| Dooryard Stories|
|by Clara Dillingham Pierson|
|Around the dooryard nest all sorts of birds, including flickers, robins, sparrows, wrens, swifts, and blackbirds. These stories convey some of the drama that arises in the garden as birds go about the business of building nests and raising young. The author's cat Silvertip figures in a number of the narratives as do a number of other mammals and insects. Invites children to 'see how many tiny neighbors you have around you, and how much you can learn about them.' Ages 5-7 |
THE INDUSTRIOUS FLICKERS
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
 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
 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.
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
"Excepting the ones we left for the
 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-  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
"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
 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
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
 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
 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
 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-  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
"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
 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
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
 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
"Could you help me clean out our old hole in the
Lombardy poplar?" said she. "I believe I will lay some
"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
"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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