BIRD Book Look – ALL 45 Chapter Links


Jump right in to Chapter 1- Begin HERE



Chapter 1 – House Wren

Chapter 2 – House Sparrow

Chapter 3 – Sparrows

Chapter 4 – Chipping + Vesper Sparrows

Chapter 5 – Robin + Bluebird

Chapter 6 – Phoebe + Least Flycatcher

Chapter 7 – Flycatcher + Kingbird

Chapter 8 – Wood Pewee

Chapter 9 – Woodcock + Sandpiper

Chapter 10 – Red-winged Blackbird + Flicker

Chapter 11 – Woodpeckers

Chapter 12 – Cowbird + Baltimore Oriole

Chapter 13 – Orchard Oriole + Bobolink

Chapter 14 – Bobwhite + Meadowlark

Chapter 15 – Tree Swallow + Chimney Swift

Chapter 16 – Barn Swallow + Purple Martin

Chapter 17 – Blue Jay + Crow

Chapter 18 – Crow + Ovenbird + Redtail Hawk

Chapter 19 – Ruffed Grouse + Purple Grackle

Chapter 20 – Osprey + Bald Eagle

Chapter 21 – Kingfisher + Blue Heron

Chapter 22 – Bank Swallow + American Kestrel

Chapter 23 – Nighthawk + Whip-poor-will

Chapter 24 – Redstart + Yellow Warbler

Chapter 25 – More Warblers

Chapter 26 – Even More Warblers

Chapter 27 – Cardinal + Catbird

Chapter 28 – Rose-breasted Grosbeak + Scarlet Tanager

Chapter 29 – Vireo + Another Warbler

Chapter 30 – Thrasher + Mockingbird

Chapter 31 – Wood Thrush + Veery

Chapter 32 – Eastern Towhee + Indigo Bunting

Chapter 33 – Purple Finch + Goldfinch

Chapter 34 – Mourning Dove + Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Chapter 35 – Loggerhead Shrike + Hummingbird

Chapter 36 – European Starling + Cedar Waxwing

Chapter 37 – Black-capped Chickadee

Chapter 38 – Canada Goose + Common Loon

Chapter 39 – White-breasted Nuthatch + Brown Creeper

Chapter 40 – Tree Sparrow + Junco

Chapter 41 – Snow Bunting + Horned Lark

Chapter 42 – Eastern Screech Owl

Chapter 43 – Ruffed Grouse + Crossbill

Chapter 44 – Pine Grosbeak + Common Redpoll

Chapter 45 – Northern Goshawk + Great Horned Owl


P.L.A.Y. in Place Projects


Try these activities to extend your bird story adventures:


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.

Time to P.L.A.Y. – Pass it on!

Toad BOOK LOOK – Chapter 6 of 19


Chapter 6

How Old Mr. Toad Learned to Sing


Old Mr. Toad paid no attention to Peter, not even when he was spoken to. He was so absorbed in his singing that he just didn’t hear. Peter sat there a while to listen; then he called out to Jimmy Skunk and Billy Possum, who were also listening to the music, and they were just as surprised as Peter. Then he spied Jerry Muskrat at the other end of the Smiling Pool and hurried over there. Peter was so full of the discovery he had made that he could think of nothing else and he fairly ached to share this with others.

Muskrat – Illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“Jerry!” he cried. “Oh, Jerry Muskrat! Do you know that Old Mr. Toad can sing?”


Jerry looked surprised that Peter should ask such a question. “Of course I know it,” he said. “It would be mighty funny if I didn’t know it, seeing that he is the sweetest singer in the Smiling Pool and has sung here every spring since I can remember.”

Peter looked very much chagrined. “I didn’t know it until just now,” he confessed. “I didn’t believe him when he told me that he could sing. I wonder how he ever learned.”

He didn’t learn any more than you learned how to jump,” replied Jerry. “It just came to him naturally. His father sang, and his grandfather, and his great grandfather, way back to the beginning of things. I’m surprised you do not know about this.”

“I don’t actually. Oh, please do tell me more about it Jerry,” pleaded Peter.

“All right, I will,” replied Jerry good-naturedly. “In the first place, Old Mr. Toad belongs to a very old and honorable family, one of the very oldest. I’ve heard say that it goes way back almost to the very beginning of things when there wasn’t much land. Anyway, the first Toad, the great-great-ever-so-great-grandfather of Old Mr. Toad and own cousin to the great-great-ever-so-great-grandfather of Grandfather Frog, was one of the first to leave the water for dry land.

“Old Mother Nature met him hopping along and making hard work of it because, of course, it was so new. ‘What are you doing here?’ she asked. ‘Are you not content with the water where you were born?’”

“Mr. Toad bowed very low. ‘Yes,’ he said humbly. ‘I’ll go right back there if you say so. I thought there must be some things worth finding out on the land, and that I might be of some use in the Great World.’”

“His answer pleased Old Mother Nature. She was worried. She had planted all kinds of things on the land, and they were springing up everywhere, and she had discovered that bugs of many kinds liked the tender green things and were increasing so fast that they threatened to strip the land of all that she had planted. She had so many things to tend to that she hadn’t the time to take care of the bugs. ‘If you truly want to be of some use,’ she said, ‘you can tend to some of those bugs.’”

A Fly or otherwise known as a “tasty treat for a Toad”!

“Mr. Toad went right to work, and Old Mother Nature went about some of her other business. Having so many things to look after, she quite forgot about Mr. Toad, and it was several weeks before she came that way again. Right in the middle of a great bare place where the bugs had eaten everything was now a beautiful green spot, and patiently hopping from plant to plant was Mr. Toad, snapping up every bug he could see. He didn’t notice Old Mother Nature and he kept right on working. She watched him for a while as he hopped from plant to plant catching bugs as fast and he could, and then she spoke.

“’Have you stayed right here since I last saw you?’ she asked.”

“Mr. Toad gave a start of surprise. ‘Yes, I have,’ he said.”

“’I thought you wanted to see the Great World and learn things,’ she said.”

“Mr. Toad looked a little embarrassed. ‘So I did,’ he replied, ‘and I wanted to be of some use, and the bugs have kept me so busy there was not time to travel. Besides, I have learned a great deal right here. I couldn’t get around fast enough to save all the plants, I’ve just saved what I could.’”

“At that Old Mother Nature’s face lit up with one of her most beautiful smiles. ‘Mr. Toad,’ she said, ‘if you could have just one wish what would it be?’”

“Mr. Toad hesitated a few minutes and then said quietly, ‘A beautiful voice.’”

“It was Old Mother Nature’s turn to look surprised. ‘A beautiful voice!’ she exclaimed. “Why would you want a beautiful voice?’”

“So that I can express my happiness in the most beautiful way I know of, by singing,’ replied Mr. Toad.”

“’Then you shall have it,’ declared Old Mother Nature, ‘although not all the time lest you be tempted to forget your work, which , you know, when you are of service is a real source of true happiness. In the spring of each year you shall go back to your home in the water and there for a time you shall sing to your heart’s content, and there shall be no sweeter voice than yours.’”

Toad in the water in late spring

“Sure enough, when the next spring came, Mr. Toad was filled with a great longing to go home. When he got there, he found that in his throat was a little music bag; and when he swelled it out, he had one of the sweetest voices in the world. And so it has been ever since with the Toad Family. Old Mr. Toad is one of the sweetest singers in the Smiling Pool, and when it is time to go back to work he is most diligent in Mother Nature’s garden,” concluded Jerry Muskrat.

More Toad egg strands piling up and some getting covered with the “dusty” silt from the bottom of the Smiling Pool after an overnight storm stirred things up.

Discover more P.L.A.Y. TOAD nature videos and adventures!


Toad BOOK LOOK – Chapter 5 of 19


Chapter 5

Old Mr. Toad’s Music Bag


“I’ve found Old Mr. Toad!” cried Peter Rabbit, hurrying after Jimmy Skunk.

“Where?” Jimmy asked.

“In the water,” declared Peter. “He’s sitting right over there where the water is shallow, and he didn’t notice me at all. Let’s get Billy Possum, and then peek over the edge of the Smiling Pool and watch to see if Old Mr. Toad really does sing.”

So they rounded up Billy Possum, and the three quietly approached the edge of the Smiling Pool, where the bank was low and the water shallow. Sure enough, there sat Old Mr. Toad with just his head out of the water. And while they were watching him, something very strange happened.

“What’s the matter with him?” whispered Peter, his big eyes looking as if they might pop out of his head.

“If he doesn’t watch out, he’ll blow up and bust!” exclaimed Jimmy.

“Listen!” whispered Billy Possum. “Do my old ears hear right? It appears to me that that song is coming right from where Old Mr. Toad is sitting.”

It certainly did appear so, and of all the songs that glad spring day there was none sweeter. Indeed there were few as sweet.

The only trouble was the song was so very short. It lasted only for two or three seconds. And when it ended, Old Mr. Toad looked quite his natural usual self again. Peter looked at Jimmy Skunk, Jimmy looked at Billy Possum, and Billy looked at Peter. And no one had a word to say. They all just sat so surprised by this unexpected revelation. Then all three looked back at Old Mr. Toad.

And even as they looked, his throat began to swell and swell and swell, until it was no wonder that Jimmy Skunk had thought that he was in danger of blowing up. And then, when it stopped swelling, there came again those beautiful little notes, so sweet and tremulous that Peter actually held his breath to listen. There was no doubt that Old Mr. Toad was singing just as he had said he was going to, and it was just as true that his song was one of the sweetest if not the sweetest of all the chorus from and around the Smiling Pool. It was very hard to believe, and yet Peter and Jimmy and Billy both saw and heard, and that was enough. Their appreciation for Old Mr. Toad grew tremendously as they listened.

Toad with the beginning of a bulging throat sitting near two egg strands.

“How does he do it?” whispered Peter.

“With that bag under his chin, of course,” replied Jimmy Skunk. “Don’t you see it’s only when that is swelled out that he sings? It’s a regular music bag. And I didn’t know he had any such bag there at all.”

“I wish,” said Peter Rabbit, feeling of his throat, “that I had a music bag like that in my throat so I could join in the singing.”

“Hold on, what are those long sparkly strands in the water?” asked Jimmy.

“I don’t know, there seem to be so very many spotty dots inside them all lined up,” said Peter.

Toad egg strands

Just then Mr. Redwing Blackbird briefly appeared again and said, “I overheard you two talking and thought I’d let you know that those strings of black little pearl beauties in the water are actually egg strands. In a few weeks those fertilized eggs will hatch out of the strands and be wiggling about as tadpoles.”

“What? How can that be?” asked Jimmy Skunk.

“Just you wait and see,” said Mr. Redwing Blackbird.

“How could that happen? What did I miss?” Peter Rabbit persisted with great curiosity.

“Overnight the female toads arrived to listen to the all male toad chorus and once they mated the egg strands were left here in the Smiling Pool. It happens every year about this time,” said Mr. Redwing Blackbird who then took flight and left Peter and Jimmy Skunk with a bunch of questions on the tip of their tongues.

Beautiful egg strands ripple and glisten in the water at the edge of the Smiling Pool

Discover more P.L.A.Y. TOAD nature videos and adventures!


Toad BOOK LOOK – Chapter 4 of 19


Chapter 4

Peter Rabbit Finds Old Mr. Toad


As each spring rolls around Peter Rabbit finds himself wishing he could burst into song as his feathered friends do at this time of year. The birds pour out in beautiful song the joy that is in them and he wishes he could do the same. Instead of a singing voice Mother Nature gave him the ability to kick his long heels and jump about to express his feelings . While that gives Peter a great deal of satisfaction, he still wishes from time to time that he could join in the singing.

And so he was wishing this very thing now, as he sat on the bank of the Smiling Pool, listening to the great spring chorus.

“Tra-la-la-lee! Oka-chee! Oka-chee! There’s joy in the spring for you and for me,” sang Redwing the Blackbird from the bulrushes.

Meadow Lark by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

From over in the Green Meadows rose the clear lilt of Carol the Meadow Lark, and among the alders just where the Laughing Brook ran into the Smiling Pool a flood of happiness was pouring from the throat of Little Friend the Song Sparrow. Winsome Bluebird’s sweet, almost plaintive, whistle seemed to fairly float in the air, so that it was hard to say just where it did come from, and in the top of the Big Hickory tree, Welcome Robin was singing as if his heart were bursting with joy. Sammy Jay was also adding a beautiful bell-like note. As for the Smiling Pool, it seemed as if the very water itself sang, for a mighty chorus of clear piping voices from unseen singers rose from all around its banks. Peter knew who those singers were, although look as he might he could see none of them. They were hylas, the tiny cousins of Stickytoes the Tree Toad.

Listening to all these joyous voices, Peter forgot for a time what had brought him to the Smiling Pool. However, Jimmy Skunk and Billy Possum didn’t forget. They were still looking for Old Mr. Toad.

“Well, Mr. Dreamer, have you found him yet?” asked Jimmy Skunk, coming up behind Peter.

Peter came to himself with a start. “No,” he said. “I was just listening and wishing that I could sing, too. Don’t you ever wish you could sing, Jimmy?”

“No,” replied Jimmy. “I never spend time wishing I could do things that I was never meant to do. It is funny though that Old Mr. Toad is nowhere in sight. He said that he was coming down here to sing, and Redwing the Blackbird seemed to be expecting him. I’ve looked everywhere I can think of without finding him. Ah well, I do believe I’ll give it one more try. Stop your day dreaming Peter and come help us look.”

So Peter stopped his dreaming and joined in the search. Now there was one place where neither Peter nor Jimmy nor Billy had thought of looking. That was in the Smiling Pool itself. They just took it for granted that Old Mr. Toad was somewhere on the bank. Presently Peter came to a place where the bank was very low and the water was shallow for quite a little distance out in the Smiling Pool. From out of that shallow water came the piping voice of a hyla, and Peter stopped to stare, trying to see the tiny singer.

Suddenly he jumped right up in the air with surprise. There was a familiar looking head sticking out of the water. Peter had found Old Mr. Toad!

Toad in the water during mating season

P.L.A.Y. Ponderings

  1. Is it spring where you are? What animals are singing? Softly? Loudly?
  2. Could you describe their songs with words or letters and make a drawing? Or could you try to mimic or copy their sounds with your voice or by whistling?
  3. Are there animals that are staying silent at this time?

Discover more P.L.A.Y. TOAD nature videos and adventures!


Toad BOOK LOOK – Chapter 3 of 19


Chapter 3

The Hunt for Old Mr. Toad


Now, Old Mr. Toad was hurrying as fast as ever he could and was quite out of breath, and he wasn’t getting along very fast compared with the way Peter Rabbit or Jimmy Skunk or Billy Possum could cover the ground. You see he cannot make long jumps like his cousin, Grandfather Frog, only little short hops instead.

Possum – Illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

So Peter and Jimmy and Billy took their time about following him. They stopped to hunt for fat beetles for Jimmy Skunk, and pausing at every little patch of sweet clover for Peter Rabbit to help himself. They waited for Billy Possum to hunt for a nest of Carol the Meadow Lark, on the chance that he would find some fresh eggs there. He didn’t find the nest for the very good reason that Carol hadn’t built one just yet this season.

Half way across the Green Meadows they stopped to play with the Merry Little Breezes, and because it was very pleasant there, they played longer than they realized. When at last they started on again, Old Mr. Toad was out of sight.

“Never mind,” said Peter, “we can catch up with him easy enough”.

Meanwhile, Old Mr. Toad kept right on, hop, hop, hipperty-hop, while the others were playing, and so it happened that when at last Peter and Jimmy and Billy reached the Smiling Pool, they hadn’t caught another glimpse of him.

“Do you suppose he hid somewhere, and we passed him?” asked Peter.

Billy shook his head. “ I don’t reckon so, I think he just got ahead of us and we’ll find him here sitting on the bank somewhere.”

So right away the three separated to look for Old Mr. Toad. All along the bank of the Smiling Pool they looked. They peeped under old leaves and sticks. They looked in every place where Old Mr. Toad might have hidden, and they could not find a trace of him.

“Tra-la-la-lee! Oka-chee! Oka-chee! Happy am I as I can be!” sang Mr. Redwing, as he swayed to and fro among the bulrushes.

Redwing Blackbird – Illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“Say, Mr. Redwing, have you seen Old Mr. Toad?” called Peter Rabbit.

“No,” replied Mr. Redwing. “Is that whom you fellows are looking for? I wondered if you had lost something. What do you want with Old Mr. Toad?”

Peter explained how they had followed Old Mr. Toad to see what he was up to. “We are curious to know if he really has a singing voice,” said Peter,” or if the spring has made Old Mr. Toad crazy as he was in such a hurry to reach the Smiling Pool.”

“Oh, that’s it, is it?” replied Mr. Redwing, his bright eyes twinkling. “I’ve been wondering where Old Mr. Toad was, and I’m ever so glad to learn that he hasn’t forgotten that he has a very important part in our beautiful spring chorus.” Then once more Mr. Redwing began to sing.


  1. If there was a foot race on land who would come in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place between Jimmy Skunk, Billy Possum, Old Mr. Toad, and Peter Rabbit. Why?
  2. What would it like to spend your day with a “bird’s eye view” like Mr. Redwing flying overhead and seeing what is going on in the meadow, orchard, Smiling Pool, and other special spaces?

Discover more P.L.A.Y. TOAD nature videos and adventures!

The Burgess Animal Story for Children, The Burgess Bird Story for Children, and The Adventures of __________ series (Paddy the Beaver, Lightfoot the Deer, Old Mr. Toad, etc.), are all originally authored by Thornton Burgess and are now available to you through P.L.A.Y.

P.L.A.Y. has provided new online versions of these updated and annotated 100+ year old public domain classics 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 the fields and forests through these animal story adventures
  • 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.

Toad BOOK LOOK – Chapter 2 of 19


Chapter 2

Jimmy Skunk Consults His Friends


Jimmy Skunk scratched his head thoughtfully as he watched Old Mr. Toad go down the Lone Little Path, hop, hop, hipperty-hop, towards the Smiling Pool. Jimmy Skunk was certainly puzzled. If Old Mr. Toad had told him that he could fly, Jimmy would not have been more surprised, or found it harder to believe than that Old Mr. Toad had a singing voice. The truth is, Jimmy didn’t believe it. He thought that Old Mr. Toad was trying to fool him.

Presently Peter Rabbit came along. He found Jimmy Skunk doing some hard thinking. Jimmy had quite forgotten to look for fat beetles and he was puzzling over his chance encounter with Old Mr. Toad.

Cotton-tail Rabbit by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“Hello, old striped-coat, what have you got on your mind this fine morning?” asked Peter Rabbit.

“Him,” said Jimmy simply, pointing down the Lone Little Path.

Peter looked. “Do you mean Old Mr. Toad?” he asked.

Jimmy nodded. “Do you see anything odd about him?” he inquired.

Peter stared down the Lone Little Path. “No,” he replied, “except that he seems in a great hurry.”

“Well, that’s just it,” Jimmy returned promptly. “Did you ever see him hurry unless he was frightened?”

Peter confessed that he never had.

“Well, he isn’t frightened now and yet just look at him go,” replied Jimmy. “Says he has a singing voice, and that he has to take part in the spring chorus at the Smiling Pool and that he is late.”

Peter looked very hard at Jimmy to see if he was fooling or telling the truth.

“Old Mr. Toad can sing? And he is a member of a chorus? This I’ve got to see!” said Peter with great curiosity.

Jimmy grinned. “I think he’s crazy, if you ask me,” he said. “And yet he was just as earnest about it as if it were really so. I think he must have eaten something that has gone to his head. There’s Billy Possum over there. Let’s ask him what he thinks.”

So Jimmy and Peter joined Billy, and Jimmy told the story about Old Mr. Toad all over again. Billy chuckled and then said “ I learned long ago that I will always have more to learn about my neighbors. Seems to me we’ve overlooked something about Old Mr. Toad. Let’s all go down to the Smiling Pool and see what this is all about.”

“Oh yes, let’s go!” cried Peter, kicking up his heels. You know Peter is always ready to go anywhere or do anything that will satisfy his curiosity.

Would this fat beetle make for a good skunk snack?

Jimmy Skunk thought it over for a few minutes, and then he decided that as he hadn’t anything in particular to do, and as he might find some fat beetles on the way, he would go too. So off they started after Old Mr. Toad, Peter Rabbit in the lead as usual, Billy Possum next, grinning as only he can grin, and in the rear Jimmy Skunk, taking his time and keeping a sharp eye out for fat beetles.


  1. What animals always seem to be in a hurry when they move? What animals seem to keep a slow steady pace? How about insects – slow ones? fast ones?
  2. Why does Jimmy Skunk like beetles so much? What else do skunks eat? Does Peter Rabbit like beetles too?

Discover more P.L.A.Y. TOAD nature videos and adventures!


The Burgess Animal Story for Children, The Burgess Bird Story for Children, and The Adventures of __________ series (Paddy the Beaver, Lightfoot the Deer, Old Mr. Toad, etc.), are all originally authored by Thornton Burgess and are now available to you through P.L.A.Y.

P.L.A.Y. has provided new online versions of these updated and annotated 100+ year old public domain classics 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 the fields and forests through these animal story adventures
  • 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.


Toad BOOK LOOK – Chapter 1 of 19


Chapter 1

Jimmy Skunk Is Puzzled


Old Mother West Wind had just come down from the Purple Hills and turned loose her children, the Merry Little Breezes, from the big bag in which she had been carrying them. They were very lively and very merry as they danced and raced across the Green Meadows in all directions, for it was good to be back there once more. Old Mother West Wind almost sighed as she watched them for a few minutes. She felt that she would like to join them. Always the springtime made her feel this way, young, carefree, and happy. However, she had work to do. She had to turn the windmill to pump water for Farmer Brown’s cows, and this was only one of many mills standing idle as they waited for her. So she puffed her cheeks out and started about her business.

Jimmy Skunk sat at the top of the hill that overlooks the Green Meadows and watched her out of sight. Then he started to amble down the Lone Little Path to look for some beetles. He was ambling along, never in a hurry, when he heard someone huffing and puffing behind him. Of course he turned to see who it was, and he was greatly surprised when he discovered Old Mr. Toad. He was quite out of breath, and yet he was hopping along in the most determined way as if he were in a great hurry to get somewhere.

Skunk – Illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Now it is a very unusual thing for Mr. Toad to hurry, very unusual indeed. As a rule he hops a few steps and then sits down to think it over. Jimmy had never before seen him hop more than a few steps unless he was trying to get away from danger, from Mr. Hognose the snake for instance. Of course the first thing Jimmy thought of was Mr. Hognose as he is very fond of toads for his dinner. And so he looked for him and yet there was no sign of Mr. Hognose nor of any other danger. Then he looked very hard at Old Mr. Toad, and he saw right away that Old Mr. Toad didn’t seem to be frightened at all, only very determined, as if he had something important on his mind.

“Well, well,” exclaimed Jimmy Skunk, “whatever has got into those long hind legs of yours to make them work so fast?”

Old Mr. Toad didn’t say a word, he simply tried to get past Jimmy and keep on his way. Jimmy stayed put in the path as he was so curious to know what was the rush.

“I–I beg your pardon. I don’t have any breath to spare,” panted Old Mr. Toad. “You see I’m in a great hurry.”

“Yes, I see,” replied Jimmy. “Now, what could you possibly be in such a hurry for? I don’t see anything to run away from.”

“I’m not running away, I’m running towards something” said Old Mr. Toad. “I’ve business to attend to at the Smiling Pool, and I’m late as it is.”

“Business!” exclaimed Jimmy as if he could hardly believe his ears. “What business have you at the Smiling Pool?”

“Why, I have a very important part in the spring chorus, and I’m going down there to sing and share my beautiful voice” Old Mr. Toad said with a smile.

This surprised Jimmy Skunk as he had never thought of Old Mr. Toad as a singer or as being a member in a chorus. This gave him a little chuckle realizing there is so much he still doesn’t know about his neighbors in the Green Forest and Green Meadows. He sat looking to the sky for a moment pondering this a bit.

“How is it that you are a singer and I’ve never even heard you?” Jimmy Skunk asked Old Mr. Toad with great curiosity.

However he was too late, Old Mr. Toad was already on his way again hop, hop, hipperty-hop, hop, hop, hipperty-hop down the Lone Little Path.

And so Jimmy Skunk sat alone with a puzzled look on his face trying to figure out what he had just learned.


  1. Why do toads sing? Do other amphibians sing? What other animals in general sing? Why do they sing? What is the difference between a bird singing vs. calling?
  2. Does Jimmy Skunk have a singing voice too? Does a skunk make sounds? If so, what are they?
  3. Have you ever seen a Hognose snake? If not, what do you think it looks like based on the name?

Discover more P.L.A.Y. TOAD nature videos and adventures!


The Burgess Animal Story for Children, The Burgess Bird Story for Children, and The Adventures of __________ series (Paddy the Beaver, Lightfoot the Deer, Old Mr. Toad, etc.), are all originally authored by Thornton Burgess and are now available to you through P.L.A.Y.

P.L.A.Y. has provided new online versions of these updated and annotated 100+ year old public domain classics 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 the fields and forests through these animal story adventures
  • 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.


Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 11 – Porcupine


Chapter 11

Porcupine


“There,” said Mother Nature, pointing to Prickly Porky the Porcupine, “is the next to largest member of your order, which is?”

“Order of Rodents,” piped up Striped Chipmunk.

“He is the next to largest and very good at escaping predators,” continued Mother Nature.

“Actually, escaping his predators is no real credit to him. They are only too glad to keep out of his way; he doesn’t have to fear anybody,” said Chatterer the Red Squirrel to his cousin, Happy Jack.

His remark didn’t escape the keen ears of Mother Nature. “Are you sure about that?” she asked. “Well there is Pekan the Fisher”

She was interrupted by a great rattling on the old stump. Everybody turned to look. There was Prickly Porky backing down as fast as he could, which wasn’t fast at all, and rattling his thousand little spears as he did so. It was really very funny. Everybody had to laugh, even Mother Nature. You see, it was plain that he was in a great hurry, yet every movement was slow and clackety.

“Well, Prickly Porky, what does this mean? Where are you going?” asked Mother Nature.

Prickly Porky turned his eyes towards her, and in them was a troubled, worried look. “Where’s Pekan the Fisher?” he asked, and his voice shook a little with something very much like fear.

Mother Nature understood instantly. When she had said, “Well there is Pekan the Fisher,” Prickly Porky had waited to hear no more. He had instantly thought that she meant that Pekan was right there somewhere. “It’s all right, Prickly Porky,” she said. “Pekan isn’t anywhere around here, so climb back on that stump and no need to worry. Chatterer had just said that you didn’t have to fear anybody and I was starting to explain that actually you do, that despite your thousand little spears you have reason to fear Pekan the Fisher.”

Prickly Porky shivered and this made the thousand little spears in his coat rattle. It was such a surprising thing to see Prickly Porky actually afraid that the other little folks almost doubted their own eyes. “Are you quite sure that Pekan isn’t anywhere around?” asked Prickly Porky, and his voice still shook.

“Quite sure,” replied Mother Nature. “If he were I wouldn’t allow him to hurt you. You ought to know that. Now sit up so that every one can get a good look at you.”

Prickly Porky sat up, and the others gathered around the foot of the stump to look at him.

Porcupine illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

He was a little bigger than Bobby Coon and his body was thick and heavy-looking. His back humped up like an arch. His head was rather small for the size of his body, short and rather round. His neck was even shorter. His eyes were small and it was plain that he couldn’t see far, or clearly unless what he was looking at was close at hand. His ears were small and nearly hidden in hair. His front teeth, the gnawing teeth which showed him to be a Rodent, were very large and bright orange. His legs were short and stout. He had four toes on each front foot and five on each hind foot, and these were armed with quite long, stout claws.

The oddest thing and the most interesting thing about Prickly Porky was his coat. Not one among the other four-legged folk of the Green Forest has a coat anything like his. Most of them have soft, short under fur protected and more or less hidden by longer, coarser hair. Prickly Porky had the long coarse hair and on his back it was very long and coarse, brownish-black in color up to the tips, which were white. Under this long hair was some soft woolly fur, and what long hair he had hid chiefly was an array of little spears called quills. They were white to the tips, which were dark and very, very sharply pointed. All down the sides were tiny barbs, so small as hardly to be seen. On his head the quills were about an inch long and on his back they were four inches long, becoming shorter towards the tail. His tail was rather short, stout, and covered with short quills.

As he sat there on that old stump some of Prickly Porky’s little spears could be seen peeping out from the long hair on his back, although they didn’t look particularly dangerous. Peter Rabbit suddenly made a discovery. “Why!” he exclaimed. “He hasn’t any little spears on the under side of him!”

“I wondered who would be the first to notice that,” said Mother Nature. “No, Prickly Porky hasn’t any little spears underneath, and Pekan the Fisher has found that out. He knows that if he can turn Prickly Porky on his back he can attack him without much danger from those little spears, and he has learned how to do that very thing. That is why Prickly Porky is afraid of him. Now, Prickly Porky, climb down off that stump and show these little four-legged folks what you do when a predator comes near.”

Fisher illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Grumbling and growling, Prickly Porky climbed down to the ground. Then he tucked his head down between his front paws and suddenly the thousand little spears appeared all over him, pointing in every direction until he looked like a giant chestnut burr. Then he began to thrash his tail from side to side.

“What is he doing that for?” asked Johnny Chuck, looking rather puzzled.

“Go near enough to be hit by it, and you’ll understand,” said Mother Nature. “That is his one weapon. Whoever is hit by that tail will find himself full of those little spears and will take care never to go near Prickly Porky again. Once those little spears have entered the skin, they keep working in deeper and deeper, and more than one of his predators has been killed by them. On account of those tiny barbs they are hard to pull out, and pulling them out hurts dreadfully. Just try one and see.”

No one was anxious to try, so Mother Nature paused only a moment. “You will notice that he moves that tail quickly,” she continued. “It is the only thing about him which is quick. When he has a chance, in time of danger, he likes to get his head under a log or rock, instead of putting it between his paws as he is doing now. Then he plants his feet firmly and waits for a chance to use that tail.”

“Is it true that he can throw those little spears at folks?” asked Peter.

Mother Nature shook her head. “There isn’t a word of truth in it,” she declared. “That story probably was started by some one who was hit by his tail, and it was done so quickly that the victim didn’t see the tail move and so thought the little spears were thrown at him.”

“How does he make all those little spears stand up that way?” asked Jumper the Hare.

“He has a special set of muscles for just that purpose,” explained Mother Nature.

“When those quills stick into someone they must pull out of Prickly Porky’s own skin; I should think that would hurt him,” spoke up Striped Chipmunk.

“Not at all,” replied Mother Nature. “They are very loosely fastened in his skin and come out at the least little pull. New ones grow to take the place of those he loses.”

“Also notice that he puts his whole foot flat on the ground just as Buster Bear and Bobby Coon do. Very few animals do this, and those that do are said to be plantigrade. Now, Prickly Porky, tell us what you eat and where you make your home, and that will end today’s session.”

“I eat bark, twigs and leaves mostly,” said Prickly Porky. “I like hemlock best of all, and also eat poplar, pine and other trees for a change. Sometimes I stay in a tree for days until I have stripped it of all its bark and leaves. I don’t see any sense in moving about any more than is necessary.”

“Does that kill the tree?” exclaimed Peter Rabbit.

“Well, maybe, what of it?” replied Prickly Porky. “There are plenty of trees. In summer I like lily pads and always get them when I can.”

“Can you swim?” asked Peter eagerly.

“Of course,” grunted Prickly Porky.

“I never see you out on the Green Meadows,” said Peter.

“And you never will,” replied Prickly Porky. “The Green Forest is for me every time. Summer or winter, I’m at home there.”

“Don’t you sleep through the cold weather the way Buster Bear and I do?” asked Johnny Chuck.

“No, cold weather doesn’t bother me. I like it, ” said Prickly Porky. “I have the Green Forest pretty much to myself then. I like to be alone. And as long as there are trees, there is plenty to eat. I sleep a great deal in the daytime because I like night best.”

“What about your home?” asked Happy Jack.

“Home is wherever I happen to be, most of the time, and Mrs. Porky has a home in a hollow log or a cave or under the roots of a tree where the babies are born.”

“You might add that those babies are big for the size of their mother and have a full supply of quills when they are born,” said Mother Nature. “And you might like to mention how fond of salt you are. Your fear of Pekan the Fisher we all saw. I might add that Puma the Panther is to be feared at times, and when he is very hungry Buster Bear will take a chance on turning you on your back. By the way, don’t any of you call Prickly Porky a Hedgehog. He isn’t anything of the kind. He is sometimes called a Quill Pig, although his real name, Porcupine, is best. He has no near relatives.”

“Tomorrow morning, instead of meeting here, we’ll hold our session on the shore of the pond that Paddy the Beaver has made.”

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. What do people actually mean when they say ” that person was as prickly as a porcupine”?
  2. What other animals eat bark, twigs, and leaves just like a porcupine? I’ll get you started by naming goats(!) as fantastic eaters of bark and leaves. How many more animals can you list?
  3. *Start “branching out” into other topics mentioned by Prickly Porky such as the hemlock tree as his favorite food. What does a hemlock tree look like? What size cones does it have and who eats the seeds within them? How are the branches arranged to shed the snow or shelter birds? What is the color of the foliage? Does this change with the seasons?
  4. Visit this LINK to the Mass Audubon Society for more information and photos of porcupines.

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.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 10 – Pocket Gopher


Chapter 10

Pocket Gopher


On the way to see Mother Nature the next morning Peter Rabbit wondered who they would learn about that day. He was so busy wondering that Peter wasn’t really paying attention to where he was going. The result was that as he hopped out of a bramble-tangle just within the edge of the Green Forest, he nearly landed in something worse than the worst brambles that ever grew. It was only by a wild side jump that he saved himself. Peter had almost landed among the thousand little spears of Prickly Porky the Porcupine.

“Gracious!” exclaimed Peter.

“Hey,” shouted Prickly Porky. “You almost had a few of my little spears sticking in you this very minute.” He waddled along a few steps, then began talking again. “I don’t see why Mother Nature sent for me this morning,” he said. “I’m not much for long walks.”

Peter pricked up his long ears. “Oh, I know!” he cried. “ You’re a Rodent, and we are going to learn all about you this morning.”

“I’m not a Rodent; I’m a Porcupine,” Prickly Porky said matter-of-factly.

“You’re a Rodent just the same. You’ve got big gnawing teeth, and any one with that kind of teeth is a Rodent,” reported Peter. Then at a sudden thought a funny look passed over his face. “Why, that means that you and I are related in a way,” he added.

“Oh, I don’t believe it,” Prickly Porky said still shuffling along. “ What is this learning session about anyway? I already know how to get all I want to eat and how to make everybody get out of my way and leave me alone, and that’s enough to know when you are a porcupine.” He rattled the thousand little spears hidden in his coat, and Peter shivered at the sound.

Prickly Porky the Porcupine illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

At that Peter hurried on ahead, lipperty-lipperty-lip, while Prickly Porky slowly shuffled and rattled along behind.

All the other four-legged folks were there when Peter arrived. Prickly Porky wasn’t even in sight. Mother Nature wasted no time and began at once.

“Yesterday,” she began, “I told you about two little haymakers of the high mountains of the Far West. Who were they, Peter Rabbit?”

“Pika and Stubtail the Mountain Beaver,” replied Peter with great promptness.

“Right,” said Mother Nature. “Now I am going to tell you of one of my little plowmen who also lives in the Far West and prefers the great plains to the high mountains, though he is sometimes found in the latter. He is Grubby the Gopher, a member of the same order the rest of you belong to, and yet of a family quite his own. He is properly called the Pocket Gopher.”

“Does he have pockets in his cheeks like mine?” asked Striped Chipmunk eagerly.

“He has pockets in his cheeks, and that is why he is called Pocket Gopher,” replied Mother Nature; “however they are not at all like yours, Striped Chipmunk. Yours are on the inside of your cheeks, and his are on the outside.”

“How funny!” exclaimed Striped Chipmunk.

“Your pockets are small compared with those of Grubby,” continued Mother Nature. “One of his covers almost the whole side of his head back to his short neck, and it is lined with fur, and remember he has two of them. Grubby uses these for carrying food and never for carrying out earth when he is digging a tunnel, as some folks think he does. He stuffs them full with his front feet and empties them by pressing them from the back with his feet. The Gopher family is quite large and the members range in size from the size of Danny the Meadow Mouse to that of the Rat, only these bigger members are stouter and heavier than the Rat. Some are reddish-brown and some are gray. Whatever his size and wherever he is found, Grubby’s habits are the same.”

All this time Peter Rabbit had been fidgeting about. It was quite clear that Peter had something on his mind. Now as Old Mother Nature paused, Peter found the chance he had been waiting for. “If you please, why did you call him a plowman?” he asked eagerly.

“I’m coming to that,” replied Mother Nature, smiling at Peter’s eagerness. “Grubby Gopher spends most of his life underground, very much like Miner the Mole, whom you all know. He can dig tunnels just about as fast. His legs are short, and his front legs and feet are very stout and strong. They are armed with very long, strong claws and it is with these and the help of his big cutting teeth that Grubby digs. He throws the earth under him and then kicks it behind him with his hind feet. When he has quite a pile behind him he turns around, and with his front feet and head pushes it along to a little side tunnel and then up to the surface of the ground. As soon as he has it all out he plugs up the opening and goes back to digging. The loose earth he has pushed out makes little mounds, and he makes one of these mounds every few feet.”

“Grubby is a great worker. He is very industrious. Since he is underground, it doesn’t make much difference to him whether it be night or day. In summer, during the hottest part of the day, he rests. His eyes are small and he doesn’t see well because he has little use for them, coming out on the surface very seldom and then usually in the dusk. He has a funny little tail without any hair on it; this is very sensitive and serves him as a sort of guide when he runs backward along his tunnel, which he can do quite fast. A funny thing about those long claws on his front feet is that he folds them under when he is walking or running. Do any of you know why Farmer Brown plows his garden?”

As she asked this, Mother Nature looked from one to another, and each in turn shook his head. “It is to mix the dead vegetable matter thoroughly with the earth so that the roots of the plants may get it easily,” explained Mother Nature. “By making those tunnels in every direction and bringing up the earth below to the surface, Grubby Gopher does the same thing. That is why I call him my little plowman. He loosens up the hard, packed earth and mixes the vegetable matter with it and so makes it easy for seeds to sprout and plants to grow.”

Pocket Gopher illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“Then he must be one of the farmer’s best friends,” spoke up Happy Jack Squirrel.

Mother Nature shook her head. “He has been in the past,” she said. “He has done wonderful work in helping make the land fit for farming. However where land is being farmed he can be a bit of a challenge. You see he eats the crops the farmer tries to raise, and the new mounds he is all the time throwing up bury a lot of the young plants, and in the meadows make it very hard to use a mowing machine for cutting hay. Then Grubby gets into young orchards and cuts off all the tender roots of young trees. This kills them. You see he is fond of tender roots, seeds, stems of grass and grain, and is never happier than when he can find a field of potatoes.”

“Being such a worker, he has to have a great deal to eat. Then, too, he stores away a great deal for winter, for he doesn’t sleep in winter as Johnny Chuck does. He even tunnels about under the snow. Sometimes he fills these little snow tunnels with the earth he brings up from below, and when the snow melts it leaves odd little earth ridges to show where the tunnels were.”

“Grubby is very neat in his habits and keeps his home and himself very clean. During the day he leaves one of his mounds open for a little while to let in fresh air. Then he closes it again. He doesn’t dare leave it open very long, for fear Shadow the Weasel or a certain big Snake called the Gopher Snake will find it and come in after him. Digger the Badger is the only one of his predators who can dig fast enough to dig him out, and at night, when he likes to come out for a little air or to cut grain and grass, he must always watch for Hooty the Owl. Old Man Coyote and members of the Hawk family are always looking for him by day, so you see he has plenty of predators, just like the rest of you.”

“He got the name Gopher because that comes from a word meaning honeycomb, and Grubby’s tunnels go in every direction until the ground is like honeycomb. He isn’t very social social and he is always ready to fight. On the plains he has done a great deal to make the soil fine and rich, as I have already told you, however on hillsides he does a great deal of harm. The water runs down his tunnels and washes away the soil.”

“Hello!” Mother Nature said with a start, ” Look who’s here! ”

There was a shuffling and rattling and Prickly Porky climbed up on an old stump. He was looking much out of sorts after his long walk.

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. How many animals can you think of that have “pockets”? Can you compare how humans use pockets to how animals use “pockets”? What is the same and what is different?
  2. What would it be like to spend most of your days underground like the Pocket Gopher? Can you imagine spending your days digging and tunneling and never seeing the sun or the moon? What would it feel like to not be impacted by the weather, seeing neither rain nor snow or experiencing the wind on your face?

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.

Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 9 – Pika and Mountain Beaver


Chapter 9

Pika and Mountain Beaver


Johnny Chuck had now become as full of curiosity as Peter Rabbit. The discovery that he had a big cousin, Whistler the Marmot, living in the mountains of the Far West, had given Johnny something to think about. It seemed to Johnny such an odd place for a member of his family to live that he wanted to know more about it. So Johnny had a question all ready when Mother Nature began a new session the next morning.

“If you please, Mother Nature,” he said, “does my cousin, Whistler, have any neighbors up among those rocks where he lives?”

“He certainly does,” replied Mother Nature, nodding her head. “He has for a near neighbor one of the quaintest and most interesting little members of the big order to which you all belong. And do you all remember what that order is?” she asked.

“The order of Rodents,” Peter Rabbit piped up.

“Right you are, Peter,” replied Mother Nature, smiling at Peter. “ Now, this little neighbor of Whistler’s is called a Pika.”

Instantly Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare pricked up their long ears and became more interested. “If you please Mother Nature, who is this Pika? ” asked Jumper.

“He looks much like a small Rabbit, even though he is not, with short hind legs and rounded ears,” said Mother Nature. “Some folks call him Pika, some also call him a Cony or the Crying Hare. This is because he uses his voice a great deal, which is something no member of the Hare family really does. In size he is just about as big as one of your half-grown babies, Peter, so, you see, he really is a very little fellow. His coat is grayish-brown. His ears are of good size, although instead of being long they are round. He has small bright eyes. His legs are short, his hind legs being very little longer than his front ones. He has hair on the soles of his feet just like the members of the hare family.”

“What about his tail?” asked Peter Rabbit. You know Peter is very much interested in tails.

Mother Nature smiled. “Why he has less of one than you Peter,” she said. “That is, he hasn’t any that can be seen easily .”

“He lives way up among the rocks of the great mountains above where the trees grow and often is a very near neighbor to Whistler,” continued Mother Nature.

“I suppose that means that he makes his home down in under rocks, the same as Whistler does,” Johnny Chuck spoke up.

“Right,” replied Mother Nature. “He is such a little fellow that he can get through very narrow places, and he has his home and barns way down in among the rocks.”

“Barns!” exclaimed Happy Jack Squirrel. “Barns! What do you mean by barns?”

Mother Nature laughed. “I just call them barns,” she said, “because they are the places where he stores away his hay, just as Farmer Brown stores away his hay in his barn. I suppose you would call them storehouses.”

At the mention of hay, Peter Rabbit sat bolt upright and his eyes were wide open with astonishment. “Did you say hay?” he exclaimed. “Where under the sun does he get hay way up there, and what does he want of it?”

Pika illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

There was a twinkle in Mother Nature’s eyes as she replied, “He makes that hay just as you see Farmer Brown make hay every summer. It is what he lives on in the winter and in bad weather. Pika knows just as much about the proper way of making hay as Farmer Brown does. Even way up among the rocks there are places where grass and pea-vines and other green things grow. Pika lives on these in summer. And he is as wise and thrifty as any Squirrel, another way in which he differs from the Hare family. He cuts the vines when they are ready for cutting and spreads them out on the rocks to dry in the sun. He knows that if he should take them down into his barns while they are fresh and green they would sour and spoil; so he never stores them away until they are thoroughly dry. Then, of course, they are hay, for hay is nothing other than sun-dried grass cut before it has begun to die. When his hay is just as dry as it should be, he takes it down and stores it away in his barns, which are little caves down in among the rocks. There he has it for use in winter when there is no green food.”

“Pika is so nearly the color of the rocks that it takes sharp eyes to see him when he is sitting still. He has a funny little squeaking voice, and he uses it a great deal. It is a funny voice because it is hard to tell just where it comes from. It seems to come from nowhere in particular. Sometimes he can be heard squeaking way down in his home under the rocks. Like Johnny Chuck, he prefers to sleep at night and be abroad during the day. Because he is so small he must always be on the lookout for predators. At the first hint of danger he scampers to safety in among the rocks, and there he scolds whoever has frightened him. Pika really is the great little haymaker of the mountains of the Great West.”

“That haymaking is a pretty good idea of Pika’s,” remarked Peter Rabbit, scratching a long ear with a long hind foot.

“By the way,” said Mother Nature, “there is another haymaker out in those same great mountains of the Far West.”

“Who?” Peter, Johnny Chuck, and Happy Jack the Squirrel all said in the same breath.

“Stubtail the Mountain Beaver,” declared Mother Nature promptly.

“I know Paddy the Beaver,” Peter Rabbit responded, “and I suppose Stubtail is his cousin.”

Mother Nature shook her head. “No, actually” she said. “Stubtail and Paddy are no more closely related than the rest of you. Stubtail isn’t a Beaver at all. His proper name is Sewellel and sometimes he is called the Boomer, although most folks call him simply the Mountain Beaver.”

“Is it because he looks like Paddy the Beaver?” Striped Chipmunk asked.

“No,” replied Mother Nature. “He looks more like Jerry Muskrat than he does like Paddy. He is about Jerry’s size and looks very much as Jerry would if he had no tail.”

“Hasn’t he any tail at all?” asked Peter.

Mountain Beaver illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“Yes, he has a little tail, a little stub of a tail, however it is so small that to look at him you would think he hadn’t any,” replied Mother Nature. “He is found out in the same mountains of the Far West where Whistler and Pika live, although instead of living way up high among the rocks he is at home down in the valleys where the ground is soft and the trees grow thickly. Stubtail has no use for rocks. He wants soft, wet ground where he can tunnel to his heart’s content. In this way Stubtail is very much like Yap Yap the Prairie Dog.”

“What is that?” asked Johnny Chuck quickly, for, you know, Yap Yap is Johnny’s cousin.

“In his social habits,” replied Mother Nature. “Stubtail isn’t fond of living alone. He wants company of his own kind. So wherever you find Stubtail you are likely to find many of his family. They like to go visiting back and forth. They make little paths between their homes and all about through the thick ferns, and they keep these little paths free and clear, so that they may run along them easily. Some of these little paths lead into long tunnels. These are made for safety. Usually the ground is so wet that there will be water running in the bottoms of these little tunnels.”

“What kind of a house does Stubtail have?” inquired Johnny Chuck interestedly.

“A hole in the ground,” replied Mother Nature. “It is dug where the ground is drier than where the runways are made. Mrs. Stubtail makes a nest of dried ferns and close by they build two or three storehouses, for Stubtail and Mrs. Stubtail are thrifty people.”

“I suppose he fills them with hay, for you said he is a haymaker,” remarked Happy Jack Squirrel, who is always interested in storehouses.

“Yes,” replied Mother Nature, “he puts hay in them. He cuts grasses, ferns, pea-vines and other green plants and carries them in little bundles to the entrance to his tunnel. There he piles them on sticks so as to keep them off he damp ground and so that the air can help dry them out. When they are dry, he takes them inside and stores them away. He also stores other things. He likes the roots of ferns. He cuts tender, young twigs from bushes and stores away some of these. He is fond of bark. In winter he is quite as active as in summer and tunnels about under the snow. Then he sometimes has a habit like Peter Rabbit of gnawing tree bark all around as high up as he can reach.”

“Can he climb trees?” asked Chatterer the Red Squirrel.

“Just about as much as Johnny Chuck can,” replied Mother Nature. “Sometimes he climbs up in low bushes or in small, low-branching trees to cut off tender shoots, although he doesn’t do much of this sort of thing. His home is the ground. He is most active at night and also where undisturbed he is out more or less during the day. When he wants to cut off a twig he sits up like a Squirrel and holds the twig in his hands while he bites it off with his sharp teeth.”

“You didn’t tell us what color his coat is,” said Peter Rabbit.

“His coat is brown, much the color of Jerry Muskrat’s, although his fur is not nearly so soft and fine,” Mother Nature noted.

“I suppose he has predators just as the rest of us four-legged folks have,” said Peter.

“Yes, of course,” replied Mother Nature. “All the four-legged folks have predators, and most big ones too, for that matter. King Eagle is one and Yowler the Bob Cat is another. They are always watching for Stubtail. That is why he digs so many tunnels. He can travel under the ground then.”

“My goodness, how time flies! I have much to do and must be on my way. Scamper home, all of you, and I’ll see you in the morning.”

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. What do you know about farmers “making hay”? What is the difference between grass and hay? Do you know any other animals that eat hay besides the Pika and the Mountain Beaver?
  2. Are there rocky areas near to where you live? If so, what animals do you know of that live in that area? Do they have traits like the Pika and Mountain Beaver? If yes, what are they? If no, how are they different?

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.