Three Cousins Quite Unlike
AS Peter Rabbit passed one of the apple-trees in the Old Orchard, a thin, wiry voice hailed him. "It's a wonder you wouldn't at least say you're glad to see me back, Peter Rabbit," said the voice.
Peter, who had been hopping along rather fast, stopped abruptly to look up. Running along a limb just over his head, now on top and now underneath, was a little bird with a black and white striped coat and a white waistcoat. Just as Peter looked it flew down to near the base of the tree and began to run straight up the trunk, picking things from the bark here and there as it ran. Its way of going up that tree trunk reminded Peter of one of his winter friends, Seep Seep the Brown Creeper.
"It strikes me that this is a mighty poor welcome for one who has just come all the way from South America," said the little black and white bird with twinkling eyes.
"Oh, Creeper, I didn't know you were here!" cried Peter. "You know I'm glad to see you. I'm just as glad as glad can be. You are such a quiet fellow I'm afraid I shouldn't have seen you at all if you hadn't spoken. You know it's always been hard work for me to believe that you are really and truly a Warbler."
"Why so?" demanded Creeper the Black and White Warbler, for that is the name by which he is commonly known. "Why so? Don't I look like a Warbler?"
"Ye-es," said Peter slowly. "You do look like one but you don't act like one."
"In what way don't I act like one I should like to know?" demanded Creeper.
"Well," replied Peter, "all the rest of the Warblers are the uneasiest folks I know of. They can't seem to keep still a minute. They are everlastingly flitting about this way and that way and the other way. I actually get tired watching them. But you are not a bit that way. Then the way you run up tree trunks and along the limbs isn't a bit Warbler-like. Why don't you flit and dart about as the others do?"
Creeper's bright eyes sparkled. "I don't have to," said he. "I'm going to let you into a little secret, Peter. The rest of them get their living from the leaves and twigs and in the air, but I've discovered an easier way. I've found out that there are lots of little worms and insects and eggs on the trunks and big limbs of the trees and that I can get the best kind of a living there without flitting about everlastingly. I don't have to share them with anybody but the Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, and Tommy Tit the Chickadee."
"That reminds me," said Peter. "Those folks you have mentioned nest in holes in trees; do you?"
"I should say not," retorted Creeper. "I don't know of any Warbler who does. I build on the ground, if you want to know. I nest in the Green Forest. Sometimes I make my nest in a little hollow at the base of a tree; sometimes I put it under a stump or rock or tuck it in under the roots of a tree that has been blown over. But there, Peter Rabbit, I've talked enough. I'm glad you're glad that I'm back, and I'm glad I'm back too."
Creeper continued on up the trunk of the tree, picking here and picking there. Just then Peter caught sight of another friend whom he could always tell by the black mask he wore. It was Mummer the Yellow-throat. He had just darted into the thicket of bushes along the old stone wall. Peter promptly hurried over there to look for him.
When Peter reached the place where he had caught a glimpse of Mummer, no one was to be seen. Peter sat down, uncertain which way to go. Suddenly Mummer popped out right in front of Peter, seemingly from nowhere at all. His throat and breast were bright yellow and his back wings and tail a soft olive-green. But the most remarkable thing about him was the mask of black right across his cheeks, eyes and forehead. At least it looked like a mask, although it really wasn't one.
"Hello, Mummer!" cried Peter.
"Hello yourself, Peter Rabbit!" retorted Mummer and then disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared.
Peter blinked and looked in vain all about.
"Looking for some one?" asked Mummer, suddenly popping into view where Peter least expected him.
"For goodness' sake, can't you sit still a minute?" cried Peter. "How do you expect a fellow can talk to you when he can't keep his eyes on you more than two seconds at a time."
"Who asked you to talk to me?" responded Mummer, and popped out of sight. Two seconds later he was back again and his bright little eyes fairly shone with mischief. Then before Peter could say a word Mummer burst into a pleasant little song. He was so full of happiness that Peter couldn't be cross with him.
"There's one thing I like about you, Mummer," declared Peter, "and that is that I never get you mixed up with anybody else. I should know you just as far as I could see you because of that black mask across your face. Has Mrs. Yellow-throat arrived yet?"
"Certainly," replied another voice, and Mrs. Yellow-throat flitted across right in front of Peter. For just a second she sat still, long enough for him to have one good look at her. She was dressed very like Mummer save that she did not wear the black mask.
Peter was just about to say something polite and pleasant when from just back of him there sounded a loud, very emphatic, "Chut! Chut!" Peter whirled about to find another old friend. It was Chut-Chut the Yellow-breasted Chat, the largest of the Warbler family. He was so much bigger than Mummer that it was hard to believe that they were own cousins. But Peter knew they were, and he also knew that he could never mistake Chut-Chut for any other member of the family because of his big size, which was that of some of the members of the Sparrow family. His back was a dark olive-green, but his throat and breast were a beautiful bright yellow. There was a broad white line above each eye and a little white line underneath. Below his breast he was all white.
To have seen him you would have thought that he suspected Peter might do him some harm. He acted that way. If Peter hadn't known him so well he might have been offended. But Peter knew that there is no one among his feathered friends more cautious than Chut-Chut the Chat. He never takes anything for granted. He appears to be always on the watch for danger, even to the extent of suspecting his very best friends.
When he had decided in his own mind that there was no danger, Chut-Chut came out for a little gossip. But like all the rest of the Warblers he couldn't keep still. Right in the middle of the story of his travels from far-away Mexico he flew to the top of a little tree, began to sing, then flew out into the air with his legs dangling and his tail wagging up and down in the funniest way, and there continued his song as he slowly dropped down into the thicket again. It was a beautiful song and Peter hastened to tell him so.
Chut-Chut was pleased. He showed it by giving a little concert all by himself. It seemed to Peter that he never had heard such a variety of whistles and calls and songs as came from that yellow throat. When it was over Chut-Chut abruptly said good-by and disappeared. Peter could hear his sharp "Chut! Chut!" farther along in the thicket as he hunted for worms among the bushes.
"I wonder," said Peter, speaking out loud without thinking, "where he builds his nest. I wonder if he builds it on the ground, the way Creeper does."
"No," declared Mummer, who all the time had been darting about close at hand. "He doesn't, but I do. Chut-Chut puts his nest near the ground, however, usually within two or three feet. He builds it in bushes or briars. Sometimes if I can find a good tangle of briars I build my nest in it several feet from the ground, but as a rule I would rather have it on the ground under a bush or in a clump of weeds. Have you seen my cousin Sprite the Parula Warbler, yet?"
"Not yet," said Peter, as he started for home.