|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 |
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,
be-  cause 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.
SNIPPER THE CROSSBILL. No other
bird has the tips of his bill crossed.
"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
"It really is very wonderful," confessed Peter. "Do you mind
telling me, Snipper, why I never have seen you here in summer?"
 "For the same reason that in summer you never see Snowflake and
Wanderer the Horned Lark and some others I might name," replied
Snipper. "Give me the Far North every time. I would stay there
the year through but that sometimes food gets scarce up there.
That is why I am down here now. If you'll excuse me, I'll go
finish my breakfast."
Snipper flew up in the tree where the other Crossbills were at
work and Peter and Jumper watched them.
"I suppose you know," said Jumper, "that Snipper has a cousin who
looks almost exactly like him with the exception of two white
bars on each wing. He is called the White-winged Crossbill."
"I didn't know it," replied Peter, "but I'm glad you've told me.
I certainly shall watch out for him. I can't get over those
funny bills. No one could ever mistake it for any other bird.
Is there anyone else now from the Far North whom I haven't seen?"
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