|The Burgess Bird Book for Children|
|by Thornton Burgess|
|Through the eyes of Peter Rabbit we become acquainted with a variety of birds as they return to Peterís neighborhood in the spring. In the context of the story about each bird, we hear about its nesting habits, its feeding preferences, and its interactions with other wildlife. We meet Jenny Wren, Scrapper the King-bird, Redwing the Blackbird, and dozens more. An engaging introduction to birds for young children. Ages 6-9 |
SOME FEATHERED DIGGERS
 PETER RABBIT scampered along down one bank of the Laughing Brook,
eagerly watching for a high, gravelly bank such as Grandfather
Frog had said that Rattles the Kingfisher likes to make his home
in. If Peter had stopped to do a little thinking, he would have
known that he was simply wasting time. You see, the Laughing
Brook was flowing through the Green Meadows, so of course there
would be no high, gravelly bank, because the Green Meadows are
low. But Peter Rabbit, in his usual heedless way, did no
thinking. He had seen Rattles fly down the Laughing Brook, and so
he had just taken it for granted that the home of Rattles must be
somewhere down there.
At last Peter reached the place where the Laughing Brook entered
the Big River. Of course he hadn't found the home of Rattles. But
now he did find something that for the time being made him quite
forget Rattles and his home. Just before it reached the Big River
the Laughing Brook wound through a swamp in which were
 many tall
trees and a great number of young trees. A great many big ferns
grew there and were splendid to hide under. Peter always did like
He had stopped to rest in a clump of ferns when he was startled
by seeing a great bird alight in a tree just a little way from
him. His first thought was that it was a Hawk, so you can imagine
how surprised and pleased he was to discover that it was Mrs.
Longlegs. Somehow Peter had always thought of Longlegs the Blue
Heron as never alighting anywhere except on the ground. But here
was Mrs. Longlegs in a tree. Having nothing to fear, Peter crept
out from his hiding place that he might see better.
In the tree in which Mrs. Longlegs was perched and just below her
he saw a little platform of sticks. He didn't suspect that it was
a nest, because it looked too rough and loosely put together to
be a nest. Probably he wouldn't have thought about it at all had
not Mrs. Longlegs settled herself on it right while Peter was
watching. It didn't seem big enough or strong enough to hold her,
but it did.
"As I live," thought Peter, "I've found the nest of Longlegs! He
and Mrs. Longlegs may be good fishermen but they certainly are
mighty poor nest-builders. I don't see how under the
 sun Mrs.
Longlegs ever gets on and off that nest without kicking the eggs
Peter sat around for a while, but as he didn't care to let his
presence be known, and as there was no one to talk to, he
presently made up his mind that being so near the Big River he
would go over there to see if Plunger the Osprey was fishing
again on this day.
When he reached the Big River, Plunger was not in sight. Peter
was disappointed. He had just about made up his mind to return
the way he had come, when from beyond the swamp, farther up the
Big River, he heard the harsh, rattling cry of Rattles the
Kingfisher. It reminded him of what he had come for, and he at
once began to hurry in that direction.
Peter came out of the swamp on a little sandy beach. There he
squatted for a moment, blinking his eyes, for out there the sun
was very bright. Then a little way beyond him he discovered
something that in his eager curiosity made him quite forget that
he was out in the open where it was anything but safe for a
Rabbit to be. What he saw was a high sandy bank. With a hasty
glance this way and that way to make sure that no enemy was in
sight, Peter scampered along the edge of the water till he was
right at the foot of that sandy bank. Then he squatted down and
 for a hole such as he imagined Rattles the
Kingfisher might make. Instead of one hole he saw a lot of holes,
but they were very small holes. He knew right away that Rattles
couldn't possibly get in or out of a single one of those holes.
In fact, those holes in the bank were no bigger than the holes
Downy the Woodpecker makes in trees. Peter couldn't imagine who
or what had made them.
As Peter sat there staring and wondering a trim little head
appeared at the entrance to one of those holes. It was a trim
little head with a very small bill and a snowy white throat. At
first glance Peter thought it was his old friend, Skimmer the
Tree Swallow, and he was just on the point of asking what under
the sun Skimmer was doing in such a place as that, when with a
lively twitter of greeting the owner of that little home in the
bank flew out and circled over Peter's head. It wasn't Skimmer at
all. It was Banker the Bank Swallow, own cousin to Skimmer the
Tree Swallow. Peter recognized him the instant he got a full view
In the first place Banker was a little smaller than Skimmer. Then
too, he was not nearly so handsome. His back, instead of being
that beautiful rich steel-blue which makes Skimmer so handsome,
was a sober grayish-brown. He was a
 little darker on his wings
and tail. His breast, instead of being all snowy white, was
crossed with a brownish band. His tail was more nearly square
across the end than is the case with other members of the Swallow
"Wha—wha—what were you doing there?" stuttered Peter, his eyes
popping right out with curiosity and excitement.
"Why, that's my home," twittered Banker.
"Do—do—do you mean to say that you live in a hole in the
ground?" cried Peter.
"Certainly; why not?" twittered Banker as he snapped up a fly
just over Peter's head.
"I don't know any reason why you shouldn't," confessed Peter.
"But somehow it is hard for me to think of birds as living in
holes in the ground. I've only just found out that Rattles the
Kingfisher does. But I didn't suppose there were any others. Did
you make that hole yourself, Banker?"
"Of course," replied Banker. "That is, I helped make it. Mrs.
Banker did her share. 'Way in at the end of it we've got the
nicest little nest of straw and feathers. What is more, we've got
four white eggs in there, and Mrs. Banker is sitting on them
By this time the air seemed to be full of Banker's friends,
skimming and circling this way and that,
 and going in and out of
the little holes in the bank.
"I am like my big cousin, Twitter the Purple Martin, fond of
society," explained Banker. "We Bank Swallows like our homes
close together. You said that you had just learned that Rattles
the Kingfisher has his home in a bank. Do you know where it is?"
"No," replied Peter. "I was looking for it when I discovered your
home. Can you tell me where it is?"
"I'll do better than that;" replied Banker. "I'll show you where
He darted some distance up along the bank and hovered for an
instant close to the top. Peter scampered over there and looked
up. There, just a few inches below the top, was another hole, a
very much larger hole than those he had just left. As he was
staring up at it a head with a long sharp bill and a crest which
looked as if all the feathers on the top of his head had been
brushed the wrong way, was thrust out. It was Rattles himself. He
didn't seem at all glad to see Peter. In fact, he came out and
darted at Peter angrily. Peter didn't wait to feel that sharp
dagger-like bill. He took to his heels. He had seen what he
started out to find and he was quite content to go home.
 Peter took a short cut across the Green Meadows. It took him past
a certain tall, dead tree. A sharp cry of "Kill-ee, kill-ee,
kill-ee!" caused Peter to look up just in time to see a trim,
handsome bird whose body was about the size of Sammy Jay's but
whose longer wings and longer tail made him look bigger. One
glance was enough to tell Peter that this was a member of the
Hawk family, the smallest of the family. It was Killy the Sparrow
Hawk. He is too small for Peter to fear him, so now Peter was
possessed of nothing more than a very lively curiosity, and sat
up to watch.
Out over the meadow grass Killy sailed. Suddenly, with beating
wings, he kept himself in one place in the air and then dropped
down into the grass. He was up again in an instant, and Peter
could see that he had a fat grasshopper in his claws. Back to the
top of the tall, dead tree he flew and there ate the grasshopper.
When it was finished he sat up straight and still, so still that
he seemed a part of the tree itself. With those wonderful eyes of
his he was watching for another grasshopper or for a careless
Very trim and handsome was Killy. His back was reddish-brown
crossed by bars of black. His tail was reddish-brown with a band
 near its end and a white tip. His wings were slaty-blue
with little bars of black, the longest feathers having white
bars. Underneath he was a beautiful buff, spotted with black. His
head was bluish with a reddish patch right on top. Before and
behind each ear was a black mark. His rather short bill, like the
bills of all the rest of his family, was hooked.
As Peter sat there admiring Killy, for he was handsome enough for
any one to admire, he noticed for the first time a hole high up
in the trunk of the tree, such a hole as Yellow Wing the Flicker
might have made and probably did make. Right away Peter
remembered what Jenny Wren had told him about Killy's making his
nest in just such a hole. "I wonder," thought Peter, "if that is
Just then Killy flew over and dropped in the grass just in front
of Peter, where he caught another fat grasshopper. "Is that your
home up there?" asked Peter hastily.
"It certainly is, Peter," replied Killy. "This is the third
summer Mrs. Killy and I have had our home there."
"You seem to be very fond of grasshoppers," Peter ventured.
"I am," replied Killy. "They are very fine eating when one can
get enough of them."
 "Are they the only kind of food you eat?" ventured Peter.
Killy laughed. It was a shrill laugh. "I should say not," said
he. "I eat spiders and worms and all sorts of insects big enough
to give a fellow a decent bite. But for real good eating give me
a fat Meadow Mouse. I don't object to a Sparrow or some other
small bird now and then, especially when I have a family of
hungry youngsters to feed. But take it the season through, I live
mostly on grasshoppers and insects and Meadow Mice. I do a lot of
good in this world, I'd have you know."
Peter said that he supposed that this was so, but all the time he
kept thinking what a pity it was that Killy ever killed his
feathered neighbors. As soon as he conveniently could he politely
bade Killy good-by and hurried home to the dear Old Briar-patch,
there to think over how queer it seemed that a member of the Hawk
family should nest in a hollow tree and a member of the Swallow
family should dig a hole in the ground.
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