The Burgess Bird Book for Children by Thornton W. Burgess

Some Homes in the Green Forest

[128] REDDY FOX wasted very little time waiting for Peter Rabbit to come out from under that pile of brush where he had hidden at Sammy Jay's warning. After making some terrible threats just to try to frighten Peter, he trotted away to look for some Mice. Peter didn't mind those threats at all. He was used to them. He knew that he was safe where he was, and all he had to do was to stay there until Reddy should be so far away that it would be safe to come out.

Just to pass away the time Peter took a little nap. When he awoke he sat for a few minutes trying to make up his mind where to go and what to do next. From 'way over in the direction of the Old Pasture the voice of Blacky the Crow reached him. Peter pricked up his ears, then chuckled.

"Reddy Fox has gone back to the Old Pasture and Blacky has discovered him there," he thought happily. You see, he understood what Blacky was saying. To you or me Blacky would have been saying simply, "Caw! Caw!" But to all [129] the little people of the Green Forest and Green Meadows within hearing he was shouting, "Fox! Fox!"

"I wonder," thought Peter, "where Blacky is nesting this year. Last year his nest was in a tall pine-tree not far from the edge of the Green Forest. I believe I'll run over there and see if he has a new nest near the old one."

So Peter scampered over to the tall pine in which was Blacky's old nest. As he sat with his head tipped back, staring up at it, it struck him that that nest didn't look so old, after all. In fact, it looked as if it had recently been fixed up quite like new. He was wondering about this and trying to guess what it meant, when Blacky himself alighted close to the edge of it.

There was something in his bill, though what it was Peter couldn't see. Almost at once a black head appeared above the edge of the nest and a black bill seized the thing which Blacky had brought. Then the head disappeared and Blacky silently flew away.

"As sure as I live," thought Peter, "that was Mrs. Blacky, and Blacky brought her some food so that she would not have to leave those eggs she must have up there. He may be the black-hearted robber every one says he is, but he certainly is a good husband. He's a better husband [130] than some others I know, of whom nothing but good is said. It just goes to show that there is some good in the very worst folks. Blacky is a sly old rascal. Usually he is as noisy as any one I know, but he came and went without making a sound. Now I think of it, I haven't once heard his voice near here this spring. I guess if Farmer Brown's boy could find this nest he would get even with Blacky for pulling up his corn. I know a lot of clever people, but no one quite so clever as Blacky the Crow. With all his badness I can't help liking him."

Twice, while Peter watched, Blacky returned with food for Mrs. Blacky. Then, tired of keeping still so long, Peter decided to run over to a certain place farther in the Green Forest which was seldom visited by any one. It was a place Peter usually kept away from. It was pure curiosity which led him to go there now. The discovery that Blacky the Crow was using his old nest had reminded Peter that Redtail the Hawk uses his old nest year after year, and he wanted to find out if Redtail had come back to it this year.

Halfway over to that lonesome place in the Green Forest a trim little bird flew up from the ground, hopped from branch to branch of a tree, walked along a limb, then from pure happiness [131] threw back his head and cried, "Teacher, teacher, teacher, teacher, teacher!" each time a little louder than before. It was Teacher the Oven Bird.

In his delight at seeing this old friend, Peter quite forgot Redtail the Hawk. "Oh, Teacher!" cried Peter. "I'm so glad to see you again!"

Teacher stopped singing and looked down at Peter. "If you are so glad why haven't you been over to see me before?" he demanded. "I've been here for some time."

Peter looked a little foolish. "The truth is, Teacher," said he very humbly, "I have been visiting the Old Orchard so much and learning so many things that this is the first chance I have had to come 'way over here in the Green Forest. You see, I have been learning a lot of things about you feathered folks, things I hadn't even guessed. There is something I wish you'd tell me, Teacher; will you?"

"That depends on what it is," replied Teacher, eyeing Peter a little suspiciously.

"It is why you are called Oven Bird," said Peter.

"Is that all?" asked Teacher. Then without waiting for a reply he added, "It is because of the way Mrs. Teacher and I build our nest. Some people think it is like an oven and so they call us Oven Birds. I think that is a silly name [132] myself, quite as silly as Golden Crowned Thrush, which is what some people call me. I'm not a Thrush. I'm not even related to the Thrush family. I'm a Warbler, a Wood Warbler."

"I suppose," said Peter, looking at Teacher thoughtfully, "they've given you that name because you are dressed something like the Thrushes. That olive-green coat, and white waistcoat all streaked and spotted with black, certainly does remind me of the Thrush family. If you were not so much smaller than any of the Thrushes I should almost think you were one myself. Why, you are not very much bigger than Chippy the Chipping Sparrow, only you've got longer legs. I suppose that's because you spend so much time on the ground. I think that just Teacher is the best name for you. No one who has once heard you could ever mistake you for any one else. By the way, Teacher, where did you say your nest is?"

"I didn't say," retorted Teacher. "What's more, I'm not going to say."

"Won't you at least tell me if it is in a tree?" begged Peter.

Teacher's eyes twinkled. "I guess it won't do any harm to tell you that much," said he. "No, it isn't in a tree. It is on the ground and, if I do say it, it is as well hidden a nest as anybody [133] can build. Oh, Peter, watch your step! Watch your step!" Teacher fairly shrieked this warning.

Peter, who had just started to hop off to his right, stopped short in sheer astonishment. Just in front of him was a tiny mound of dead leaves, and a few feet beyond Mrs. Teacher was fluttering about on the ground as if badly hurt. Peter simply didn't know what to make of it. Once more he made a movement as if to hop. Teacher flew right down in front of him. "You'll step on my nest!" he cried.

Peter stared, for he didn't see any nest. He said as much.

"It's under that little mound of leaves right in front of your feet!" cried Teacher. "I wasn't going to tell you, but I just had to or you certainly would have stepped on it."

Very carefully Peter walked around the little bunch of leaves and peered under them from the other side. There, sure enough, was a nest beneath them, and in it four speckled eggs. "I won't tell a soul, Teacher. I promise you I won't tell a soul," declared Peter very earnestly. "I understand now why you are called Oven Bird, but I still like the name Teacher best."

Feeling that Mr. and Mrs. Teacher would feel easier in their minds if he left them, Peter said good-by and started on for the lonesome place in [134] the Green Forest where he knew the old nest of Redtail the Hawk had been. As he drew near the place he kept sharp watch through the treetops for a glimpse of Redtail. Presently he saw him high in the blue sky, sailing lazily in big circles. Then Peter became very, very cautious. He tiptoed forward, keeping under cover as much as possible. At last, peeping out from beneath a little hemlock-tree, he could see Redtail's old nest. He saw right away that it was bigger than it had been when he saw it last. Suddenly there was a chorus of hungry cries and Peter saw Mrs. Redtail approaching with a Mouse in her claws. From where he sat he could see four funny heads stretched above the edge of the nest.

"Redtail is using his old nest again and has got a family already," exclaimed Peter. "I guess this is no place for me. The sooner I get away from here the better."

Just then Redtail himself dropped down out of the blue, blue sky and alighted on a tree close at hand. Peter decided that the best thing he could do was to sit perfectly still where he was. He had a splendid view of Redtail, and he couldn't help but admire this big member of the Hawk family. The upper parts of his coat were a dark grayish-brown mixed with touches of chestnut color. The upper part of his breast was streaked [135] with grayish-brown and buff, the lower part having but few streaks. Below this were black spots and bars ending in white. But it was the tail which Peter noticed most of all. It was a rich reddish-brown with a narrow black band near its end and a white tip. Peter understood at once why this big Hawk is called Redtail.


[Illustration]

REDTAIL THE HAWK

This is one of our largest hawks and may be recognized by the chestnut red of his tail.

It was not until Mr. and Mrs. Redtail had gone in quest of more food for their hungry youngsters that Peter dared steal away. As soon as he felt it safe to do so, he headed for home as fast as he could go, lipperty-lipperty-lip. He knew that he wouldn't feel safe until that lonesome place in the Green Forest was far behind.

Yet if the truth be known, Peter had less cause to worry than would have been the case had it been some other member of the Hawk family instead of Redtail. And while Redtail and his wife do sometimes catch some of their feathered and furred neighbors, and once in a while a chicken, they do vastly more good than harm.


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