Some Merry Seed-Eaters
H AVING been reminded of Dotty the Tree Sparrow, Peter Rabbit became possessed of a great desire to find this little friend of the cold months and learn how he had fared through the summer.
He was at a loss just where to look for Dotty until he remembered a certain weedy field along the edge of which the bushes had been left growing. "Perhaps I'll find him there," thought Peter, for he remembered that Dotty lives almost wholly on seeds, chiefly weed seeds, and that he dearly loves a weedy field with bushes not far distant in which he can hide.
So Peter hurried over to the weedy field and there, sure enough, he found Dotty with a lot of his friends. They were very busy getting their breakfast. Some were clinging to the weed-stalks picking the seeds out of the tops, while others were picking up the seeds from the ground. It was cold. Rough Brother North Wind was doing his best to blow up another snow-cloud. It wasn't at all the kind of day in which one would expect to find anybody in high spirits. But Dotty was. He was even singing as Peter came up, and all about Dotty's friends and relatives were twittering as happily and merrily as if it were the beginning of spring instead of winter.
Dotty was very nearly the size of Little Friend the Song Sparrow and looked somewhat like him, save that his breast was clear ashy-gray, all but a little dark spot in the middle, the little dot from which he gets his name. He wore a chestnut cap, almost exactly like that of Chippy the Chipping Sparrow. It reminded Peter that Dotty is often called the Winter Chippy.
"Welcome back, Dotty!" cried Peter. "It does my heart good to see you."
"Thank you, Peter," twittered Dotty happily. "In a way it is good to be back. Certainly, it is good to know that an old friend is glad to see me."
"Are you going to stay all winter, Dotty?" asked Peter.
"I hope so," replied Dotty. "I certainly shall if the snow does not get so deep that I cannot get enough to eat. Some of these weeds are so tall that it will take a lot of snow to cover them, and as long as the tops are above the snow I will have nothing to worry about. You know a lot of seeds remain in these tops all winter. But if the snow gets deep enough to cover these I shall have to move along farther south."
"Then I hope there won't be much snow," declared Peter very emphatically. "There are few enough folks about in winter at best, goodness knows, and I don't know of any one I enjoy having for a neighbor more than I do you."
"Thank you again, Peter," cried Dotty, "and please let me return the compliment. I like cold weather. I like winter when there isn't too much ice and bad weather. I always feel good in cold weather. That is one reason I go north to nest."
"Speaking of nests, do you build in a tree?" inquired Peter.
"Usually on or near the ground," replied Dotty. "You know I am really a ground bird although I am called a Tree Sparrow. Most of us Sparrows spend our time on or near the ground."
"I know," replied Peter. "Do you know I'm very fond of the Sparrow family. I just love your cousin Chippy, who nests in the Old Orchard every spring. I wish he would stay all winter. I really don't see why he doesn't. I should think he could if you can."
Dotty laughed. It was a tinkling little laugh, good to hear. "Cousin Chippy would starve to death," he declared. "It is all a matter of food. You ought to know that by this time, Peter. Cousin Chippy lives chiefly on worms and bugs and I live almost wholly on seeds, and that is what makes the difference. Cousin Chippy must go where he can get plenty to eat. I can get plenty here and so I stay."
"Did you and your relatives come down from the Far North alone?" asked Peter.
"No," replied Dotty promptly. "Slaty the Junco and his relatives came along with us and we had a very merry party."
Peter pricked up his ears. "Is Slaty here now?" he asked eagerly.
"Very much here," replied a voice right behind Peter's back. It was so unexpected that it made Peter jump. He turned to find Slaty himself chuckling merrily as he picked up seeds. He was very nearly the same size as Dotty but trimmer. In fact he was one of the trimmest, neatest appearing of all of Peter's friends. There was no mistaking Slaty the Junco for any other bird. His head, throat and breast were clear slate color. Underneath he was white. His sides were grayish. His outer tail feathers were white. His bill was flesh color. It looked almost white.
"Welcome! Welcome!" cried Peter. "Are you here to stay all winter?"
I certainly am," was Slaty's prompt response. "It will take pretty bad weather to drive me away from here. If the snow gets too deep I'll just go up to Farmer Brown's barnyard. I can always pick up a meal there, for Farmer Brown's boy is a very good friend of mine. I know he won't let me starve, no matter what the weather is. I think it is going to snow some more. I like the snow. You know I am sometimes called the Snowbird."
Peter nodded. "So I have heard," said he, "though I think that name really belongs to Snowflake the Snow Bunting."
"Quite right, Peter, quite right," replied Slaty. "I much prefer my own name of Junco. My, these seeds are good!" All the time he was busily picking up seeds so tiny that Peter didn't even see them.
"If you like here so much why don't you stay all the year?" inquired Peter.
"It gets too warm," replied Slaty promptly,
"I hate hot weather. Give me cold weather every time."
"Do you mean to tell me that it is cold all summer where you nest in the Far North?" demanded Peter.
"Not exactly cold," replied Slaty, "but a lot cooler than it is down here. I don't go as far north to nest as Snowflake does, but I go far enough to be fairly comfortable. I don't see how some folks can stand hot weather."
"It is a good thing they can," interrupted Dotty. "If everybody liked the same things it wouldn't do at all. Just suppose all the birds ate nothing but seeds. There wouldn't be seeds enough to go around, and a lot of us would starve. Then, too, the worms and the bugs would eat up everything. So, take it all together, it is a mighty good thing that some birds live almost wholly on worms and bugs and such things, leaving the seeds to the rest of us. I guess Old Mother Nature knew what she was about when she gave us different tastes."
Peter nodded his head in approval. "You can always trust Old Mother Nature to know what is best," said he sagely. "By the way, Slaty, what do you make your nest of and where do you put it?"
"My nest is usually made of grasses, moss and rootlets. Sometimes it is lined with fine grasses, and when I am lucky enough to find them I use long hairs. Often I put my nest on the ground, and never very far above it. I am like my friend Dotty in this respect. It always seems to me easier to hide a nest on the ground than anywhere else. There is nothing like having a nest well hidden. It takes sharp eyes to find my nest, I can tell you that, Peter Rabbit."
Just then Dotty, who had been picking seeds out of the top of a weed, gave a cry of alarm and instantly there was a flit of many wings as Dotty and his relatives and Slaty sought the shelter of the bushes along the edge of the field. Peter sat up very straight and looked this way and looked that way. At first he saw nothing suspicious. Then, crouching flat among the weeds, he got a glimpse of Black Pussy, the cat from Farmer Brown's house. She had been creeping up in the hope of catching one of those happy little seedeaters. Peter stamped angrily. Then with long jumps he started for the dear Old Briar-patch, lipperty-lipperty-lip, for truth to tell, big as he was, he was a little afraid of Black Pussy.