Some Big Mouths
B OOM! Peter Rabbit jumped as if he had been shot. It was all so sudden and unexpected that Peter jumped before he had time to think. Then he looked foolish. He felt foolish. He had been scared when there was nothing to be afraid of.
"Ha, ha, ha, ha!" tittered Jenny Wren. "What are you jumping for, Peter Rabbit? That was only Boomer the Nighthawk."
"I know it just as well as you do, Jenny Wren," retorted Peter rather crossly. "You know being suddenly startled is apt to make people feel cross. If I had seen him anywhere about he wouldn't have made me jump. It was the unexpectedness of it. I don't see what he is out now for, anyway, It isn't even dusk yet, and I thought him a night bird."
"So he is," retorted Jenny Wren. "Anyway, he is a bird of the evening, and that amounts to the same thing. But just because he likes the evening best isn't any reason why he shouldn't come out in the daylight, is it?"
"No-o," replied Peter rather slowly. "I don't suppose it is."
"Of course it isn't," declared Jenny Wren. "I see Boomer late in the afternoon nearly every day. On cloudy days I often see him early in the afternoon. He's a queer fellow, is Boomer. Such a mouth as he has! I suppose it is very handy to have a big mouth if one must catch all one's food in the air, but it certainly isn't pretty when it is wide open."
"I never saw a mouth yet that was pretty when it was wide open," retorted Peter, who was still feeling a little put out. "I've never noticed that Boomer has a particularly big mouth."
"Well he has, whether you've noticed it or not," retorted Jenny Wren sharply. "He's got a little bit of a bill, but a great big mouth. I don't see what folks call him a Hawk for when he isn't a Hawk at all. He is no more of a Hawk than I am, and goodness knows I'm not even related to the Hawk family."
"I believe you told me the other day that Boomer is related to Sooty the Chimney Swift," said Peter.
Jenny nodded vigorously. "So I did, Peter," she replied. "I'm glad you have such a good memory. Boomer and Sooty are sort of second cousins. There is Boomer now, way up in the sky. I do wish he'd dive and scare some one else."
Peter tipped his head 'way back. High up in the blue, blue sky was a bird which at that distance looked something like a much overgrown Swallow. He was circling and darting about this way and that. Even while Peter watched he half closed his wings and shot down with such speed that Peter actually held his breath. It looked very, very much as if Boomer would dash himself to pieces. Just before he reached the earth he suddenly opened those wings and turned upward. At the instant he turned, the booming sound which had so startled Peter was heard. It was made by the rushing of the wind through the larger feathers of his wings as he checked himself.
In this dive Boomer had come near enough for Peter to get a good look at him. His coat seemed to be a mixture of brown and gray, very soft looking. His wings were brown with a patch of white on each. There was a white patch on his throat and a band of white near the end of his tail.
"He's rather handsome, don't you think?" asked Jenny Wren.
"He certainly is," replied Peter. "Do you happen to know what kind of a nest the Nighthawks build, Jenny?"
"They don't build any." Jenny Wren was a picture of scorn as she said this. "They don't built any nests at all. It can't be because they are lazy for I don't know of any birds that hunt harder for their living than do Boomer and Mrs. Boomer."
"But if there isn't any nest where does Mrs. Boomer lay her eggs?" cried Peter. "I think you must be mistaken, Jenny Wren. They must have some kind of a nest. Of course they must."
"Didn't I say they don't have a nest?" sputtered Jenny. "Mrs. Nighthawk doesn't lay but two eggs, anyway. Perhaps she thinks it isn't worth while building a nest for just two eggs. Anyway, she lays them on the ground or on a flat rock and lets it go at that. She isn't quite as bad as Sally Sly the Cowbird, for she does sit on those eggs and she is a good mother. But just think of those Nighthawk children never having any home! It doesn't seem to me right and it never will. Did you ever see Boomer in a tree?"
Peter shook his head. "I've seen him on the ground," said he, "but I never have seen him in a tree. Why did you ask, Jenny Wren?"
"To find out how well you have used your eyes," snapped Jenny. "I just wanted to see if you had noticed anything peculiar about the way he sits in a tree. But as long as you haven't seen him in a tree I may as well tell you that he doesn't sit as most birds do. He sits lengthwise of a branch. He never sits across it as the rest of us do."
"How funny!" exclaimed Peter. "I suppose that is Boomer making that queer noise we hear."
"Yes," replied Jenny. "He certainly does like to use his voice. They tell me that some folks call him Bullbat, though why they should call him either Bat or Hawk is beyond me. I suppose you know his cousin, Whip-poor-will."
"I should say I do," replied Peter. "He's enough to drive one crazy when he begins to shout 'Whip poor Will' close at hand. That voice of his goes through me so that I want to stop both ears. There isn't a person of my acquaintance who can say a thing over and over, over and over, so many times without stopping for breath. Do I understand that he is cousin to Boomer?"
"He is a sort of second cousin, the same as Sooty the Chimney Swift," explained Jenny Wren. "They look enough alike to be own cousins. Whip-poor-will has just the same kind of a big mouth and he is dressed very much like Boomer, save that there are no white patches on his wings."
"I've noticed that," said Peter. "That is one way I can tell them apart."
"So you noticed that much, did you?" cried Jenny. "It does you credit, Peter. It does you credit. I wonder if you also noticed Whip-poor-will's whiskers."
"Whiskers!" cried Peter. "Who ever heard of a bird having whiskers? You can stuff a lot down me, Jenny Wren, but there are some things I cannot swallow, and bird whiskers is one of them."
"Nobody asked you to swallow them. Nobody wants you to swallow them," snapped Jenny. "I don't know why a bird shouldn't have whiskers just as well as you, Peter Rabbit. Anyway, Whip-poor-will has them and that is all there is to it. It doesn't make any difference whether you believe in them or not, they are there. And I guess Whip-poor-will finds them just as useful as you find yours, and a little more so. I know this much, that if I had to catch all my food in the air I'd want whiskers and lots of them so that the insects would get tangled in them. I suppose that's what Whip-poor-will's are for."
"I beg your pardon, Jenny Wren," said Peter very humbly. "Of course Whip-poor-will has whiskers if you say so. By the way, do the Whip-poor-wills do any better in the matter of a nest than the Nighthawks?"
"Not a bit," replied Jenny Wren. "Mrs. Whip-poor-will lays her eggs right on the ground, but usually in the Green Forest where it is dark and lonesome. Like Mrs. Nighthawk, she lays only two. It's the same way with another second cousin, Chuck-will's-widow."
"Who?" cried Peter, wrinkling his brows.
"Chuck-will's-widow," Jenny Wren fairly shouted it. "Don't you know Chuck-will's-widow?"
Peter shook his head. "I never heard of such a bird," he confessed.
"That's what comes of never having traveled," retorted Jenny Wren. "If you'd ever been in the South the way I have you would know Chuck-will's-widow. He looks a whole lot like the other two we've been talking about, but has even a bigger mouth. What's more, he has whiskers with branches. Now you needn't look as if you doubted that, Peter Rabbit; it's so. In his habits he's just like his cousins, no nest and only two eggs. I never saw people so afraid to raise a real family. If the Wrens didn't do better than that, I don't know what would become of us." You know Jenny usually has a family of six or eight.