Bird BOOK LOOK – Chapter 11 – Woodpeckers


Missed Chapter 1? Begin HERE



Chapter 11 – Drummers and Carpenters


Peter Rabbit was so full of questions that he hardly knew which one to ask first. Yellow Wing the Flicker didn’t give him a chance to ask any. From the edge of the Green forest there came a clear, loud call of, “Pe-ok! Pe-ok! Pe-ok!”

“Excuse me, Peter, there’s Mrs. Flicker calling me,” exclaimed Yellow Wing, and away he went. Peter noticed that as he flew he went up and down. It seemed very much as if he bounded through the air just as Peter bounds over the ground. “I would know him by the way he flies just as far as I could see him,” thought Peter, as he started for his home in the dear Old Briar-patch. “Somehow he doesn’t seem like a Woodpecker because he is on the ground so much. I must ask Jenny Wren about him.”

It was two or three days before Peter had a chance to talk a bit with Jenny Wren. When he did the first thing he asked was if Yellow Wing is a true Woodpecker.

“Certainly he is,” replied Jenny Wren. “Why under the sun should you think he isn’t?”

“Because it seems to me he is on the ground more than he’s in the trees,” replied Peter. “I don’t know any other Woodpeckers who come down on the ground at all.”

“Tut, tut, tut!” said Jenny. “Think a minute, Peter. Haven’t you ever seen Redhead on the ground?”

Peter blinked his eyes. “Ye-e-s,” he said slowly. “Come to think of it, I have. I’ve seen him picking up beechnuts in the fall. The Woodpeckers are a funny family. I guess I don’t understand them.”

Just then a long, rolling rat-a-tat-tat rang out just over their heads. “There’s another one of them,” chuckled Jenny. “That’s Downy, the smallest of the whole family. He certainly makes quite a racket for such a little fellow. He is a splendid drummer and he’s just as good a carpenter. He made the very house I am occupying now.”


Downy Woodpecker by Louis Agassiz Fuertes


Peter was sitting with his head tipped back trying to see Downy. At first he couldn’t make him out. Then he caught a little movement on top of a dead limb. It was Downy’s head flying back and forth as he beat his long roll. He was dressed all in black and white. On the back of his head was a little scarlet patch. He was making a tremendous racket for such a little chap, only a little bigger than one of the Sparrow family.

“Is he making a hole for a nest up there?” asked Peter eagerly.

“Oh no! If he were cutting a hole for a nest, everybody within hearing would know just where to look for it,” exclaimed Jenny Wren. “Downy has too much sense in that little head of his to do such a thing as that. When he cuts a hole for a nest he doesn’t make any more noise than is absolutely necessary. Do you see any chips flying?”

“No-o,” replied Peter slowly. “Now you speak of it, I don’t. Is he hunting for worms in the wood?”

“No, he’s just drumming, that’s all,” said Jenny. “That hollow limb makes the best kind of a drum and Downy is making the most of it. Just listen to that! There isn’t a better drummer anywhere.”

Peter was curious. Finally he ventured another question. “What is he doing that for?”

“For the very same reasons you run and jump in the spring. For the same reason Mr. Wren sings. Downy is drumming for precisely the same reason–happiness! He can’t run and jump and he can’t sing, but he can drum. By the way, do you know that Downy is one of the most useful birds in the Old Orchard?”

Just then Downy flew away, and hardly had he disappeared when another drummer took his place. At first Peter thought Downy had returned until he noticed that the newcomer was just a bit bigger than Downy. Jenny Wren’s sharp eyes spied him at once.

“Hello!” she exclaimed. “There’s Hairy. Did you ever see two cousins look more alike? If it were not that Hairy is bigger than Downy it would be hard work to tell them apart. Do you see any other difference, Peter?”

Peter stared and blinked and stared again, then slowly shook his head. “No,” he confessed, “I don’t.”

“Look at the outside feathers of his tail,” said Jenny. “The feathers are all white. Downy’s outside tail feathers have little bars of black. Hairy is just as good a carpenter as is Downy, and for that matter I don’t know of a member of the Woodpecker family who isn’t a good carpenter. Where did you say Yellow Wing the Flicker is making his home this year?”

“Over in the Big Hickory tree by the Smiling Pool,” replied Peter. “I don’t understand yet why Yellow Wing spends so much time on the ground.”


Red-headed Woodpecker by Louis Agassiz Fuertes


“Ants,” replied Jenny Wren. “Just ants. He’s as fond of ants as is Old Mr. Toad, and that is saying a great deal. If Yellow Wing keeps on he’ll become a ground bird instead of a tree bird. He gets more than half his
living on the ground now. Speaking of drumming, did you ever hear Yellow Wing drum on a tin roof?”

Peter shook his head.

“Well, if there’s a tin roof anywhere around, and Yellow Wing can find it, he will be perfectly happy. He certainly does love to make a noise, and tin makes the finest kind of a drum.”

Just then Jenny was interrupted by the arrival, on the trunk of the very next tree to the one on which she was sitting, of a bird about the size of Sammy Jay. His whole head and neck were a beautiful, deep red. His breast was pure white, and his back was black to nearly the beginning of his tail, where it was white.

“Hello, Redhead!” exclaimed Jenny Wren. “How did you know we were talking about your family?”

“Hello,” replied Redhead with a twinkle in his eyes. “I didn’t know you were talking about my family, although I could have guessed that you were talking about someone’s family.”

“I was talking for Peter’s benefit,” said Jenny. “Peter has always had the idea that true Woodpeckers never go down on the ground. I was explaining to him that Yellow Wing is a true Woodpecker, and yet spends half his time on the ground.”

Redhead nodded. “It’s all on account of ants,” he said. “I don’t know of any one quite so fond of ants unless it is Old Mr. Toad. I like a few of them myself, versus Yellow Wing just about lives on them when he can. You may have noticed that I go down on the ground too once in a while. I am rather fond of beetles, and an occasional grasshopper tastes very good to me. I like a variety. Yes, sir, I certainly do like a variety – cherries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes. In fact most kinds of fruit taste good to me, not to mention beechnuts and acorns when there is no fruit.”

Jenny Wren tossed her head. “You didn’t mention the eggs of some of your neighbors,” she said.

Redhead then changed the subject and a moment later flew away.

“Is it true,” asked Peter, “that Redhead does such a thing?”

Jenny bobbed her head rapidly and jerked her tail. “So I am told,” she said. “I’ve never seen him do it, though I know others who have. They say he is just like Sammy Jay or Clever the Crow. Good gracious! I can’t sit here chatting forever.” Jenny twitched her funny little tail, snapped her bright eyes at Peter, and disappeared in her house.


Ant hills full of “flicker food”!


P.L.A.Y. in Place Projects


Try these activities to extend your bird story adventures:

  • Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS –  Downy Woodpecker
  • Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS –  Red-headed Woodpecker
  • Nature journal coloring pages at Cornell Common Feeder Birds FREE (page W35 Downy Woodpecker + W36 Hairy Woodpecker).
  • Q/A –Questions with answers to keep this conversation going are available for ANTS (p. 369 -377)  Downy Woodpecker (p. 70-74) and Red-headed Woodpecker (p. 76-77) in the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock offered FREE online HERE.
  • Another option is to get a copy of Fifty Favorite Birds Coloring Book by Lisa Bonforte and some colored pencils to complete the drawings of a Downy Woodpecker (p17) and a Red-headed Woodpecker(p34).

FYI -This coloring book is an excellent companion for this bird story series with most of the 50 birds represented as characters throughout the chapters.


Source: Burgess Bird Book for Children by Thornton Burgess

P.L.A.Y. has provided a new online version of all 45 chapters of this updated and annotated 100+ year old public domain classic to:

  • be suitable for the 21st century family by having the Thornton Burgess woodland characters evolve to model mindfulness and loving kindness
  • highlight and bring awareness to the New England nature settings and offer an opportunity to learn more about birds and other woodland animals through this story adventure
  • create story extension moments through P.L.A.Y. suggested activities and investigations for making new nature connections generated by the reader’s own curiosity
  • encourage families to keep their own nature notebooks for drawing, writing, painting, and recording their own local daily outdoor P.L.A.Y. adventures.

P.L.A.Y. Time – Pass it on!