and pick up the grain that has been shaken out during
harvest. Of course we couldn't do that if we couldn't fly from
the land. We can rise from either land or water equally well. Now
if you'll excuse me, Peter, I'll take a nap. My, but I'm tired!
And I've got a long journey to-morrow."
So Peter politely bade Honker and his relatives good-night and
left them in peace on the sandy bar in the Big River.
CHAPTER XXXIX Peter Discovers Two Old Friends.
Rough Brother North Wind and Jack Frost were not far behind
Honker the Goose. In a night Peter Rabbit's world was
transformed. It had become a new world, a world of pure white.
The last laggard among Peter's feathered friends who spend the
winter in the far-away South had hurried away. Still Peter was
not lonely. Tommy Tit's cheery voice greeted Peter the very first
thing that morning after the storm. Tommy seemed to be in just as
good spirits as ever he had been in summer.
Now Peter rather likes the snow. He likes to run about in it, and
so he followed Tommy Tit up to the Old Orchard. He felt sure that
he would find company there besides Tommy Tit, and he was not
disappointed. Downy and Hairy the Woodpeckers were getting their
breakfast from a piece of suet Farmer Brown's boy had
thoughtfully fastened in one of the apple-trees for them. Sammy
Jay was there also, and his blue coat never had looked better
than it did against the pure white of the snow.
These were the only ones Peter really had expected to find in the
Old Orchard, and so you can guess how pleased he was as he hopped
over the old stone wall to hear the voice of one whom he had
almost forgotten. It was the voice of Yank-Yank the Nuthatch, and
while it was far from being sweet there was in it something of
good cheer and contentment. At once Peter hurried in the
direction from which it came.
On the trunk of an apple-tree he caught sight of a gray and black
and white bird about the size of Downy the Woodpecker. The top of
his head and upper part of his back were shining black. The rest
of his back was bluish-gray. The sides of his head and his breast
were white. The outer feathers of his tail were black with white
patches near their tips.
But Peter didn't need to see how Yank-Yank was dressed in order
to recognize him. Peter would have known him if he had been so
far away that the colors of his coat did not show at all. You
see, Yank-Yank was doing a most surprising thing, something no
other bird can do. He was walking head first down the trunk of
that tree, picking tiny eggs of insects from the bark and
seemingly quite as much at home and quite as unconcerned in that
queer position as if he were right side up.
As Peter approached, Yank-Yank lifted his head and called a
greeting which sounded very much like the repetition of his own
name. Then he turned around and began to climb the tree as easily
as he had come down it.
"Welcome home, Yank-Yank!" cried Peter, hurrying up quite out of
Yank-Yank turned around so that he was once more head down, and
his eyes twinkled as he looked down at Peter. "You're mistaken
Peter," said he. "This isn't home. I've simply come down here for
the winter. You know home is where you raise your children, and
my home is in the Great Woods farther north. There is too much
ice and snow up there, so I have come down here to spend the
"Well anyway, it's a kind of home; it's your winter home,"
protested Peter, "and I certainly am glad to see you back. The
Old Orchard wouldn't be quite the same without you. Did you have
a pleasant summer? And if you please, Yank-Yank, tell me where
you built your home and what it was like."
"Yes, Mr. Curiosity, I had a very pleasant summer," replied
Yank-Yank. "Mrs. Yank-Yank and I raised a family of six and that
is doing a lot better than some folks I know, if I do say it. As
to our nest, it was made of leaves and feathers and it was in a
hole in a certain old stump that not a soul knows of but Mrs.
Yank-Yank and myself. Now is there anything else you want to
"Yes," retorted Peter promptly. "I want to know how it is that
you can walk head first down the trunk of a tree without losing
your balance and tumbling off."
Yank-Yank chuckled happily. "I discovered a long time ago,
Peter," said he, "that the people who get on best in this world
are those who make the most of what they have and waste no time
wishing they could have what other people have. I suppose you
have noticed that all the Woodpecker family have stiff tail
feathers and use them to brace themselves when they are climbing
a tree. They have become so dependent on them that they don't
dare move about on the trunk of a tree without using them. If
they want to come down a tree they have to back down.
"Now Old Mother Nature didn't give me stiff tail feathers, but
she gave me a very good pair of feet with three toes in front and
one behind and when I was a very little fellow I learned to make
the most of those feet. Each toe has a sharp claw. When I go up a
tree the three front claws on each foot hook into the bark. When
I come down a tree I simply twist one foot around so that I can
use the claws of this foot to keep me from falling. It is just as
easy for me to go down a tree as it is to go up, and I can go
right around the trunk just as easily and comfortably." Suiting
action to the word, Yank-Yank ran around the trunk of the
apple-tree just above Peter's head. When he reappeared Peter had
another question ready.
"Do you live altogether on grubs and worms and insects and their
eggs?" he asked.
"I should say not!" exclaimed Yank-Yank. "I like acorns and
beechnuts and certain kinds of seeds."
"I don't see how such a little fellow as you can eat such hard
things as acorns and beechnuts," protested Peter a little
Yank-Yank laughed right out. "Sometime when I see you over in the
Green Forest I'll show you," said he. "When I find a fat beechnut
I take it to a little crack in a tree that will just hold it;
then with this stout bill of mine I crack the shell. It really is
quite easy when you know how. Cracking a nut open that way is
sometimes called hatching, and that is how I come by the name of
Nuthatch. Hello! There's Seep-Seep. I haven't seen him since we
were together up North. His home was not far from mine."
As Yank-Yank spoke, a little brown bird alighted at the very foot
of the next tree. He was just a trifle bigger than Jenny Wren but
not at all like Jenny, for while Jenny's tail usually is cocked
up in the sauciest way, Seep-Seep's tail is never cocked up at
all. In fact, it bends down, for Seep-Seep uses his tail just as
the members of the Woodpecker family use theirs. He was dressed
in grayish-brown above and grayish-white beneath. Across each
wing was a little band of buffy-white, and his bill was curved
just a little.
Seep-Seep didn't stop an instant but started up the trunk of that
tree, going round and round it as he climbed, and picking out
things to eat from under the bark. His way of climbing that tree
was very like creeping, and Peter thought to himself that
Seep-Seep was well named the Brown Creeper. He knew it was quite
useless to try to get Seep-Seep to talk, He knew that Seep-Seep
wouldn't waste any time that way.
Round and round up the trunk of the tree he went, and when he
reached the top at once flew down to the bottom of the next tree
and without a pause started up that. He wasted no time exploring
the branches, but stuck to the trunk. Once in a while he would
cry in a thin little voice, "Seep! Seep!" but never paused to
rest or look around. If he had felt that on him alone depended
the job of getting all the insect eggs and grubs on those trees
he could not have been more industrious.
"Does he build his nest in a hole in a tree?" asked Peter of
Yank-Yank. Yank-Yank shook his head. "No," he replied. "He hunts
for a tree or stub with a piece of loose bark hanging to it. In
behind this he tucks his nest made of twigs, strips of bark and
moss. He's a funny little fellow and I don't know of any one in
all the great world who more strictly attends to his own business
than does Seep-Seep the Brown Creeper. By the way, Peter, have
you seen anything of Dotty the Tree Sparrow?"
"Not yet," replied Peter, "but I think he must be here. I'm glad
you reminded me of him. I'll go look for him.
CHAPTER XL Some Merry Seed-Eaters.
Having been reminded of Dotty the Tree Sparrow, Peter Rabbit
became possessed of a great desire to find this little friend of
the cold months and learn how he had fared through the summer.
He was at a loss just where to look for Dotty until he remembered
a certain weedy field along the edge of which the bushes had been
left growing. "Perhaps I'll find him there," thought Peter, for
he remembered that Dotty lives almost wholly on seeds, chiefly
weed seeds, and that he dearly loves a weedy field with bushes
not far distant in which he can hide.
So Peter hurried over to the weedy field and there, sure enough,
he found Dotty with a lot of his friends. They were very busy
getting their breakfast. Some were clinging to the weed-stalks
picking the seeds out of the tops, while others were picking up
the seeds from the ground. It was cold. Rough Brother North Wind
was doing his best to blow up another snow-cloud. It wasn't at
all the kind of day in which one would expect to find anybody in
high spirits. But Dotty was. He was even singing as Peter came
up, and all about Dotty's friends and relatives were twittering
as happily and merrily as if it were the beginning of spring
instead of winter.
Dotty was very nearly the size of Little Friend the Song Sparrow
and looked somewhat like him, save that his breast was clear
ashy-gray, all but a little dark spot in the middle, the little
dot from which he gets his name. He wore a chestnut cap, almost
exactly like that of Chippy the Chipping Sparrow. It reminded
Peter that Dotty is often called the Winter Chippy.
"Welcome back, Dotty!" cried Peter. "It does my heart good to see
"Thank you, Peter," twittered Dotty happily. "In a way it is
good to be back. Certainly, it is good to know that an old friend
is glad to see me."
"Are you going to stay all winter, Dotty?" asked Peter.
"I hope so," replied Dotty. "I certainly shall if the snow does
not get so deep that I cannot get enough to eat. Some of these
weeds are so tall that it will take a lot of snow to cover them,
and as long as the tops are above the snow I will have nothing to
worry about. You know a lot of seeds remain in these tops all
winter. But if the snow gets deep enough to cover these I shall
have to move along farther south."
"Then I hope there won't be much snow," declared Peter very
emphatically. "There are few enough folks about in winter at
best, goodness knows, and I don't know of any one I enjoy having
for a neighbor more than I do you."
"Thank you again, Peter," cried Dotty, "and please let me return
the compliment. I like cold weather. I like winter when there
isn't too much ice and bad weather. I always feel good in cold
weather. That is one reason I go north to nest."
"Speaking of nests, do you build in a tree?" inquired Peter.
"Usually on or near the ground," replied Dotty. "You know I am
really a ground bird although I am called a Tree Sparrow. Most of
us Sparrows spend our time on or near the ground."
"I know," replied Peter. "Do you know I'm very fond of the
Sparrow family. I just love your cousin Chippy, who nests in the
Old Orchard every spring. I wish he would stay all winter. I
really don't see why he doesn't. I should think he could if you
Dotty laughed. It was a tinkling little laugh, good to hear.
"Cousin Chippy would starve to death," he declared. "It is all a
matter of food. You ought to know that by this time, Peter.
Cousin Chippy lives chiefly on worms and bugs and I live almost
wholly on seeds, and that is what makes the difference. Cousin
Chippy must go where he can get plenty to eat. I can get plenty
here and so I stay."
"Did you and your relatives come down from the Far North alone?"
"No," replied Dotty promptly. "Slaty the Junco and his relatives
came along with us and we had a very merry party."
Peter pricked up his ears. "Is Slaty here now?" he asked
"Very much here," replied a voice right behind Peter's back. It
was so unexpected that it made Peter jump. He turned to find
Slaty himself chuckling merrily as he picked up seeds. He was
very nearly the same size as Dotty but trimmer. In fact he was
one of the trimmest, neatest appearing of all of Peter's
friends. There was no mistaking Slaty the Junco for any other
bird. His head, throat and breast were clear slate color.
Underneath he was white. His sides were grayish. His outer tail
feathers were white. His bill was flesh color. It looked almost
"Welcome! Welcome!" cried Peter. "Are you here to stay all
I certainly am," was Slaty's prompt response. "It will take
pretty bad weather to drive me away from here. If the snow gets
too deep I'll just go up to Farmer Brown's barnyard. I can always
pick up a meal there, for Farmer Brown's boy is a very good
friend of mine. I know he won't let me starve, no matter what the
weather is. I think it is going to snow some more. I like the
snow. You know I am sometimes called the Snowbird."
Peter nodded. "So I have heard," said he, "though I think that
name really belongs to Snowflake the Snow Bunting."
"Quite right, Peter, quite right," replied Slaty. "I much prefer
my own name of Junco. My, these seeds are good!" All the time he
was busily picking up seeds so tiny that Peter didn't even see
"If you like here so much why don't you stay all the year?"
"It gets too warm," replied Slaty promptly,
"I hate hot weather. Give me cold weather every time."
"Do you mean to tell me that it is cold all summer where you
nest in the Far North?" demanded Peter.
"Not exactly cold," replied Slaty, "but a lot cooler than it is
down here. I don't go as far north to nest as Snowflake does, but
I go far enough to be fairly comfortable. I don't see how some
folks can stand hot weather."
"It is a good thing they can," interrupted Dotty. "If everybody
liked the same things it wouldn't do at all. Just suppose all the
birds ate nothing but seeds. There wouldn't be seeds enough to go
around, and a lot of us would starve. Then, too, the worms and
the bugs would eat up everything. So, take it all together, it is
a mighty good thing that some birds live almost wholly on worms
and bugs and such things, leaving the seeds to the rest of us. I
guess Old Mother Nature knew what she was about when she gave us
Peter nodded his head in approval. "You can always trust Old
Mother Nature to know what is best," said he sagely. "By the
way, Slaty, what do you make your nest of and where do you put
"My nest is usually made of grasses, moss and rootlets. Sometimes
it is lined with fine grasses, and when I am lucky enough to find
them I use long hairs. Often I put my nest on the ground, and
never very far above it. I am like my friend Dotty in this
respect. It always seems to me easier to hide a nest on the
ground than anywhere else. There is nothing like having a nest
well hidden. It takes sharp eyes to find my nest, I can tell you
that, Peter Rabbit."
Just then Dotty, who had been picking seeds out of the top of a
weed, gave a cry of alarm and instantly there was a flit of many
wings as Dotty and his relatives and Slaty sought the shelter of
the bushes along the edge of the field. Peter sat up very
straight and looked this way and looked that way. At first
he saw nothing suspicious. Then, crouching flat among the weeds,
he got a glimpse of Black Pussy, the cat from Farmer Brown's
house. She had been creeping up in the hope of catching one of
those happy little seedeaters. Peter stamped angrily. Then with
long jumps he started for the dear Old Briar-patch,
lipperty-lipperty-lip, for truth to tell, big as he was, he was a
little afraid of Black Pussy.
CHAPTER XLI More Friends Come With the Snow.
Slaty the Junco had been quite right in thinking it was going
to snow some more. Rough Brother North Find hurried up one big
cloud after another, and late that afternoon the white feathery
flakes came drifting down out of the sky.
Peter Rabbit sat tight in the dear Old Briar-patch. In fact
Peter did no moving about that night, but remained squatting just
inside the entrance to an old hole Johnny Chuck's grandfather had
dug long ago in the middle of the clear Old Briar-patch. Some
time before morning the snow stopped falling and then rough
Brother North Wind worked as hard to blow away the clouds as he
had done to bring them.
When jolly, round, bright Mr. Sun began his daily climb up in the
blue, blue sky he looked down on a world of white. It seemed as
if every little snowflake twinkled back at every little sunbeam.
It was all very lovely, and Peter Rabbit rejoiced as he
scampered forth in quest of his breakfast.
He started first for the weedy field where the day before he had
found Dotty the Tree Sparrow and Slaty the Junco. They were there
before him, having the very best time ever was as they picked
seeds from the tops of the weeds which showed above the snow.
Almost at once Peter discovered that they were not the only
seekers for seeds. Walking about on the snow, and quite as busy
seeking seeds as were Dotty and Slaty, was a bird very near their
size the top of whose head, neck and back were a soft
rusty-brown. There was some black on his wings, but the latter were
mostly white and the outer tail feathers were white. His breast
and under parts were white. It was Snowflake the Snow Bunting in
his winter suit. Peter knew him instantly. There was no mistaking
him, for, as Peter well knew, there is no other bird of his size
and shape who is so largely white. He had appeared so
unexpectedly that it almost seemed as if he must have come out of
the snow clouds just as had the snow itself. Peter had his usual
"Are you going to spend the winter here, Snowflake?" he cried.
Snowflake was so busy getting his breakfast that he did not reply
at once. Peter noticed that he did not hop, but walked or ran.
Presently he paused long enough to reply to Peter's question. "If
the snow has come to stay all winter, perhaps I'll stay," said
"What has the snow to do with it?" demanded Peter.
"Only that I like the snow and I like cold weather. When the snow
begins to disappear, I just naturally fly back farther north,"
replied Snowflake. "It isn't that I don't like bare ground,
because I do, and I'm always glad when the snow is blown off in
places so that I can hunt for seeds on the ground. But when the
snow begins to melt everywhere I feel uneasy. I can't understand
how folks can be contented where there is no snow and ice. You
don't catch me going 'way down south. No, siree, you don't catch
me going 'way down south. Why, when the nesting season comes
around, I chase Jack Frost clear 'way up to where he spends the
summer. I nest 'way up on the shore of the Polar Sea, but of
course you don't know where that is, Peter Rabbit."
"If you are so fond of the cold in the Far North, the snow and
the ice, what did you come south at all for? Why don't you stay
up there all the year around?" demanded Peter.
"Because, Peter," replied Snowflake, twittering merrily, "like
everybody else, I have to eat in order to live. When you see me
down here you may know that the snows up north are so deep that
they have covered all the seeds. I always keep a weather eye out,
as the saying is, and the minute it looks as if there would be
too much snow for me to get a living, I move along. I hope I will
not have to go any farther than this, but if some morning you
wake up and find the snow so deep that all the heads of the weeds
are buried, don't expect to find me."
"That's what I call good, sound common sense," said another
voice, and a bird a little bigger than Snowflake, and who at
first glance seemed to be dressed almost wholly in soft chocolate
brown, alighted in the snow close by and at once began to run
about in search of seeds. It was Wanderer the Horned Lark.
Peter hailed him joyously, for there was something of mystery
about Wanderer, and Peter, as you know, loves mystery.
Peter had known him ever since his first winter, yet did not feel
really acquainted, for Wanderer seldom stayed long enough for a
real acquaintance. Every winter he would come, sometimes two or
three times, but seldom staying more than a few days at a time.
Quite often he and his relatives appeared with the Snowflakes,
for they are the best of friends and travel much together.
Now as Wanderer reached up to pick seeds from a weed-top, Peter
had a good look at him. The first things he noticed were the two
little horn-like tufts of black feathers above and behind the
eyes. It is from these that Wanderer gets the name of Horned
Lark. No other bird has anything quite like them. His
forehead, a line over each eye, and his throat were yellow.
There was a black mark from each corner of the bill curving
downward just below the eye and almost joining a black
crescent-shaped band across the breast. Beneath this he was
soiled white with dusky spots showing here and there. His back
was brown, in places having almost a pinkish tinge. His tail was
black, showing a little white on the edges when he flew. All
together he was a handsome little fellow.
"Do all of your family have those funny little horns?" asked
"No," was Wanderer's prompt reply. "Mrs. Lark does not have
"I think they are very becoming," said Peter politely.
"Thank you," replied Wanderer. "I am inclined to agree with you.
You should see me when I have my summer suit."
"Is it so very different from this?" asked Peter. "I think your
present suit is pretty enough."
"Well said, Peter, well said," interrupted Snowflake. "I quite
agree with you. I think Wanderer's present suit is pretty enough
for any one, but it is true that his summer suit is even
prettier. It isn't so very different, but it is brighter, and
those black markings are much stronger and show up better. You
see, Wanderer is one of my neighbors in the Far North, and I know
all about him."
"And that means that you don't know anything bad about me,
doesn't it?" chuckled Wanderer.
Snowflake nodded. "Not a thing," he replied. "I wouldn't ask for
a better neighbor. You should hear him sing, Peter. He sings up
in the air, and it really is a very pretty song."
"I'd just love to hear him," replied Peter. "Why don't you sing
"This isn't the singing season," replied Wanderer promptly.
"Besides, there isn't time to sing when one has to keep busy
every minute in order to get enough to eat."
"I don't see," said Peter, "why, when you get here, you don't
stay in one place."
"Because it is easier to get a good living by moving about,"
replied Wanderer promptly. "Besides, I like to visit new places.
I shouldn't enjoy being tied down in just one place like some
birds I know. Would you, Snowflake?"
Snowflake promptly replied that he wouldn't. Just then Peter
discovered something that he hadn't known before. "My goodness,"
he exclaimed, "what a long claw you have on each hind toe!"
It was true. Each hind claw was about twice as long as any other
claw. Peter couldn't see any special use for it and he was just
about to ask more about it when Wanderer suddenly spied a flock
of his relatives some distance away and flew to join them.
Probably this saved him some embarrassment, for it is doubtful if
he himself knew why Old Mother Nature had given him such long
CHAPTER XLII Peter Learns Something About Spooky.
Peter Rabbit likes winter. At least he doesn't mind it so very
much, even though he has to really work for a living. Perhaps it
is a good thing that he does, for he might grow too fat to keep
out of the way of Reddy Fox. You see when the snow is deep Peter
is forced to eat whatever he can, and very often there isn't
much of anything for him but the bark of young trees. It is at
such times that Peter gets into mischief, for there is no bark he
likes better than that of young fruit trees. Now you know what
happens when the bark is taken off all the way around the trunk
of a tree. That tree dies. It dies for the simple reason that it
is up the inner layer of bark that the life-giving sap travels in
the spring and summer. Of course, when a strip of bark has been
taken off all the way around near the base of a tree, the sap
cannot go up and the tree must die.
Now up near the Old Orchard Farmer Brown had set out a young
orchard. Peter knew all about that young orchard, for he had
visited it many times in the summer. Then there had been plenty
of sweet clover and other green things to eat, and Peter had
never been so much as tempted to sample the bark of those young
trees. But now things were very different, and it was very seldom
that Peter knew what it was to have a full stomach. He kept
thinking of that young orchard. He knew that if he were wise
he would keep away from there. But the more he thought of it
the more it seemed to him that he just must have some of that
tender young bark. So just at dusk one evening, Peter started for
the young orchard.
Peter got there in safety and his eyes sparkled as he hopped over
to the nearest young tree. But when he reached it, Peter had a
dreadful disappointment. All around the trunk of that young
tree was wire netting. Peter couldn't get even a nibble of that
bark. He tried the next tree with no better result. Then he
hurried on from tree to tree, always with the same result. You
see Farmer Brown knew all about Peter's liking for the bark
of young fruit trees, and he had been wise enough to protect his
At last Peter gave up and hopped over to the Old Orchard. As he
passed a certain big tree he was startled by a voice. "What's
the matter, Peter?" said the voice. "You don't look happy."
Peter stopped short and stared up in the big apple-tree. Look as
he would he couldn't see anybody. Of course there wasn't a leaf
on that tree, and he could see all through it. Peter blinked and
felt foolish. He knew that had there been any one sitting on any
one of those branches he couldn't have helped seeing him.
"Don't look so high, Peter; don't look so high," said the voice
with a chuckle. This time it sounded as if it came right out of
the trunk of the tree. Peter stared at the trunk and then
suddenly laughed right out. Just a few feet above the ground was
a good sized hole in the tree, and poking his head out of it was
a funny little fellow with big eyes and a hooked beak.
"You certainly did fool me that time, Spooky," cried Peter. "I
ought to have recognized your voice, but I didn't."
Spooky the Screech Owl, for that is who it was, came out of the
hole in the tree and without a sound from his wings flew over
and perched just above Peter's head. He was a little fellow, not
over eight inches high, but there was no mistaking the family to
which he belonged. In fact he looked very much like a small copy
of Hooty the Great Horned Owl, so much so that Peter felt a
little cold shiver run over him, although he had nothing in the
world to fear from Spooky.
His head seemed to be almost as big around as his body, and he
seemed to leave no neck at all. He was dressed in bright
reddish-brown, with little streaks and bars of black. Underneath
he was whitish, with little streaks and bars of black and brown.
On each side of his head was a tuft of feathers. They looked like
ears and some people think they are ears, which is a mistake. His
eyes were round and yellow with a fierce hungry look in them. His
bill was small and almost hidden among the feathers of his face,
but it was hooked just like the bill of Hooty. As he settled
himself he turned his head around until he could look squarely
behind him, then brought it back again so quickly that to Peter
it looked as if it had gone clear around. You see Spooky's eyes
are fixed in their sockets and he cannot move them from side to
side. He has to turn his whole head in order to see to one side
or the other.
"You haven't told me yet why you look so unhappy, Peter," said
"Isn't an empty stomach enough to make any fellow unhappy?"
retorted Peter rather shortly.
Spooky chuckled. "I've got an empty stomach myself, Peter," said
he, "but it isn't making me unhappy. I have a feeling that
somewhere there is a fat Mouse waiting for me."
Just then Peter remembered what Jenny Wren had told him early in
the spring of how Spooky the Screech Owl lives all the year
around in a hollow tree, and curiosity made him forget for the
time being that he was hungry. "Did you live in that hole all
summer, Spooky?" he asked.
Spooky nodded solemnly. "I've lived in that hollow summer and
winter for three years," said he.
Peter's eyes opened very wide. "And till now I never even guessed
it," he exclaimed. "Did you raise a family there?"
"I certainly did," replied Spooky. "Mrs. Spooky and I raised a
family of four as fine looking youngsters as you ever have seen.
They've gone out into the Great World to make their own living
now. Two were dressed just like me and two were gray."
"What's that?" exclaimed Peter.
"I said that two were dressed just like me and two were gray,"
replied Spooky rather sharply.
"That's funny," Peter exclaimed.
"What's funny?" snapped Spooky rather crossly.
"Why that all four were not dressed alike," said Peter.
"There's nothing funny about it," retorted Spooky, and snapped
his bill sharply with a little cracking sound. "We Screech Owls
believe in variety. Some of us are gray and some of us are
reddish-brown. It is a case of where you cannot tell a person
just by the color of his clothes."
Peter nodded as if he quite understood, although he couldn't
understand at all. "I'm ever so pleased to find you living here,"
said he politely. "You see, in winter the Old Orchard is rather a
lonely place. I don't see how you get enough to eat when there
are so few birds about."
"Birds!" snapped Spooky. "What have birds to do with it?"
"Why, don't you live on birds?" asked Peter innocently.
"I should say not. I guess I would starve if I depended on birds
for my daily food," retorted Spooky. "I catch a Sparrow now and
then, to be sure, but usually it is an English Sparrow, and I
consider that I am doing the Old Orchard a good turn every time I
am lucky enough to catch one of the family of Bully the English
Sparrow. But I live mostly on Mice and Shrews in winter and in
summer I eat a lot of grasshoppers and other insects. If it
wasn't for me and my relatives I guess Mice would soon overrun
the Great World. Farmer Brown ought to be glad I've come to live
in the Old Orchard and I guess he is, for Farmer Brown's boy
knows all about this house of mine and never disturbs me. Now if
you'll excuse me I think I'll fly over to Farmer Brown's young
orchard. I ought to find a fat Mouse or two trying to get some of
the bark from those young trees."
"Huh!" exclaimed Peter. They can try all they want to, but they
won't get any; I can tell you that."
Spooky's round yellow eyes twinkled. "It must be you have been
trying to get some of that bark yourself," said he.
Peter didn't say anything but he looked guilty, and Spooky once
more chuckled as he spread his wings and flew away so soundlessly
that he seemed more like a drifting shadow than a bird. Then
Peter started for a certain swamp he knew of where he would be
sure to find enough bark to stay his appetite.
CHAPTER XLIII Queer Feet and a Queerer Bill.
Peter Rabbit had gone over to the Green Forest to call on his
cousin, Jumper the Hare, who lives there altogether. He had no
difficulty in finding Jumper's tracks in the snow, and by
following these he at length came up with Jumper. The fact is,
Peter almost bumped into Jumper before he saw him, for Jumper was
wearing a coat as white as the snow itself. Squatting under a
little snow-covered hemlock-tree he looked like nothing more
than a little mound of snow.
"Oh!" cried Peter. "How you startled me! I wish I had a winter
coat like yours. It must be a great help in avoiding your
"It certainly is, Cousin Peter," cried Jumper. "Nine times out
of ten all I have to do is to sit perfectly still when there
was no wind to carry my scent. I have had Reddy Fox pass within
a few feet of me and never suspect that I was near. I hope this
snow will last all winter. It is only when there isn't any snow
that I am particularly worried. Then I am not easy for a minute,
because my white coat can be seen a long distance against the
brown of the dead leaves."
Peter chuckled. "that is just when I feel safest," he replied.
"I like the snow, but this brown-gray coat of mine certainly
does show up against it. Don't you find it pretty lonesome over
here in the Green Forest with all the birds gone, Cousin
Jumper shook his head. "Not all have gone, Peter, you know,"
said he. "Strutter the Grouse and Mrs. Grouse are here, and I see
them every day. They've got snowshoes now."
Peter blinked his eyes and looked rather perplexed. "Snowshoes!"
he exclaimed. "I don't understand what you mean."
"Come with me," replied Jumper, "and I'll show you."
So Jumper led the way and Peter followed close at his heels.
Presently they came to some tracks in the snow. At first
glance they reminded Peter of the queer tracks Farmer Brown's
ducks made in the mud on the edge of the Smiling Pool in summer.
"What funny tracks those are!" he exclaimed. "Who made them?"
"Just keep on following me and you'll see," retorted Jumper.
So they continued to follow the tracks until presently, just
ahead of them, they saw Strutter the Grouse. Peter opened his
eyes with surprise when he discovered that those queer tracks
were made by Strutter.
"Cousin Peter wants to see your snowshoes, Strutter," said Jumper
as they came up with him.
Strutter's bright eyes sparkled. "He's just as curious as ever,
isn't he?" said he. "Well, I don't mind showing him my
snowshoes because I think myself that they are really quite
wonderful." He held up one foot with the toes spread apart and
Peter saw that growing out from the sides of each toe were
queer little horny points set close together. They quite filled
the space between his toes. Peter recalled that when he had
seen Strutter in the summer those toes had been smooth and that
his tracks on soft ground had shown the outline of each toe
clearly. "How funny!" exclaimed Peter.
"There's nothing funny about them," retorted Strutter. "If Old
Mother Nature hadn't given me something of this kind I
certainly would have a hard time of it when there is snow on the
ground. If my feet were just the same as in summer I would sink
right down in when the snow is soft and wouldn't be able to walk
about at all. Now, with these snowshoes I get along very nicely.
You see I sink in but very little."
He took three or four steps and Peter saw right away how very
useful those snowshoes were. "My!" he exclaimed. "I wish Old
Mother Nature would give me snowshoes too." Strutter and Jumper
both laughed and after a second Peter laughed with them, for he
realized how impossible it would be for him to have anything like
those snowshoes of Strutter's.
"Cousin Peter was just saying that he should think I would find
it lonesome over here in the Green Forest. He forgot that you and
Mrs. Grouse stay all winter, and he forgot that while most of the
birds who spent the summer here have left, there are others who
come down from the Far North to take their place."
"Who, for instance?" demanded Peter.
"Snipper the Crossbill," replied Jumper promptly. "I haven't seen
him yet this winter, but I know he is here because only this
morning I found some pine seeds on the snow under a certain
"Huh!" Peter exclaimed. "That doesn't prove anything. Those
seeds might have just fallen, or Chatterer the Red Squirrel might
have dropped them."
"This isn't the season for seeds to just fall, and I know by the
signs that Chatterer hasn't been about," retorted Jumper. "Let's
go over there now and see what we will see."
Once more he led the way and Peter followed. As they drew near
that certain pine-tree, a short whistled note caused them to look
up. Busily at work on a pine cone near the top of a tree was a
bird about the size of Bully the English Sparrow. He was dressed
wholly in dull red with brownish-black wings and tail.
"What did I tell you?" cried Jumper. "There's Snipper this very
minute, and over in that next tree are a lot of his family
and relatives. See in what a funny way they climb about among the
branches. They don't flit or hop, but just climb around. I don't
know of any other bird anywhere around here that does that."
Just then a seed dropped and landed on the snow almost in front
of Peter's nose. Almost at once Snipper himself followed it,
picking it up and eating it with as much unconcern as if Peter
and Jumper were a mile away instead of only a foot or so. The
very first thing Peter noticed was Snipper's bill. The upper and
lower halves crossed at the tips. That bill looked very much as
if Snipper had struck something hard and twisted the tips over.
"Have--have--you met with an accident?" he asked a bit
Snipper looked surprised. "Are you talking to me?" he asked.
"Whatever put such an idea into your head?"
"Your bill," replied Peter promptly. "How did it get twisted
Snipper laughed. "It isn't twisted," said he. "It is just the way
Old Mother Nature made it, and I really don't know what I'd do if
it were any different."
Peter scratched one long ear, as is his way when he is puzzled.
"I don't see," said he, "how it is possible for you to pick
up food with a bill like that."
"And I don't see how I would get my food if I didn't have a bill
like this," retorted Snipper. Then, seeing how puzzled Peter
really was, he went on to explain. "You see, I live very largely
on the seeds that grow in pine cones and the cones of other
trees. Of course I eat some other food, such as seeds and buds of
trees. But what I love best of all are the seeds that grow in the
cones of evergreen trees. If you've ever looked at one of those
cones, you will understand that those seeds are not very easy to
get at. But with this kind of a bill it is no trouble at all. I
can snip them out just as easily as birds with straight bills can
pick up seeds. You see my bill is very much like a pair of
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