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The Snowbird's Song
The Red-headed Woodpecker In Cap Of Red
Phyllis sat in her own room, rocking her doll to sleep. The window was
open and the curtain flapped idly in the breeze.
Presently into the room darted a bird. He was beautifully dressed.
His soft gray uniform was spotted and barred with white.
He did not seem in the least alarmed when he found himself in the room
with Phyllis. He perched on the window-ledge and did not even glance
at the little girl.
In a moment he flew to the ledge above her door. With his strong
little bill he began to rap, rap, rap at the wood.
"You act like a woodpecker, but you do not look like one," said Phyllis.
"That shows that you do not know all about woodpeckers," said the gray,
downy bird. "I belong to the family of red-headed woodpeckers."
"You?" cried Phyllis, amazed. "But where is your red cap, and where is
your white vest, and where is your black coat? You are trying to fool
me, my friend."
"My father and mother have crimson heads and necks and throats. They
have white breasts. They have black backs and wings and tails. When
they fly, the broad white bands on the wings are quite plain to be seen.
"My home nest is that in the trunk of the old oak by the gate."
"It is very queer," said Phyllis. "Perhaps some other bird laid an egg
in the woodpeckers' nest by mistake."
The small bird fluttered quite helplessly with laughter.
"Oh, no, Phyllis, I see I have to tell you all about it. I am a
woodpecker, surely. But I am quite young yet. It is not a week since
I had my first lesson in flying."
"You fly very well for a young bird," said Phyllis.
"Well, my mother is very wise," said the bird.
"She does not think it well for her babies to get out of the nest until
they have grown quite large. She says that if we wait until our wings
are strong we will not be so apt to fall into danger.
"So I remained inside the nest until I was quite a large, strong bird.
Then my parents called me out and taught me to fly.
"Only yesterday I asked my mother why I did not wear a dress and cap
like her own.
"She said, 'Wait a little longer, my child. When you are quite grown
your cap will be as red as my own. You will look so much like your
father and me that those children down there will be unable to tell us
"It is little wonder that you did not know me for a woodpecker in this
simple gray dress. All woodpecker children, however, dress in this
quiet fashion at first. I shall be happy when I get my gorgeous red
"Well," said Phyllis, "I am very glad you came to see me. I knew there
was a nest in the old oak-tree. I watched your father and mother one
whole morning a few weeks ago. I think they chose the oak because of
those old dead branches.
"I saw your mother brace herself against the tree with her stiff tail.
Then how her wedge-shaped bill rapped and rapped against the wood. For
fully twenty minutes she rapped away at the rotten wood. Then she grew
tired and your father took her place at the tree-trunk.
"Soon they pecked a hole deep enough to hide them from sight, but their
constant rap, rap, rap could still be heard.
"I wondered how deep they made the hole, but it was too high for me to
climb to find out."
"Having just come from the nest I can tell you all about it," replied
the young woodpecker. "My parents dug down into the soft trunk to a
depth of perhaps eighteen inches. At the bottom they hollowed out a
large roomy place for the nest. They did not line it with feathers or
grasses. Instead of a bed of moss was a little sawdust and the smooth
white sides of the oak.
"In this nest my mother laid six pure white eggs. She sat on them and
kept them warm until at last six downy birds came out of the shells.
"We were hungry little things. Both our mother and father were kept
busy filling our greedy, ever-open mouths.
"And whatever they brought was sure to be very nice. Sometimes it was
a cherry or a berry, sometimes a bit of pear or apple.
"But, best of all, were the fat, juicy little grubs which they often
"I asked my father where he got the grubs. He made fun of me and
called out to my mother in his shrill, lively way.
"She said that that was a thing which every young woodpecker should
find out for himself.
"After that, every time a fat grub was brought to me, I wondered if I
should ever be able to find them when I began to shift for myself.
"At last my wings were strong enough and my parents called me out of
the nest. I very soon found that the fat grubs lived beneath the bark
of my own oak-tree. All I had to do was to strike my bill into the
bark and bear off the prize."
"Were you sorry to leave your safe high nest?" asked Phyllis.
"Indeed it was not so safe," said the young woodpecker. "On the day
that I left the nest a great black snake crept in. He swallowed my
little brothers and sisters.
"My parents were wild with grief. They said that was the thing they
always dreaded, that such things often happened in woodpeckers' nests."
"How sad!" said Phyllis. "I should never have thought of snakes!"
"They are our greatest danger," was the reply. "Squirrels sometimes
come in and steal the nuts and corn we have stored away, but the snake
is the most to be feared."
"So you store away food?" Phyllis asked. "Do you stay here in the
"Oh, yes, we often stay all winter. Have you not seen us flying about
among the trees in the winter-time?"
By this time the bird sat on the window-sill.
"Must you go?" asked Phyllis. "Here is a strawberry for you."
"Thanks," said the bird, pecking away at the fruit. "I am just off to
the corn-field. My father showed me this morning how to open the husks
of the green corn to get at the rich, milky kernels inside."
"When you get your red cap, come back," cried Phyllis, and the young
woodpecker's lively cry answered from the corn-field.
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