The cordial reception given the Burgess Bird Book for Children, together with numerous letters to the author asking for information on the habits and characteristics of many of the mammals of America, led to the preparation of this volume. It is offered merely as an introduction to the four-footed friends, little and big, which form so important a part of the wild life of the United States and Canada.
There has been no attempt to describe or classify sub-species. That is for the scientist and student with specific interests. The purpose of this book is to acquaint the reader with the larger groups — orders, families, and divisions of the latter, so that typical representatives may be recognized and their habits understood.
Instead of the word mammal, the word animal has been used throughout as having a better defined meaning to the average child. A conscientious effort to avoid technical terms and descriptions has been made that there may be nothing to confuse the young mind. Clarity and simplicity have been the objects kept constantly in view.
At the same time the utmost care to be accurate in the smallest details has been exercised. To this end the works of leading authorities on American mammals have been carefully consulted and compared. No statements which are not confirmed by two or more naturalists of recognized standing have been made.
In this research work the writings of Audubon and Bachman, Dr. E.W. Neson, Dr. C. Hart Merriam, Dr. W.T. Hornaday, Ernest Thompson Seton and others, together with the bulletins of the Biological Survey of the Department of Agriculture at Washington, have been of the greatest value. I herewith acknowledge my debt to these.
Whatever the text may lack in clearness of description will be amply compensated for by the wonderful drawings in color and black-an-white by Mr. Louis Agassiz Fuertes, the artist-naturalist, whose hearty cooperation has been a source of great help to me. These drawings were made especially for this book and add in no small degree to such value as it may possess.
If the reading of these pages shall lead even a few to an active interest in our wild animals, stimulating a desire to preserve and protect a priceless heritage from the past which a heedless present threatens through wanton and reckless waste to deny the future, the labor will have been well worth while.
Only through intimate acquaintance may understanding of the animals in their relations to each other and to man be attained. To serve as a medium for this purpose this book has been written. As such I offer it to the children of America, conscious of its shortcomings yet hopeful that it will prove of some value in acquainting them with their friends and mine — the animals of field and wood, of mountain and desert, in the truest sense the first citizens of America. THORNTON W. BURGESS
“As sure as you’re alive now, Peter Rabbit, some day I will catch you,” snarled Reddy Fox, as he poked his black nose in the hole between the roots of the Big Hickory-tree which grows close to the Smiling Pool. “It is lucky for you that you were not one jump farther away from this hole.”
Peter, safe inside that hole, didn’t have a word to say, or, if he did, he didn’t have breath enough to say it. It was quite true that if he had been one jump farther from that hole, Reddy Fox would have caught him. As it was, the hairs on Peter’s funny white tail actually had tickled Reddy’s back as Peter plunged frantically through the root-bound entrance to that hole. It had been the narrowest escape Peter had had for a long, long time. You see, Reddy Fox had surprised Peter nibbling sweet clover on the bank of the Smiling Pond, and it had been a lucky thing for Peter that that hole, dug long ago by Johnny Chuck’s grandfather, had been right where it was. Also, it was a lucky thing that old Mr. Chuck had been wise enough to make the entrance between the roots of that tree in such a way that it could not be dug any larger.
Reddy Fox was too shrewd to waste any time trying to dig it larger. He knew there wasn’t room enough for him to get between those roots. So, after trying to make Peter as uncomfortable as possible by telling him what he, Reddy, would do to him when he did catch him, Reddy trotted off across the Green Meadows. Peter remained where he was for a long time. When he was quite sure that it was safe to do so, he crept out and hurried, lipperty-lipperty-lip, up to the Old Orchard. He felt that that would be the safest place for him, because there were ever so many hiding places in the old stone wall along the edge of it.
When Peter reached the Old Orchard, who should he see but Jenny Wren. Jenny had arrived that very morning from the Sunny South where she had spent the winter. “Tut, tut, tut, tut, tut!” exclaimed Jenny as soon as she saw Peter. “If here isn’t Peter Rabbit himself! How did you manage to keep out of the clutches of Reddy Fox all the long winter?”
Peter chuckled. “I didn’t have much trouble with Reddy during the winter,” said he, “but this very morning he so nearly caught me that it is a wonder that my hair is not snow white from fright.” Then he told Jenny all about his narrow escape. “Had it not been for that handy hole of Grandfather Chuck, I couldn’t possibly have escaped,” concluded Peter.
Jenny Wren cocked her pert little head on one side, and her sharp little eyes snapped. “Why don’t you learn to swim, Peter, like your cousin down in the Sunny South?” she demanded. “If he had been in your place, he would simply have plunged into the Smiling Pool and laughed at Reddy Fox.”
Peter sat bolt upright with his eyes very wide open. In them was a funny look of surprise as he stared up at Jenny Wren. “What are you talking about, Jenny Wren?” he demanded. “Don’t you know that none of the Rabbit family swim unless it is to cross the Laughing Brook when there is no other way of getting to the other side, or when actually driven into the water by an enemy from whom there is no other escape? I can swim a little if I have to, but you don’t catch me in the water when I can stay on land. What is more, you won’t find any other members of my family doing such a thing.”
“Tut, tut, tut, tut, Peter!” exclaimed Jenny Wren in her sharp, scolding voice. “Tut, tut, tut, tut! For a fellow who has been so curious about the ways of his feathered neighbors, you know very little about your own family. If I were in your place I would learn about my own relatives before I became curious about my neighbors. How many relatives have you, Peter?”
“One,” replied Peter promptly, “my big cousin, Jumper the Hare.”
Jenny Wren threw back her head and laughed and laughed and laughed. It was a most irritating and provoking laugh. Finally Peter began to lose patience. “What are you laughing at?” he demanded crossly. “You know very well that Jumper the Hare is the only cousin I have.”
Jenny Wren laughed harder that ever.
“Peter!” she gasped. “Peter, you will be the death of me. Why, down in the Sunny South, where I spent the winter, you have a cousin who is more closely related to you than Jumper the Hare. And what is more, he is almost as fond of the water as Jerry Muskrat. He was called the Marsh Rabbit or Marsh Hare, and many a time I have watched him swimming about by the hour.”
“I don’t believe it!” declared Peter angrily. “I don’t believe a word of it. You are simply trying to fool me, Jenny Wren. There never was a Rabbit and there never will be a Rabbit who would go swimming for the fun of it. I belong to the Cottontail branch of the Hare family, and it is a fine family if I do say so. My cousin Jumper is a true Hare, and the only difference between us is that he is bigger, has longer legs and ears, changes the color of his coat in winter, and seldom, if ever, goes into holes in the ground. The idea of trying to tell me I don’t know about my own relatives.”
Jenny Wren suddenly became sober. “Peter,” said she very earnestly, “take my advice and go to school to Old Mother Nature for awhile. What I have told you is true, every word of it. You have a cousin down in the Sunny South who spends half his time in the water. What is more, I suspect that you and Jumper have other relatives of whom you’ve never heard. Such ignorance would be laughable if it were not to be pitied. This is what comes of never having traveled. Go to school to Old Mother Nature for a while, Peter. It will pay you.” With this, Jenny Wren flew away to hunt for Mr. Wren that they might decide where to make their home for the summer.
Peter tried to believe that what Jenny Wren had told him was nothing but a story, but do what he would, he couldn’t rid himself of a little doubt. He tried to interest himself in the affairs of the other little people of Old Orchard, but it was useless. That little doubt kept growing and growing. Could it be possible that Jenny Wren had spoken the truth? Could it be that he really didn’t know what relatives he had or anything about them? Of course Old Mother Nature could tell him all he wanted to know. And he knew that whatever she might tell him would be true.
Finally that growing doubt, together with the curiosity which has led poor Peter to do so many queer things, proved too much for him and he started for the Green Forest to look for Old Mother Nature. It didn’t take long to find her. She was very busy, for there is no time in all the year when Old Mother Nature has quite so much to do as in the spring.
“If you please, Old Mother Nature,” said Peter timidly but very politely, “I’ve some questions I want to ask you.”
Old Mother Nature’s eyes twinkled in a kindly way. “All right, Peter,” she replied. “I guess I can talk and work at the same time. What is it you want to know?”
“I want to know if it is true that there are any other members of the Rabbit and the Hare family besides my big cousin, Jumper, who lives here in the Green Forest, and myself.”
Old Mother Nature’s eyes twinkled more than ever. “Why, of course, Peter,” she replied. “There are several other members. You ought to know that. But then, I suppose you don’t because you never have traveled. It is surprising how little some folks know about the very things they ought to know most about.”
Peter looked very humble and as if he felt a little bit foolish. “Is — is — is it true that way down in the Sunny South I have a cousin who loves to spend his time in the water?” stammered Peter.
“It certainly is, Peter,” replied Old Mother Nature. “He is called the Marsh Rabbit, and he is more nearly your size, and looks more like you, than any of your other cousins.”
Peter gulped as if he were swallowing something that went down hard. “That is what Jenny Wren said, but I didn’t believe her,” replied Peter meekly. “She said she had often watched him swimming about like Jerry Muskrat.”
Old Mother Nature nodded. “Quite true. Quite true,” said she. “He is quite as much at home in the water as on land, if anything a little more so. He is one member the family who takes to the water, and he certainly does love it. Is there anything else you want to know, Peter?”
Peter shifted about uneasily and hesitated. “What is it, Peter?” asked Old Mother Nature kindly. “There is nothing in the Great World equal to knowledge, and if I can add to your store of it I will be very glad to.”
Peter took heart. “If — if you please, Mother Nature, I would like to learn all about my family. May come to school to you every day?”
Old Mother Nature laughed right out. “Certainly you may go to school to me, old Mr. Curiosity,” said she. “It is a good idea; a very good idea. I’m very busy, as you can see, but I’m never too busy to teach those who really want to learn. We’ll have a lesson here every morning just at sun-up. I can’t be bothered any more to-day, because it is late. Run along home to the dear Old Briar-patch and think up some questions to ask me to-morrow morning. And, by the way, Peter, I will ask YOU some questions. For one thing I shall ask you to tell me all you know about your own family. Now scamper along and be here to-morrow morning at sun-up.”
“May I bring my cousin, Jumper the Hare, if he wants to come?” asked Peter, as he prepared to obey Old Mother Nature.
“Bring him along and any one else who wants to learn,” replied Old Mother Nature kindly.
Peter bade her good-by in his most polite manner and then scampered as fast as he could go, lipperty-lipperty-lip, to the dear Old Briar-patch. There he spent the remainder of the day thinking up questions and also trying to find out how much he really did know about his own family.
Hardly had jolly, round, red Mr. Sun thrown off his rosy blankets and begun his daily climb up in the blue, blue sky when Peter Rabbit and his cousin, Jumper the Hare, arrived at the place in the Green Forest where Peter had found Old Mother Nature the day before. She was waiting for them, ready to begin the first lesson.
“I am glad you are so prompt,” said she. “Promptness is one of the most important things in life. Now I am very, very busy these days, as you know, so we will begin school at once. Before either of you ask any questions, I am going to ask some myself. Peter, what do you look like? Where do you live? What do you eat? I want to find out just how much you really know about yourself.”
Peter scratched one ear with a long hind foot and hesitated as if he didn’t know just how to begin. Old Mother Nature waited patiently. Finally Peter began rather timidly.
“Of course,” said he, “the only way I know how I look is by the way the other members of my family look, for I’ve never seen myself. I suppose in a way I look like all the rest of the Rabbit family. I have long hind legs and short front ones. I suppose this is so I can make long jumps when I am in a hurry.”
Old Mother Nature nodded, and Peter, taking courage, continued. “My hind legs are stout and strong, but my front ones are rather weak. I guess this is because I do not have a great deal of use for them, except for running. My coat is a sort of mixture of brown and gray, more brown in summer and more gray in winter. My ears are longer for my size than are those of most animals, but really not very long after all, not nearly as long for my size as my cousin Jumper’s are for his size. My tail doesn’t amount to much because it is so short that it is hardly worth calling a tail. It is so short I carry it straight up. It is white like a little bunch of cotton, and I suppose that that is why I am called a Cottontail Rabbit, though I have heard that some folks call me a Gray Rabbit and others a Bush Rabbit. I guess I’m called Bush Rabbit because I like bushy country in which to live.”
“I live in the dear Old Briar-patch and just love it. It is a mass of bushes and bramble-tangles and is the safest place I know of. I have cut little paths all through it just big enough for Mrs. Peter and myself. None of our enemies can get at us there, excepting Shadow the Weasel or Billy Mink. I have a sort of nest there where I spend my time when I am not running about. It is called a form and I sit in it a great deal.”
“In summer I eat clover, grass and other green things, and I just love to get over into Farmer Brown’s garden. In winter I have to take what I can get, and this is mostly bark from young trees, buds and tender twigs of bushes, and any green plants I can find under the snow. I can run fast for a short distance, but only for a short distance. That is why I like thick brush and bramble-tangles. There I can dodge. I don’t know any one who can beat me at dodging. If Reddy Fox or Bowser the Hound surprises me away from the dear Old Briar-patch I run for the nearest hollow log or hole in the ground. Sometimes in summer I dig a hole for myself, but not often. It is much easier to use a hole somebody else has dug. When I want to signal my friends I thump the ground with my hind feet. Jumper does the same thing. I forgot to say I don’t like water.”
Old Mother Nature smiled. “You are thinking of that cousin of yours, the Marsh Rabbit who lives way down in the Sunny South,” said she.
Peter looked a wee bit foolish and admitted that he was. Jumper the Hare was all interest at once. You see, he had never heard of this cousin.
“That was a very good account of yourself, Peter,” said Old Mother Nature. “Now take a look at your cousin, Jumper the Hare, and tell me how he differs from you.”
Peter took a long look at Jumper, and then, as before, scratched one ear with a long hind foot. “In the first place,” said he, “Jumper is considerably bigger than I. He has very long hind legs and his ears are very long. In summer he wears a brown coat, but in winter he is all white but the tips of those long ears, and those are black. Because his coat changes so, he is called the varying Hare. He likes the Green Forest where the trees grow close together, especially those places where there are a great many young trees. He’s the biggest member of our family. I guess that’s all I know about Cousin Jumper.”
“That is very good, Peter, as far as it goes,” said Old Mother Nature. “You have made only one mistake. Jumper is not the biggest of his family.”
Both Peter and Jumper opened their eyes very wide with surprise. “Also,” continued Old Mother Nature, “you forgot to mention the fact that Jumper never hides in hollow logs and holes in the ground as you do. Why don’t you, Jumper?”