Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 7 – Woodchucks


Chapter 7

The Woodchuck Family


Peter Rabbit delivered Mother Nature’s message to Johnny Chuck requesting he join them for a learning session. Johnny didn’t seem at all pleased. He grumbled to himself. He didn’t want to go. He didn’t want to learn anything about his relatives. He was perfectly satisfied with things as they were. As a rule he can find plenty to eat very near his home, so he seldom goes far from his own doorstep. Peter left him grumbling and chuckled to himself all the way back to the dear Old Briar-patch. He knew that Johnny Chuck would honor Mother Nature’s request.

Sure enough, the next morning Johnny Chuck came waddling through the Green Forest just as Mother Nature was about to begin. He didn’t look at all happy, and he didn’t reply at all to the greetings of the others. However, when Mother Nature spoke to him he was very polite.

“Good morning, Johnny Chuck,” she said.

Johnny bobbed his head and said, “Good morning.”

“I understand,” continued Mother Nature, “That you are not at all interested in learning about your relatives. Did you know that the more one knows the better fitted he is to take care of himself and do his part in the work of the Great World? However, it wasn’t for your benefit that I sent word for you to be here this morning. It was for the benefit of your friends and neighbors. Now if you would kindly sit up so that all can get a good look at you.”

Johnny Chuck sat up, and of course all the others looked at him. It made him feel a bit uneasy. “You remember,” said Mother Nature, “how surprised you little folks were when I told you that Johnny Chuck is a member of the Squirrel family. Happy Jack, you go sit beside Johnny Chuck, and the rest of you look hard at Happy Jack and Johnny and see if you can discover the family resemblance.”

Seeing Happy Jack the squirrel and Johnny Chuck sitting up side by side, Peter Rabbit caught the resemblance at once. There was sort of family look about them. “Why! Johnny Chuck does look like a Squirrel,” he exclaimed.

Woodchuck illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“Ah yes, he does look like a Squirrel, because he is one,” said Mother Nature. “And Johnny Chuck is very much bigger and so stout in the body that he is not as nimble as the true Squirrels. You will also notice that the shape of his head is much the same as that of Happy Jack and he does have a Squirrel face when you come to look at him closely. The Woodchucks, sometimes called Ground Hogs, belong to the Marmot branch of the Squirrel family, and wherever they are found they look much alike.”

“As you will notice, Johnny Chuck’s coat is brownish-yellow, his feet are very dark brown, almost black. His head is dark brown with light gray on his cheeks. Beneath he is reddish-orange, including his throat. His tail is short for a member of the Squirrel family, and although it is bushy, it is not very big. He has a number of whiskers and they are black. Some Woodchucks are quite gray, and occasionally there is one who is almost all black, just as there are black Gray Squirrels.”

“Johnny, here, is not fond of the Green Forest, and instead loves the Old Orchard and the Green Meadows. In some parts of the country there are members of his family who prefer to live just on the edge of the Green Forest. You will notice that Johnny has stout claws. Those are to help him dig, for all the Marmot family are great diggers. What other use do you have for those claws, Johnny?”

Green Meadow & Old Orchard, seen here in the spring, where woodchucks like to live.

“They help me to climb,” replied Johnny promptly.

“Climb!” exclaimed Peter Rabbit. “Who ever heard of a Woodchuck climbing?”

“I can climb if I have to,” replied Johnny Chuck. “I’ve climbed up bushes and low trees lots of times, and if I can get a good run first, I can climb up the straight trunk of a tree with rough bark to the first branches–if they are not too far above ground. You just ask Reddy Fox, he knows.”

“That’s quite true, Johnny,” said Mother Nature. “You can climb a little, however you are better as a digger.”

“He certainly is a great digger,” exclaimed Peter Rabbit. “My, how he can make the sand fly! Johnny Chuck certainly is right at home when it comes to digging.”

“You ought to be thankful that he is,” said Mother Nature, “for the holes he has dug have saved your life more than once. By the way, Peter, since you are so well acquainted with those holes, suppose you tell us what kind of a home Johnny Chuck has.”

Peter was delighted to share. “The last one I was in,” he said, “was a long tunnel slanting down for quite a distance and then straightening out. The entrance was quite large with a big heap of sand out in front of it. Down a little way the tunnel grew smaller and then remained the same size all the rest of the way. Way down at the farther end was a nice little bedroom with some grass in it. There were one or two other little rooms, and there were two branch tunnels leading up to the surface of the ground, making side or back doorways. There was no sand around either of these, and they were quite hidden by the long grass hanging over them. I don’t understand how Johnny made those doorways without leaving any sand on the doorsteps.”

“Oh!” inserted Johnny Chuck. “That was easy enough. I pushed all the sand out of the main doorway so that there would be nothing to attract the attention of any one passing near those back doorways. Those back doorways are very handy in time of danger.”

“Do you always have three doorways?” asked Happy Jack.

“No,” replied Johnny Chuck. “Sometimes I have only two and once in a while only one and that isn’t really safe, so I mean always to have at least two.”

“Do you use the same house year after year?” piped up Striped Chipmunk.

Johnny shook his head. “No,” he said. “I dig a new hole each spring. Mrs. Chuck and I like a change of scene. Usually my new home isn’t very far from my old one, because I am not fond of traveling. Sometimes, however, if we cannot find a place that just suits us, we go quite a distance.”

“Are your babies born down in that little bedroom in the ground?” asked Jumper the Hare.

“Yes,” replied Johnny Chuck. “Where else might they be born?”

“Oh, I don’t know, I thought Mrs. Chuck might make a nest on the ground the way Mrs. Peter and Mrs. Jumper do,” replied Jumper.

“No, siree!” replied Johnny. “Our babies are born in that little underground bedroom, and they stay down in the ground until they are big enough to hunt for food for themselves.”

“How many do you usually have?” inquired Chatterer the Red Squirrel.

“Six or eight,” replied Johnny Chuck. “Mrs. Chuck and I have large families.”

“Do you eat nuts like the rest of our family?” inquired Striped Chipmunk.

“No,” replied Johnny Chuck. “Give me green food every time. There is nothing so good as tender sweet clover and young grass, unless it be some of those fine vegetables Farmer Brown grows in his garden.”

Sweet Clover in the spring is a tasty treat for many.

Peter Rabbit nodded his head very emphatically as if he quite agreed.

“I suppose you are what is called a vegetarian, then,” said Happy Jack, to which Johnny Chuck replied that he supposed he was. “And I suppose that is why you sleep all winter,” added Happy Jack.

“If I didn’t I would starve,” responded Johnny Chuck promptly. “When it gets near time for Jack Frost to arrive, I eat and eat and eat the last of the good green things until I’m so fat I can hardly waddle. Then I go down to my bedroom, curl up and go to sleep. Cold weather, snow and ice don’t worry me a bit. I simply stay tucked inside.”

“Me too,” spoke up Striped Chipmunk. “I sleep most of the winter myself. Of course I have a lot of food stored away down in my house, and once in a while I wake up and eat a little. Do you ever wake up in the winter, Johnny Chuck?”

“No,” replied Johnny. “I sleep right through, thank goodness. Sometimes I wake up very early in the spring before the snow is all gone, earlier than I wish I did. That is where my fat comes in handy. It keeps me warm and keeps me alive until I can find the first green plants. Perhaps you have noticed that early in the spring I am as thin as I was fat in the fall. This is because I have used up the fat, waiting for the first green things to appear.”

“Do you have many predators?” asked Peter Rabbit, who has so many himself that he is constantly thinking of them.

“Not many, enough though,” Johnny Chuck said with a frown. “Reddy Fox, Old Man Coyote, humans, and Dogs are the worst. Of course, when I was small I always had to be watching out for Hawks, and of course, like all the rest of us little folks, I am afraid of Shadow the Weasel. Reddy Fox has tried to dig me out more than once, however I can dig faster than he can. If he ever gets me cornered, he’ll find that I can fight. A small Dog surprised me once before I could get to my hole and I guess that Dog never will tackle another Woodchuck.”

“Thank you Johnny Chuck,” Mother Nature said with a smile. “ And I’d like to tell you all more about Johnny Chuck’s family including his big cousin out in the mountains of the Great West named Whistler, and on the prairies of the Great West he has a smaller cousin named Yap Yap. They are quite important members of the Marmot family. Johnny Chuck, I’d love for you to join us too,” she added.

“Yes, if you please, Mother Nature,” he said, “I think I’ll come. I didn’t know I had any close relatives, and I want to know more about them.”

So it was agreed that all would gather again at sun-up the next morning. Then everybody started for home to think over the things they had learned.

Using these prompts inspired from today’s chapter draw, write, color, paint, cut & paste, or creatively capture your ideas and story adventures in your P.L.A.Y. nature journal!

  1. Since it is not likely to see a woodchuck sitting directly next to a squirrel, how else might you observe and compare a woodchuck to a squirrel? Make a list of similar features and differences or draw them if you like.
  2. When you read Johnny Chuck’s description of his tunneled home what images come to mind? Can you draw or paint and label his home underground with the details provided?
  3. Visit this LINK for photos and more information about woodchucks from the Mass Audubon Society.
  4. *How is the woodchuck burrow and tunnels made so that he doesn’t drown in heavy rains? How is the bedding carried into the burrow? If observing a woodchuck in the meadow, where is it likely to station itself to sit upright and look for intruders? What is the shape of a woodchuck’s ear? Does a woodchuck have good hearing? When do woodchucks know to reappear in the spring? When are young woodchucks born?

Prompts with a * are inspired by or found in the Handbook of Nature Study written by Anna Botsford Comstock, a professor at Cornell University, focusing on flora & fauna in the Northeast in 1911.


If you find the work and vision of P.L.A.Y. supports you and your family on the life learning path, please pass it forward to friends and neighbors as a Simple Gift that keeps on giving.


P.L.A.Y. has created more updated animal, bird, beaver, deer, and toad story adventures from the Thornton Burgess archives for you and your family.

ENJOY!!!

These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.

SKYscape Simplicity #56: A Meditative Moment


❤ ❤ ❤


Look skyward

< Breathe In >

< Breathe Out >

Take a moment to watch the clouds roll by and connect to the calm and beauty of nature that is always there for you.

*Bonus*

By any chance did you notice the two-eared hippy-hoppy fluffy friend up in the clouds floating above the green meadow?

Now how in the world did Peter Rabbit get up there?!?

❤ ❤ ❤

Wishing you much peace & prosperity throughout your P.L.A.Y. days.


❤ ❤ ❤


peace: inner calm

prosperity: good fortune & well-being

Bird BOOK LOOK – Chapter 13 – Orchard Oriole + Bobolink


Missed Chapter 1? Begin HERE



Chapter 13 – More of the Blackbird Family


Peter Rabbit was dozing. Yes indeed, Peter was dozing. He didn’t mean to doze, however whenever Peter sits still for a long time and tries to think he is pretty sure to go to sleep. By and by he wakened with a start. At first he didn’t know what had wakened him, then as he sat there blinking his eyes, he heard a few rich notes from the top of the nearest apple tree. “It’s Goldy the Oriole,” thought Peter, and peeped out to see.

Though he looked and looked he couldn’t see Goldy anywhere, however he did see a stranger. It was someone of about Goldy’s size and shape. In fact he was so like Goldy, except for the color of his suit, that at first Peter almost thought Goldy had somehow changed his clothes. Of course he knew that this couldn’t be, and yet it seemed as if it must be, for the song the stranger was singing was something like that of Goldy’s. The stranger’s head and throat and back were black, just like Goldy’s, and his wings were trimmed with white in just the same way. The rest of his suit, instead of being the beautiful orange of which Goldy is so proud, was a beautiful chestnut color.

Peter blinked and stared very hard. “Now who can this be?” he said, speaking aloud without thinking.

“Don’t you know him?” asked a voice so close to Peter that it made him jump. Peter whirled around. There sat Striped Chipmunk grinning at him from the top of the old stone wall. “That’s Weaver the Orchard Oriole,” Striped Chipmunk rattled on. “He is one of the very nicest persons in the Old Orchard. I just love to hear him sing.”

“Is he related to Goldy?” asked Peter somewhat doubtfully.

“Yes,” replied Striped Chipmunk. “He’s first cousin to Goldy. There comes Mrs. Orchard Oriole. I do hope they’ve decided to build in the Old Orchard this year.”

“I’m glad you told me who she is because I never would have guessed it,” confessed Peter as he studied the newcomer. She did not look at all like Weaver. She was dressed in olive-green and dull yellow, with white markings on her wings. Peter couldn’t help thinking how much easier it must be for her than for her husband to hide among the green leaves.


Spring time grasses appearing in the Green Meadow and nearby leaves and buds appearing on the trees of the Old Orchard.


As he watched she flew down to the ground and picked up a long piece of grass. “They are building here, as sure as you live!” cried Striped Chipmunk. “I’m glad of that. Did you ever see their nest, Peter? Their nest is a wonder. It really is. It is made almost all of fine grass and they weave it together in the most wonderful way.”

“Do they have a hanging nest like Goldy’s?” asked Peter.

“Not such a deep one,” replied Striped Chipmunk. “They hang it between the twigs near the end of a branch. They bind it more closely to the branch and it isn’t deep enough to swing as Goldy’s does.”

Peter had just opened his mouth to ask another question when there was a loud sniffing sound farther up along the old stone wall. He didn’t wait to hear it again. He knew that Bowser the Hound was coming.

“Goodbye, Striped Chipmunk – this is no place for me,” whispered Peter and started for the dear Old Briar-patch. He was in such a hurry to get there that on his way across the Green Meadows he almost ran into Jimmy Skunk before he saw him.

“What’s your hurry, Peter?” asked Jimmy

“Bowser the Hound almost found me up in the Old Orchard,” panted Peter. “It’s a wonder he hasn’t found my tracks. I expect he will any minute. I’m glad to see you, Jimmy, however I’d best be moving along.”

“Don’t be in such a hurry, Peter,” replied Jimmy, who himself never hurries. “Stop and talk a bit. Bowser won’t bother you as long as you are with me.”

Peter hesitated. He wanted to chat, and yet he still felt nervous about Bowser the Hound. However, as he heard nothing of Bowser’s great voice, telling all the world that he had found Peter’s tracks, he decided to stop a few minutes. “What are you doing down here on the Green Meadows?” he inquired.

Jimmy grinned. “I’m looking for grasshoppers and grubs, if you must know,” he said. “And I’ve just got a notion I may find some fresh eggs. I don’t often eat them, although once in a while one tastes good.”

“If you ask me, it’s a funny place to be looking for eggs down here on the Green Meadows,” replied Peter. “When I want a thing; I look for it where it is likely to be found.”

“Just so, Peter; just so,” Jimmy Skunk responded, nodding his head with approval. “That’s why I am here.”

Peter looked puzzled. He was puzzled. Before he could ask another question a rollicking song caused both of them to look up. There on quivering wings in mid-air was the singer. He was dressed very much like Jimmy Skunk himself, in black and white, save that in places the white had a tinge of yellow, especially on the back of his neck. It was Bubbling Bob the Bobolink. And how he did sing! It seemed as if the notes fairly tumbled over each other.

Jimmy Skunk raised himself on his hind legs a little to see just where Bubbling Bob dropped down in the grass.

Then Jimmy began to move in that direction. Suddenly Peter understood. He remembered that Bubbling Bob’s nest is always on the ground. It was his eggs that Jimmy Skunk was looking for.

“By the way, you haven’t happened to have seen Mrs. Bob anywhere around here, have you Peter?” Jimmy asked.


Bobolink by Louis Agassiz Fuertes


“No,” replied Peter. “If I had I wouldn’t tell you where. You ought think twice, Jimmy Skunk, to think of robbing such a beautiful singer as
Bubbling Bob.”

“Oh pooh!” retorted Jimmy. “What’s the harm? If I find those eggs he and Mrs. Bobolink could simply build another nest and lay some more. They won’t be any the worse off, and I will have had a good breakfast.”

“Yes, and think of all the work they would have to do to build another nest,” replied Peter.

“Oh and I should worry,” replied Jimmy Skunk. “Any one who can spend so much time singing can afford to do a little extra work.”

“Jimmy Skunk, I hope you won’t find a single egg,” said Peter.

With this, Peter once more headed for the dear Old Briar-patch, while Jimmy Skunk continued toward the place where Bubbling Bob had disappeared in the long grass. Peter went only a short distance and then sat up to watch. Just before Jimmy reached the place where Bubbling Bob had disappeared, the latter mounted into the air again, pouring out his rollicking song as if there were no room in his heart for anything except happiness.

Then he saw Jimmy Skunk and became very much excited. He flew down in the grass a little farther on and then up again, and began to scold. It looked very much as if he had gone down in the grass to warn Mrs. Bobolink.

Evidently Jimmy thought so, for he at once headed that way. When Bubbling Bob did the same thing all over again. Peter grew anxious. He knew just how patient Jimmy Skunk could be, and he very much feared that Jimmy would find that nest. Presently he grew tired of watching and started on for the dear Old Briar-patch. Just before he reached it a brown bird ran across the path in front of him and then flew up to the top of last year’s mullein stalk. It was Mrs. Bobolink. Peter knew her well, for he and she were very good friends.


A closer look at Peter Rabbit’s dear Old Briar-Patch along the edge of the Green Meadows, Old Orchard, and Green Forest.


“Oh!” cried Peter. “What are you doing here? Don’t you know that Jimmy Skunk, is hunting for your nest over there? Aren’t you worried to death? I would be if I were in your place.”

Mrs. Bobolink chuckled. “Isn’t he a dear? And isn’t he smart?” she said, meaning Bubbling Bob, of course, and not Jimmy Skunk. “Just see him lead that black-and-white robber away.”

Peter stared at her for a full minute. “Do you mean to say,” he said “that your nest isn’t over there at all?”

Mrs. Bobolink chuckled harder than ever. “Of course it isn’t over there,” she said.

“Then where is it?” asked Peter.

“That’s telling,” replied Mrs. Bobolink. “It isn’t over there, and it isn’t anywhere near there. Where it is is Bob’s secret and mine, and we intend to keep it. Now I must go get something to eat,” and with a hasty farewell Mrs. Bobolink flew over to the other side of the dear Old Briar-patch.

Peter remembered that he had seen Mrs. Bob running along the ground before she flew up to the old mullein stalk. He went back to the spot where he had first seen her and hunted all around in the grass, without success. You see, Mrs. Bobolink had been quite as clever in fooling Peter as Bubbling Bob had been in fooling Jimmy Skunk.


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 –  Orchard Oriole
  • Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – ALL ABOUT BIRDS –  Bobolink
  • Q/A –Questions with answers to keep this conversation going are available for songs of birds (p. 42-43) and the migration of birds (p. 35-37) in the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock offered FREE online HERE.

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!