|The Burgess Animal Book for Children|
|by Thornton Burgess|
|To answer Peter Rabbit’s questions about his relatives, Old Mother Nature holds a school for the animals every day at sun-up for a month. Encouraging the animals to notice the differences between them and to offer their observa-tions of animal behavior, Old Mother Nature helps them all gain a greater understanding of the mammals of North America. Starting with the animals close to home, the school moves in ever-widening circles to encompass the animals of the far west and the extreme north, as well. A fine introduction to mammals for students in the primary grades. Ages 6-9 |
LIGHTFOOT, BLACKTAIL AND FORKHORN
 OF all the people who live in the Green Forest none is more admired
than Lightfoot the Deer. So perhaps you can guess how delighted
every one was when, just as the morning lesson was to begin,
Lightfoot himself stepped daintily out from a thicket and bowed
to Old Mother Nature.
The Virginia or White-tailed Deer,
known and loved by everybody.
"I heard," said he, "that my little friends here are to learn
something about my family this morning, and thought you would not
mind if I joined them."
"I should say not!" exclaimed Peter Rabbit forgetting that Lightfoot
had spoken to Old Mother Nature.
All laughed, even Old Mother Nature. You see, Peter was so very
much in earnest, and at the same time so excited, that it really
"Peter has spoken for all of us," said Old Mother Nature. "You
are more than welcome,
Light-  foot. I had intended to send for you,
but it slipped my mind. I am delighted to have you here and I know
that the others are. I suspect you will be most comfortable if you
lie down, but before you do this I want everybody to have a good
look at you. Just stand for a few minutes in that little open
space where all can see you."
Lightfoot walked over to the open space where the sun fell full on
him and there he stood, a picture of grace and beauty with just
enough honest pride in his appearance to give him an air of noble
dignity. There was more than one little gasp of admiration among
his little neighbors.
"There," began Old Mother Nature, "is one of the most beautiful
of all my children, and the knowledge that he is beautiful does
not spoil him. Lightfoot belongs to the Deer family, as you all
know, and this in turn is in the order called Ungulata, which
Peter Rabbit abruptly sat up, and his ears stood up like exclamation
points. "Farmer Brown's cows have those funny feet called hoofs;
are they related to Lightfoot?" he asked eagerly.
"They belong to another family, but it is in the same order. So
they are distant cousins of Lightfoot," replied Old Mother Nature.
"And Farmer Brown's Pigs, what about them?" asked Chatterer the
 "They also belong to that order and so are related,"
explained Old Mother Nature.
"Huh!" exclaimed Chatterer. "If I were in Lightfoot's place I
never, never would acknowledge any such homely, stupid creatures
as those as relatives of mine."
"Don't forget that Prickly Porky the Porcupine and Robber the Rat
are members of the same order to which you belong," retorted Old
Mother Nature softly, and Chatterer hung his head. "Lightfoot,"
she continued, "is the White-tailed or Virginia Deer, and is in
some ways the most beautiful of the Deer family. You have only to
look at him to know that those slim legs of his are meant for speed.
He can go very fast, but not for long distances without stopping.
Like Peter Rabbit he is a jumper rather than a true runner, and
travels with low bounds with occasional high ones when alarmed.
He can make very long and high jumps, and this is one reason he
prefers to live in the Green Forest where there are fallen trees
and tangles of old logs. If frightened he can leap over them,
whereas his enemies must crawl under or climb over or go around
them. Ordinary fences, such as Farmer Brown has built around his
fields, do not bother Lightfoot in the least. He can leap over
them as easily as Peter Rabbit can jump over that little log he
is sitting beside.
 "Just now, because it is summer, Lightfoot's coat is decidedly
reddish in color and very handsome. But in winter it is wholly
"I know," spoke up Chatterer the Red Squirrel. "It is gray then.
I've often seen Lightfoot in winter, and there isn't a red hair
on him at that season.
"Quite right," agreed Old Mother Nature. "His red coat is for
summer only. Notice that Lightfoot has a black nose. That is, the
tip of it is black. Beneath his chin is a black spot. A band
across his nose, the inside of each ear and a circle around each
eye is whitish. His throat is white and he is white beneath. Now,
Peter, you are so interested in tails, tell me without looking
what color Lightfoot's tail is."
"White, snowy white," replied Peter promptly. "I suppose that is
why he is called the White-tailed Deer."
"Huh!" grunted Johnny Chuck who happened to be sitting a little
back of Lightfoot, "I don't call it white. It has a white edge,
but mostly it is the color of his coat."
Now while Lightfoot had been standing there his tail had hung down,
and it was as Johnny Chuck had said. But at Johnny's remark up flew
Lightfoot's tail, showing only the under side, and that was as Peter
had said,—snowy white.
 It was like a pointed
white flag. With it held aloft that way, no one behind Lightfoot
would suspect that his whole tail was not white.
"Notice how long and fluffy the hair on that tail is," said Old
Mother Nature. "Mrs. Lightfoot's is just like it, and this makes
it very easy for her babies to follow her in the dark. When
Lightfoot is feeding or simply walking about he carries it down,
but when he is frightened and bounds away, up goes that white
flag. Now look at his horns. They are not true horns. The
latter are hollow, while these are not. Farmer Brown's cows have
horns. Lightfoot has antlers. Just remember that. The so-called
horns of all the Deer family are antlers and are not hollow.
Notice how Lightfoot's curve forward with the branches or tines
on the back side."
Of course everybody looked at Lightfoot's crown as he held his head
proudly. "What is the matter with them?" asked Whitefoot the Wood
Mouse. "They look to me as if they are covered with fur. I always
supposed them to be hard like bone."
"So they will be a month from now," explained Old Mother Nature,
smiling down at Whitefoot. "That which you call fur will come off.
He will rub it off against the trees until his antlers are polished,
and there is not a trace of it left.
 You see Lightfoot has just
grown that set this summer."
"Do you mean those antlers?" asked Danny Meadow Mouse, looking very
much puzzled. "Didn't he have any before? How could things like
those grow, anyway?"
"Don't you know that he loses his horns, I mean antlers, every
year?" demanded Jumper the Hare. "I thought every one knew that.
His old ones fell off late last winter. I know, for I saw him
just afterward, and he looked sort of ashamed. Anyway, he didn't
carry his head as proudly as he does now. He looked a lot like
Mrs. Lightfoot; you know she hasn't any antlers."
"But how could hard, bony things like those grow?" persisted Danny
"I think I will have to explain," said Old Mother Nature. "They
were not hard and bony when they were growing. Just as soon as
Lightfoot's old antlers dropped off, the new ones started. They
sprouted out of his head just as plants sprout out of the ground,
and they were soft and very tender and filled with blood, just
as all parts of your body are. At first they were just two round
knobs. Then these pushed out and grew and grew. Little knobs
sprang out from them and grew to make the branches you see now.
All the time they were protected by a furry skin which
 looks a
great deal like what men call velvet. When Lightfoot's antlers
are covered with this, they are said to be in the velvet state.
"When they had reached their full size they began to shrink and
harden, so that now they are quite hard, and very soon that velvet
will begin to come off. When they were growing they were so tender
that Lightfoot didn't move about any more than was necessary and
kept quite by himself. He was afraid of injuring those antlers.
By the time cool weather comes, Lightfoot will be quite ready to
use those sharp points on anybody who gets in his way.
"As Jumper has said, Mrs. Lightfoot has no antlers. Otherwise she
looks much like Lightfoot, save that she is not quite as big. Have
any of you ever seen her babies?"
"I have," declared Jumper, who, as you know, lives in the Green
Forest just as Lightfoot does. "They are the dearest little
things and look like their mother, only they have the loveliest
"That is to help them to remain unseen by their enemies," explained
Old Mother Nature. "When they lie down where the sun breaks through
the trees and spots the ground with light they seem so much like
their surroundings that unless they move they are not often seen
even by the sharpest
 eyes that may pass close by. They lie with
their little necks and heads stretched flat on the ground and do
not move so much as a hair. You see, they usually are very
obedient, and the first thing their mother teaches them is to keep
perfectly still when she leaves them.
"When they are a few months old and able to care for themselves a
little, the spots disappear. As a rule Mrs. Lightfoot has two
babies each spring. Once in a while she has three, but two is the
rule. She is a good mother and always on the watch for possible
danger. While they are very small she keeps them hidden in the
deepest thickets. By the way, do you know that Lightfoot and Mrs.
Lightfoot are fine swimmers?"
Happy Jack Squirrel looked the surprise he felt. "I don't see how
under the sun any one with little hoofed feet like Lightfoot's can
swim," said he.
"Nevertheless, Lightfoot is a good swimmer and fond of the water,"
replied Old Mother Nature. "That is one way he has of escaping his
enemies. When he is hard pressed by Wolves or Dogs he makes for
the nearest water and plunges in. He does not hesitate to swim
across a river or even a small lake.
"Lightfoot prefers the Green Forest where there are close thickets
with here and there open places. He likes the edge of the Green
 where he can come out in the open fields, yet be within a
short distance of the protecting trees and bushes. He requires
much water and so is usually found not far from a brook, pond or
river. He has a favorite drinking place and goes to drink early
in the morning and just at dusk. During the day he usually sleeps
hidden away in a thicket or under a windfall, coming out late in
the afternoon. He feeds mostly in the early evening. He eats
grass and other plants, beechnuts and acorns, leaves and twigs
of certain trees, lily pads in summer and, I am sorry to say,
delights to get into Farmer Brown's garden, where almost every
green thing tempts him.
"Like so many others he has a hard time in winter, particularly
when the snows are deep. Then he and Mrs. Lightfoot and their
children live in what is called a yard. Of course it isn't really
a yard such as Farmer Brown has. It is simply a place where they
keep the snow trodden down in paths which cross and cross, and is
made where there is shelter and food. The food is chiefly twigs
and leaves of evergreen trees. As the snow gets deeper and deeper
they become prisoners in the yard until spring comes to melt the
snow and set them free.
"Lightfoot depends for safety more on his nose and ears than on his
eyes. His sense of smell is
 wonderful, and when he is moving about
he usually goes up wind; that is, in the direction from which the
wind is blowing. This is so that it will bring to him the scent
of any enemy that may be ahead of him. He is very clever and
cunning. Often before lying down to rest he goes back a short
distance to a point where he can watch his trail, so that if any
one is following it he will have warning.
"His greatest enemy is the hunter with his terrible gun. How any
one can look into those great soft eyes of Lightfoot and then even
think of trying to kill him is more than I can understand. Dogs
are his next worst enemies when he lives near the homes of men.
When he lives where Wolves, Panthers and Bears are found, he has
to be always on the watch for them. Tufty the Lynx is ever on the
watch for Lightfoot's babies.
"The White-tailed Deer is the most widely distributed of all the
Deer family. He is found from the Sunny South to the great forests
of the North—everywhere but in the vast open plains of the middle
of this great country. That is, he used to be. In many places
he has been so hunted by man that he has disappeared. When he
lives in the Sunny South he never grows to be as big as when he
lives in the North.
 "In the great mountains of the Far West lives a cousin, Blacktail,
also called Columbian Blacktailed Deer, and another cousin, Forkhorn
the Mule Deer. Blacktail is nearly the size of Lightfoot. He is not
quite so graceful, his ears are larger, being much like those of
Forkhorn the Mule Deer, to whom he is closely related, and his tail
is wholly black on the upper surface. It is from this he gets his
name. His antlers vary, sometimes being much like those of Lightfoot
and again like those of Forkhorn. He is a lover of dense forests and
is not widely distributed. He is not nearly so smart as Lightfoot in
"Forkhorn the Mule Deer, sometimes called Jumping Deer, is larger
than Lightfoot and much more heavily built. His big ears, much
like those of a Mule, have won for him the name of Mule Deer. His
face is a dull white with a black patch on the forehead and a black
band under the chin. His tail is rather short and is not broad at
the base like Lightfoot's. It is white with a black tip. Because
of this he is often called Blacktailed Deer, but this is wrong
because that name belongs to his cousin, the true Blacktail.
"Forkhorn's antlers are his glory. They are even finer than
Lightfoot's. The prongs, or tines, are in pairs like the letter Y
instead of in a row
 as are those of Lightfoot, and usually there
are two pairs on each antler. Forkhorn prefers rough country and
there he is very much at home, his powers of jumping enabling him
to travel with ease where his enemies find it difficult to follow.
Like Blacktail he is not nearly so clever as Lightfoot the White-tail
and so is more easily killed by hunters.
You may know him by the black tip
of his tail, his mule-like ears and the forked tines of his antlers.
"All these members of the Deer family belong to the round-horn
branch, and are very much smaller than the members of the flat-horn
branch. But there is one who in size makes all the others look
small indeed. It is Bugler the Elk, or Wapiti, of whom I shall
tell you to-morrow."
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