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CHAPTER 39 – Peter Discovers Two Old Friends
Rough Brother North Wind and Jack Frost were not far behind Honker the Goose. In a night Peter Rabbit’s world was transformed. It had become a new world, a world of pure white. The last among Peter’s feathered friends who spend the winter in the far away South had hurried away. Still Peter was not lonely. DeeDee’s cheery voice greeted Peter the very first thing that morning after the storm. DeeDee seemed to be in just as good spirits as ever he had been in summer.
Now Peter rather likes the snow. He likes to run about in it, and so he followed DeeDee up to the Old Orchard. He felt sure that he would find company there besides DeeDee, and he was not disappointed. Downy and Hairy the Woodpeckers were getting their breakfast from a piece of suet Farmer Brown’s boy had thoughtfully fastened in one of the apple trees for them. Sammy Jay was there also, and his blue coat never had looked better than it did against the pure white of the snow.
These were the only ones Peter really had expected to find in the Old Orchard, and so you can guess how pleased he was as he hopped over the old stone wall to hear the voice of one whom he had almost forgotten. It was the voice of Yank-Yank the Nuthatch, and there was something in it of good cheer and contentment. At once Peter hurried in the direction from which it came.
On the trunk of an apple tree he caught sight of a gray and black and white bird about the size of Downy the Woodpecker. The top of his head and upper part of his back were shining black. The rest of his back was bluish-gray. The sides of his head and his breast were white. The outer feathers of his tail were black with white patches near their tips.
Peter didn’t need to see how Yank-Yank was dressed in order to recognize him. Peter would have known him if he had been so far away that the colors of his coat did not show at all. You see, Yank-Yank was doing a most surprising thing, something no other bird can do. He was walking head first down the trunk of that tree, picking tiny eggs of insects from the bark and seemingly quite as much at home and quite as unconcerned in that odd position as if he were right side up.
As Peter approached, Yank-Yank lifted his head and called a greeting which sounded very much like the repetition of his own name. Then he turned around and began to climb the tree as easily as he had come down it.
“Welcome home, Yank-Yank!” cried Peter, hurrying up quite out of breath.
Yank-Yank turned around so that he was once more head down, and his eyes twinkled as he looked down at Peter. “You’re mistaken Peter,” he said. “This isn’t home. I’ve simply come down here for the winter. You know home is where you raise your children, and my home is in the Great Woods farther north. There is too much ice and snow up there, so I have come down here to spend the winter.”
“Well anyway, it’s a kind of home; it’s your winter home,” replied Peter, “and I certainly am glad to see you back. The Old Orchard wouldn’t be quite the same without you. Did you have a pleasant summer? And if you please, Yank-Yank, tell me where you built your home and what it was like.”
“Yes, Mr. Curiosity, I had a very pleasant summer,” replied Yank-Yank. “Mrs. Nuthatch and I raised a family of six. As to our nest, it was made of leaves and feathers and it was in a hole in a certain old stump that not a soul knows of except for Mrs. Nuthatch and myself. Now is there anything else you would like to know?”
“Yes,” added Peter promptly. “I want to know how it is that you can walk head first down the trunk of a tree without losing your balance and tumbling off?”
Yank-Yank chuckled happily. “I discovered a long time ago, Peter,” he said, “that the people who get on best in this world are those who make the most of what they have and waste no time wishing they could have what other people have. I suppose you have noticed that all the Woodpecker family have stiff tail feathers and use them to brace themselves when they are climbing a tree. They have become so dependent on them that they don’t dare move about on the trunk of a tree without using them. If they want to come down a tree they have to back down.”
“Now Old Mother Nature didn’t give me stiff tail feathers, she gave me a very good pair of feet with three toes in front and one behind and when I was a very little fellow I learned to make the most of those feet. Each toe has a sharp claw. When I go up a tree the three front claws on each foot hook into the bark. When I come down a tree I simply twist one foot around so that I can use the claws of this foot to keep me from falling. It is just as easy for me to go down a tree as it is to go up, and I can go right around the trunk just as easily and comfortably.” Suiting action to the word, Yank-Yank ran around the trunk of the apple tree just above Peter’s head. When he reappeared Peter had another question ready.
“Do you live altogether on grubs and worms and insects and their eggs?” he asked.
“I should say not!” exclaimed Yank-Yank. “I like acorns and beechnuts and certain kinds of seeds.”
“I don’t see how such a little fellow as you can eat such hard things as acorns and beechnuts,” answered Peter a little doubtfully .
Yank-Yank laughed right out. “Sometime when I see you over in the Green Forest I’ll show you,” he said. “When I find a fat beechnut I take it to a little crack in a tree that will just hold it; then with this stout bill of mine I crack the shell. It really is quite easy when you know how. Cracking a nut open that way is sometimes called hatching, and that is how I come by the name of Nuthatch. Hello! There’s Seep-Seep. I haven’t seen him since we were together up North. His home was not far from mine.”
As Yank-Yank spoke, a little brown bird alighted at the very foot of the next tree. He was just a trifle bigger than Jenny Wren and yet not at all like Jenny, for while Jenny’s tail usually is cocked up in the sauciest way, Seep-Seep’s tail is never cocked up at all. In fact, it bends down, for Seep-Seep uses his tail just as the members of the Woodpecker family use theirs. He was dressed in grayish-brown above and grayish-white beneath. Across each wing was a little band of buffy-white, and his bill was curved just a little.
Seep-Seep didn’t stop an instant, rather he started up the trunk of that tree, going round and round it as he climbed, and picking out things to eat from under the bark. His way of climbing that tree was very like creeping, and Peter thought to himself that Seep-Seep was well named the Brown Creeper. He knew it was quite useless to try to get Seep-Seep to talk. He knew that Seep-Seep wouldn’t use his time that way as he had work to do.
Round and round up the trunk of the tree he went, and when he reached the top at once flew down to the bottom of the next tree and without a pause started up that. He wasted no time exploring the branches, and stuck to the trunk. Once in a while he would cry in a thin little voice, “Seep! Seep!”
without pausing to rest or look around. If he had felt that on him alone depended the job of getting all the insect eggs and grubs on those trees he could not have been more industrious.
“Does he build his nest in a hole in a tree?” asked Peter of Yank-Yank. “No,” he replied. “He hunts for a tree or stub with a piece of loose bark hanging to it. In behind this he tucks his nest made of twigs, strips of bark and moss. He’s a funny little fellow and I don’t know of any one in all the great world who more strictly attends to his own business than does Seep-Seep the Brown Creeper. By the way, Peter, have you seen anything of Dotty the Tree Sparrow?”
“Not yet,” replied Peter, “I do think he must be here though. I’m glad you reminded me of him. I’ll go look for him.”
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 – White-breasted Nuthatch
- Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS – Brown Creeper
- Nature journal coloring pages at Cornell Common Feeder Birds FREE (page W47 White-breasted Nuthatch + W48 Brown Creeper).
- Q/A –Questions with answers to keep this conversation going are available for White-breasted Nuthatch (p. 65-68) in the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock offered FREE online HERE.
- Fifty Favorite Birds Coloring Book by Lisa Bonforte offers pages for both the White-breasted Nuthatch AND Brown Creeper (7). Colored pencil use recommended.
*This coloring book is inexpensive, easy to find, and an excellent companion to this bird story series.
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.
Feathered Friend BONUS!
“When it comes to acrobatic performances in the trees the little bluish gray nuthatches have no rival. Indeed, any circus might be glad to secure their expert services. Hanging fearlessly from the topmost branches of the tallest pine, running along the under side of horizontal limbs as comfortably as along the top of them, or descending the trunk head foremost, these wonderful little gymnasts keep their nerves as cool as the thermometer in January. From the way they travel over any part of the tree they wish, from top and tip to the bottom of it, no wonder they are sometimes called Tree Mice. Only the fly that walks across the ceiling, however, can compete with them in clinging to the under side of boughs.
Why don’t they fall off? If you ever have a chance, examine their claws. These, you will see, are very much curved and have sharp little hooks that catch in any crack or rough place in the bark and easily support the bird’s weight. As a general rule the nuthatches can climb to more inaccessible places than other birds. With the help of the hooks on their toes it does not matter to them whether they run upward, downward, or sideways; and they can stretch their bodies away from their feet at some very odd angles. Their long bills penetrate into deep holes in the thick bark of the tree trunks and older limbs and bring forth from their hiding places insects that would escape almost every other bird except the brown creeper and the woodpecker.” ~Birds Every Child Should Know by Neltje Blanchan Copyright 1907