THE OTTER FAMILY
ABOUT five o'clock one fine morning in May, Tom, the
gamekeeper's son, was examining the traps set for
weasels, stoats, and other vermin. His way led him over
a bridge across the river, and as he came near it he
heard a strange whistling noise.
Now Tom was a Devonshire lad, and all country boys in
the West of England have sharp ears for the calls of
animals. Tom knew that this cry came from a father or
mother otter who were fishing in the river with their
Just below the bridge, where the bank was
 very high,
there grew an old willow tree, with branches hanging
over the river. The water had washed away the bank
under the willow, so that there was a big hole between
its strong roots.
Now Tom knew that this hole was the home of some
otters. Many a time the otter-hounds had stood in the
water near this hole baying with all their might. But
they could not get in, and the otters took care not to
The hounds were far away now, and every-thing was very
quiet in the early morning. So Tom lay down in the
thick grass at the top of the bank and waited.
By-and-bye on came the otters, swimming smoothly along
with only their noses above water.
The old otters swam so quietly that Tom would not have
known they were there. But the young otters were
playing and twisting about, so that first their brown
furry backs, and then their white bellies, shone in the
light of the early morning sun, and the water splashed
The river was very broad in this place, and just
opposite the willow was a small island. Tom was so well
hidden in the tall grass that the otters had no idea
that he was there. So one by one they scrambled up on
the island, each with a fish in its mouth. Then they
each took hold of their fish with their front feet, and
 to eat just behind the head. They ate on till they
nearly reached the tail and then left that.
OTTER EATING FISH.
While they were eating, Tom could see what they were
like. They had long bending bodies, and broad, flat
heads, and their mouths and noses were short and broad.
Their feet were webbed like duck's feet, but each foot
had very sharp claws at the end. Their fur was a lovely
soft brown, but the long hairs on the old otters were
coarse, and they did not look so soft as the little
ones. Their tails were thick and strong, and very
useful for helping them to swim.
The father tore the fish with his teeth quite fiercely,
and sometimes threw small pieces to the young ones, who
had soon finished their tiny fish. At last all was
eaten up, except the heads and tails. Then the father
otter slid down the bank, and the others followed him,
and they all went to fish again.
There are fewer otters than there used to be in the
rivers of England. But they are still to be found in
many places. Only, if you want to see them at home, you
must get up early in the morning.