| Among the Forest People|
|by Clara Dillingham Pierson|
| A charming series of nature stories for young children, including tales of red squirrels, great horned owls, rattlesnakes, and bats. No one can read these realistic conversations of the little creatures of the wood without being most tenderly drawn toward them. Within the context of each story children learn many entertaining facts about the lives and habits of these little people of the forest. Ages 5-7 |
 MRS. RED-HEADED WOODPECKER bent her handsome head down
and listened. "Yes, it is! It certainly is!" she
cried, as she heard for a second time the faint
"tap-tap-tap" of a tiny beak rapping on the inside of
an egg shell. She hopped to one side of her nest and
stood looking at the four white eggs that lay there.
Soon the rapping was heard again and she saw one of
them move a bit on its bed of chips.
 "So it is that one," she cried. "I thought it
would be. I was certain that I laid that one first."
And she arched her neck proudly, as the beak of her
eldest child came through a crack in the shell. Now
nobody else could have told one egg from another, but
mothers have a way of remembering such things, and it
may be because they love their children so that
sometimes their sight is a little sharper, and their
hearing a little keener than anybody else's.
However that may be, she stood watching while the tiny
bird chipped away the shell and squeezed out of the
opening he had made. She did not even touch a piece of
the shell until he was well out of it, for she knew
that it is always better for children to help
themselves when they can. It makes them strong and
fits them for life. When the little Red-headed
Woodpecker had struggled free, she took the broken
pieces in her beak and carried
 them far from the
nest before dropping them to the ground. If she had
done the easiest thing and let them fall by the foot of
the hollow tree where she lived, any prowling Weasel or
Blue Jay might have seen them and watched for a chance
to reach her babies. And that would have been very sad
for the babies.
The newly hatched bird was a tired little fellow, and
the first thing he did was to take a nap. He was cold,
too, although the weather was fine and sunshiny. His
down was all wet from the moisture inside the egg, and
you can imagine how he felt, after growing for so long
inside a warm, snug shell, to suddenly be without it
and know that he could never again have it around him.
Even if it had been whole once more, he could not have
been packed into it, for he had been stretching and
growing every minute since he left it. It is for this
reason that the barn-yard people have a wise saying:
 hatched chicken never returns to his shell."
When Mrs. Red-headed Woodpecker came back, she covered
her shivering little one with her downy breast, and
there he slept, while she watched for her husband's
coming, and thought how pleased and proud he would be
to see the baby. They were a young couple, and this
was their first child.
But who can tell what the other three children, who had
not cracked the shell, were thinking? Could they
remember the time when they began to be? Could they
dream of what would happen after they were hatched?
Could they think at all? They were tiny, weak
creatures, curled up within their shells, with food
packed all around them. There had been a time when
they were only streaks in the yellow liquid of the
eggs. Now they were almost ready to leave this for a
fuller, freer life, where they could open their bills
 and flutter their wings, and stretch their legs
and necks. It had been a quiet, sheltered time in the
shell; why should they leave it? Ah, but they must
leave it, for they were healthy and growing, and when
they had done so, they would forget all about it. By
the time they could talk, and that would be very soon,
they would have forgotten all that happened before they
were hatched. That is why you can never get a bird to
tell you what he thought about while in an egg.
After the young Woodpecker's three sisters reached the
outside world, the father and mother were kept busy
hunting food for them, and they were alone much of the
time. It was not long before they knew their parents'
voices, although, once in a while, before they got
their eyes open, they mistook the call of the Tree Frog
below for that of the Woodpeckers. And this was not
strange, for each says, "Ker-r-ruck! Ker-r-ruck!"
and when the
 Tree Frog was singing in his home at
the foot of the tree, the four Woodpecker children, in
their nest-hollow far above his head, would be opening
their bills and stretching their necks, and wondering
why no juicy and delicious morsel was dropped down
When they had their eyes open there was much to be
seen. At least, they thought so. Was there not the
hollow in their dear, dry old tree, a hollow four or
five times as high as they could reach? Their mother
had told them how their father and she had dug it out
with their sharp, strong bills, making it roomy at the
bottom, and leaving a doorway at the top just large
enough for them to pass through. Part of the chips
they had taken away, as the mother had taken the broken
shells, and part had been left in the bottom of the
hollow for the children to lie on. "I don't believe
in grass, hair, and down, as a bed for children," their
 father had said. "Nice soft chips are far
And the Woodpecker children liked the chips, and played
with them, and pretended that they were grubs to be
caught with their long and bony tongues; only of
course they never swallowed them.
It was an exciting time when their feathers began to
grow. Until then they had been clothed in down; but
now the tiny quills came pricking through their skin,
and it was not so pleasant to snuggle up to each other
as it had once been. Now, too, the eldest of the
family began to show a great fault. He was very vain.
You can imagine how sorry his parents were.
Every morning when he awakened he looked first of all
at his feathers. Those on his breast were white, and
he had a white band on his wings. His tail and back
and nearly the whole of his wings were blue-black. His
head, neck, and throat were crimson. To be sure, while
 the feathers were growing, the colors were not
very bright, for the down was mixed with them, and the
quills showed so plainly that the young birds looked
The sisters were getting their new suits at the same
time, and there was just as much reason why they should
be vain, but they were not. They were glad
(as who would not be?) and they often said to each
other: "How pretty you are growing!" They looked
exactly like their brother, for it is not with the
Woodpeckers as with many other birds,—the sons and
daughters are dressed in precisely the same way.
As for the vain young Woodpecker, he had many troubles.
He was not contented to let his feathers grow as the
grass and the leaves grow, without watching. No indeed!
He looked at each one every day and a great many
times every day. Then, if he thought they were not
grow-  ing as fast as they should, he worried about
it. He wanted to hurry them along, and sometimes, when
his sisters did not seem to be looking, he took hold of
them with his bill and pulled. Of course this did not
make them grow any faster and it did make his skin very
sore, but how was he to know? He had not been out of
the shell long enough to be wise.
It troubled him, too, because he could not see his red
feathers. He twisted his head this way and that, and
strained his eyes until they ached, trying to see his
own head and neck. It was very annoying. He thought
it would have been much nicer to have the brightest
feathers in a fellow's tail, where he could see them,
or at any rate on his breast; and he asked his mother
why it couldn't be so.
"I once knew a young Woodpecker," she said, "who
thought of very little but his own beauty. I am afraid
that if he had been allowed to wear his red feathers in
 his tail, he would never have seen anything else
in this wonderful great world, but just his own poor
little tail." She looked out of the doorway as she
spoke, but he knew that she meant him.
Things went on in this way until the children were
ready to fly. Then there were daily lessons in flying,
alighting, clinging to branches, and tapping for food
on the bark of trees. They learned, too, how to support
themselves with their stiff tails when they were
walking up trees or stopping to eat with their claws
hooked into the bark. Then Mrs. Red-headed Woodpecker
taught them how to tell the ripest and sweetest fruit
on the trees before they tasted it. That is something
many people would like to know, but it is a forest
secret, and no bird will tell anyone who cannot fly.
It was on his way back from an orchard one day, that
the vain young Woodpecker stopped to talk with an old
 It may be that the Gray Squirrel's
sight was not good, and so he mistook the Woodpecker
for quite another fellow. He was speaking of an old
tree where he had spent the last winter. "I believe a
family of Red-headed Woodpeckers live there now," he
said. "I have met them once or twice. The father and
mother are fine people, and they have charming
daughters, but their son must be a great trial to them.
He is one of these silly fellows who see the world
through their own feathers."
As the young Red-headed Woodpecker flew away, he
repeated this to himself: "A silly fellow, a silly
fellow, who sees the world through his own feathers."
And he said to his father, "Whose feathers must I look
This puzzled his father. "Whose feathers should you
look through?" said he. "What do you mean?"
"Well," answered the son, "somebody said that I saw
the world through my own
 feathers, and I don't see
how I can get anybody else's."
How his father did laugh! "I don't see why you
should look through any feathers," said he. "What he
meant was that you thought so much of your own plumage
that you did not care for anything else; and it is
so. If it were intended you should look at yourself
all the time, your eyes would have been one under your
chin and the other in the back of your head. No!
They are placed right for you to look at other people,
and are where they help you hunt for food."
"How often may I look at my own feathers?" asked the
young Woodpecker. He was wondering at that minute how
his tail looked, but he was determined not to turn his
The old Woodpecker's eyes twinkled. "I should think,"
he said, "that since you are young and have no family
to look after, you might preen your feathers in the
 morning and in the afternoon and when you go to
sleep. Then, of course, when it is stormy, you will
have to take your waterproof out of the pocket under
your tail, and put it on one feather at a time, as all
birds do. That would be often enough unless something
happened to rumple them."
"I will not look at them any oftener," said the young
Red-headed Woodpecker, firmly. "I will not be called
a silly fellow." And he was as good as his word.
His mother sighed when she heard of the change. "I am
very glad," said she. "But isn't that always the way?
His father and I have talked and talked, and it made
no difference; but let somebody else say he is silly
and vain, and behold!"
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