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Dooryard Stories by  Clara Dillingham Pierson
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[Illustration]

THE INDUSTRIOUS FLICKERS

[36]

I
F the Bad Boy who lived in the next block had known more about the habits of Flickers, there would probably have been no young ones to feed on the lawn of the big house. He had watched Mr. and Mrs. Flicker in the spring when they were making their nest ready, and had waited only long enough for the eggs to be laid before climbing the tall Lombardy poplar to rob it.

You must not think that Mr. and Mrs. Flicker were stupid in showing the Bad Boy where their nest was. There was never a more careful couple, but they were so large and handsome that, if they went anywhere at all, they were sure to be seen. After they had once been seen, [37] it was easy for any one with plenty of time to watch and follow them home.

Mr. Flicker was clad mostly in golden brown, barred with black. He had a very showy black spot on his breast, which was just the shape of a new moon, black patches on his cheeks and smaller ones on his belly. The linings of his wings, and the quills of his long wing- and tail-feathers were a bright yellow, and on the back of his head he had a beautiful red band. All these were very fine, but the most surprising thing was a large patch of pure white feathers on the lower part of his back. These did not show except when he was flying. At other times his folded wings quite hid them from sight. Mrs. Flicker looked so much like her husband that you could not tell one from the other, unless you were near enough to see their cheeks. Then you would know, for Mrs. Flicker had no black spots on hers.

[38] When the Bad Boy was sure that the nest was high up in the trunk of the old Lombardy poplar, just across the street from the big house, he waited until his mother and his big sister were out of the way, and then he climbed that tree and took the six white eggs out of it. That was a very, very cruel thing to do. It would have been bad enough to take one, but to take all six was a great deal worse. You will not pity the Bad Boy when you know that he tore his trousers and hurt one hand on his way down.


[Illustration]

A VERY CRUEL THING TO DO.

Poor Mrs. Flicker cried herself to sleep that night. "If we had not been careful," she sobbed, "I would n't feel so badly, but to have it happen after all the trouble we took! I am sure that when we cut the hole for our nest, not a single ship fell to the ground below. We carried them all far away before dropping them.

"Excepting the ones we left for the [39] eggs to lie on," added Mr. Flicker, who was always particular and exact in what he said, even when in great trouble.

"Yes, excepting those," sobbed his poor wife. "I left a few of the best ones inside."

"I wonder where the eggs are now," said Mr. Flicker. He looked toward the Bad Boy's home as he spoke. If he had but known it, the Bad Boy had not one left. Two had been broken in coming down the tree (for his mouth had not been big enough to carry all six), three he had traded for marbles, and the last one, which he meant to keep for a "specimen," had rolled off his desk in school and smashed on the floor. The Bad Boy had been kept in at recess for this, but that did not make the egg whole again.

The Flickers went sadly to sleep, and dreamed of a land where Birds were as big as Cows and boys as small as Gold- [40] finches—where boys were afraid of birds and hid when they saw them coming.

When the morning sunshine awakened them and they had breakfasted well, Mrs. Flicker began to feel more hopeful. "I am really ashamed of myself," she said, "for being so discouraged. There would be some excuse for it if I were another kind of bird, but since I am a Flicker and can lay more eggs whenever my nest is robbed, I think I'd better stop crying and plan for six more."

"My brave wife!" exclaimed Mr. Flicker. "You are quite right. It is all very sad, but we will make the best of it and try to be happy."

The Bad Boy passed under the tree more than twenty times before the second lot of eggs were hatched, and he wished and wished for a Flicker's egg (only he called them High Holes, because they built in high holes). He never guessed that in the nest above his head lay six [41] more just as fine as the ones he had stolen. It is not strange that he did not, for who but a Flicker can lay and lay and lay eggs when her nest is robbed?

Now the young Flickers were hatched and ready to leave their comfortable home. They were much more helpless than most young birds are when they leave the nest. In fact, they could hardly fly at all, and had to tumble and sprawl their way to the ground, catching here and there in the branches of the poplar. Her neighbors thought Mrs. Flicker quite heartless to let them go so soon, but when she told them what a care her six nestlings were, they felt differently about it.

"Did you ever hear of such a thing?" exclaimed Mrs. Catbird, who thought herself quite overworked in caring for her six, and who had only known Flickers by sight before this. "Did you ever hear of such a thing? She tells me that she and Mr. Flicker not only have to [42] find all the food for their children, but have to eat it for them also. I remember the Mourning Doves doing that, but then, they never have more than two children at a time, so it is not so hard."

"What is that?" asked a Blackbird, who, like the rest of her family, always wanted to know about everything.

"Why," repeated Mrs. Catbird, "the Flickers have to eat all the food they get for their children, and then, when it has become soft and ready for young birds, they unswallow it into their children's bills. It takes so much time to do this and to fly back and forth that they want to have them out of the nest as soon as possible. Then they can take them around with them."

You can imagine how anxious the parents were for a few days, while their six babies were still so awkward and helpless. They took them across the street to the lawn around the big house, and tucked [43] them away in dusky places where their brown feathers would not show against anything light. Most of them were under the edge of a board walk, one was under a porch, and one was under a low branching evergreen. Mrs. Robin, who was then hatching her second brood, kept watch for Silvertip, and this was a great help to the Flickers on the ground below.

First one and then another of the young Flickers went out with one of the parents, and it was most interesting to see them fed. The Flickers, you know, are woodpeckers, and their long bills are slender, curved, and pointed, just right for picking Grubs and nice fat little Bugs out of tree-bard. Their tails, also, are stiff and right to prop them as they work up and around the trunk of a tree. Still, they feed on the ground more than on trees, and like Ants better than anything else in the world.

Now, one could see Mr. Flicker by an [44] Ant-hill with a nestling beside him, his head going up and down like a hammer, and an Ant picked up in his bill at every stroke. Every now and then he would stop, turn his head, place his bill in that of his child, and unswallow some Ants, which the nestling would gulp down. Between feedings the nestling would settle his head between his shoulders, and slide his thin eyelids over his eyes. He never slid his thick eyelids over. He saved those for night, when he would really sleep.

While the father was feeding one, the mother would be feeding another. When these two were satisfied they were sent back to their hiding-places and two more had their turns. It was very hard work, in spite of their being so good. They never fussed or teased. They waited patiently for their turns and found no fault with the food.

"Oh," said Mrs. Flicker to her hus- [45] band, as she swallowed the six hundred-and-forty-eighth Ant since sunrise. "I am so tired that I feel like giving up. If it were not for you and the children, I believe I would just as soon let that Cat catch me as not."

"I know," he answered. "I am very tired myself, and I am sure you must be more so. You do not seem strong since you were shut in so long while brooding the eggs."

"It is easier in one way, now that all are out of the nest," said she. "It saves my wings a great deal, but my neck and throat ache from such steady work. I used to rather enjoy eating for myself. The food tasted good, and it was something pleasant to do. This eating for a whole family is quite different."

"Well, it won't last much longer," her husband said comfortingly. "The children will soon be able to feed themselves, and you can have a good rest. Then we [46] will go picnicking in the fields beyond this place, and every one shall get his own lunch."

In a few more days they did this, and for three mornings they might have been seen, in a happy party of eight, walking around together, quite as Pigeons do. At the end of the third day, Mr. Flicker said to his wife: "Well, my dear, are you having a good time? This is a pleasant change from caring for the children, is n't it?"

To his surprise, she turned her head away and did not answer. When he repeated his questions, she replied with a little choke in her voice. "It is very easy," she said, "and a great rest, but it seems to me I have nothing to do. I eat all I can and try to swallow slowly, but when my stomach is full I have to just walk around. I miss the children putting their dear little bills up to mine and taking food from me. I believe I am lonely."

[47] Poor Mr. Flicker was young and inexperienced. He did not know how quickly some people change their minds, or how mothers miss the care of children.

"Is n't there something you can do," he asked, "to make you happier?"

"Could you help me clean out our old hole in the Lombardy poplar?" said she. "I believe I will lay some more eggs."

"What?" cried her husband. "When you have been so tired? And then you will be shut in so long while brooding them. Why not fly off on a pleasure trip with me?"

"I will," said she. "I'd love to go. But let us get the nest all ready first."

Mr. Flicker was young and inexperienced, as has been said before, yet he flew right off to work on that nest and let his wife do exactly as she chose. Which shows that, although she did change her mind and he could not understand why, they were a very happy and sensible couple, after all.


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