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Birds and Bees, Sharp Eyes and Other Papers by John Burroughs

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Poor Mr. Bull's Eye was deeply humiliated. "Just the chance I had been
looking for," he said, "and my wits suddenly left me."

As a hunter Uncle Nathan always took the game on its own terms, that of
still-hunting. He even shot foxes in this way, going into the fields
in the fall just at break of day, and watching for them about their
mousing haunts. One morning, by these tactics, he shot a black fox;
a fine specimen, he said, and a wild one, for he stopped and looked and
listened every few yards.

He had killed over two hundred moose, a large number of them at night
on the lakes. His method was to go out in his canoe and conceal
himself by some point or island, and wait till he heard the game.
In the fall the moose comes into the water to eat the large fibrous
roots of the pond-lilies. He splashes along till he finds a suitable
spot, when he begins feeding, sometimes thrusting his bead and neck
several feet under water. The hunter listens, and when the moose lifts
his head and the rills of water run from it, and he hears him "swash"
the lily roots about to get off the mud, it is his time to start.
Silently as a shadow he creeps up on the moose, who by the way,
it seems, never expects the approach of danger from the water side.
If the hunter accidentally makes a noise the moose looks toward the
shore for it. There is always a slight gleam on the water,
Uncle Nathan says, even in the darkest night, and the dusky form of the
moose can be distinctly seen upon it. When the hunter sees this darker
shadow he lifts his gun to the sky and gets the range of its barrels,
then lowers it till it covers the mark, and fires.

The largest moose Uncle Nathan ever killed is mounted in the State
House at Augusta. He shot him while hunting in winter on snow-shoes.
The moose was reposing upon the ground, with his head stretched out in
front of him, as one may sometimes see a cow resting. The position was
such that only a quartering shot through the animal's hip could reach
its heart. Studying the problem carefully, and taking his own time,
the hunter fired. The moose sprang into the air, turned, and came with
tremendous strides straight toward him. "I knew he had not seen or
scented me," said Uncle Nathan, "but, by hemp, I wished myself
somewhere else just then; for I was lying right down in his path."
But the noble animal stopped, a few yards short, and fell dead with a
bullet-hole through his heart.

When the moose yard in the winter, that is, restrict their wanderings
to a well-defined section of the forest or mountain, trampling down the
snow and beating paths in all directions, they browse off only the most
dainty morsels first; when they go over the ground a second time they
crop a little cleaner; the third time they sort still closer, till by
and by nothing is left. Spruce, hemlock, poplar, the barks of various
trees, everything within reach, is cropped close. When the hunter
comes upon one of these yards the problem for him to settle is, Where
are the moose? for it is absolutely necessary that he keep on the lee
side of them. So he considers the lay of the land, the direction of
the wind, the time of day, the depth of the snow, examines the spoor,
the cropped twigs, and studies every hint and clew like a detective.
Uncle Nathan said he could not explain to another how he did it, but
he could usually tell in a few minutes in what direction to look for
the game. His experience had ripened into a kind of intuition or
winged reasoning that was above rules.

He said that most large game, deer, caribou, moose, bear, when started
by the hunter and not much scared, were sure to stop and look back
before disappearing from sight: he usually waited for this last and
best chance to fire. He told us of a huge bear he had seen one morning
while still-hunting foxes in the fields; the bear saw him, and got into
the woods before he could get a good shot. In her course some distance
up the mountain was a bald, open spot, and he felt sure when she
crossed this spot she would pause and look behind her; and sure enough,
like Lot's wife, her curiosity got the better of her; she stopped to
have a final look, and her travels ended there and then.

Uncle Nathan had trapped and shot a great many bears, and some of his
experiences revealed an unusual degree of sagacity in this animal.
One April, when the weather began to get warm and thawy, an old bear
left her den in the rocks and built a large, warm nest of grass,
leaves, and the bark of the white cedar, under a tall balsam fir that
stood in a low, sunny, open place amid the mountains. Hither she
conducted her two cubs, and the family began life in what might be
called their spring residence. The tree above them was for shelter,
and for refuge for the cubs in case danger approached, as it soon did
in the form of Uncle Nathan. He happened that way soon after the bear
had moved. Seeing her track in the snow, he concluded to follow it.
When the bear had passed, the snow had been soft and sposhy, and she
had "slumped," he said, several inches. It was now hard and slippery.
As he neared the tree the track turned and doubled, and tacked this way
and that, and led through the worst brush and brambles to be found.
This was a shrewd thought of the old bear; she could thus hear her
enemy coming a long time before he drew very near. When Uncle Nathan
finally reached the nest, he found it empty, but still warm. Then he
began to circle about and look for the bear's footprints or nail-prints
upon the frozen snow. Not finding them the first time, he took a
larger circle, then a still larger; finally he made a long detour,
and spent nearly an hour searching for some clew to the direction the
bear had taken, but all to no purpose. Then he returned to the tree
and scrutinized it. The foliage was very dense, but presently he made
out one of the cubs near the top, standing up amid the branches, and
peering down at him. This he killed. Further search only revealed a
mass of foliage apparently more dense than usual, but a bullet sent
into it was followed by loud whimpering and crying, and the other baby
bear came tumbling down. In leaving the place, greatly puzzled as to
what had become of the mother bear, Uncle Nathan followed another of
her frozen tracks, and after about a quarter of a mile saw beside it,
upon the snow, the fresh trail he had been in search of. In making her
escape the bear had stepped exactly in her old tracks that were hard
and icy, and had thus left no mark till she took to the snow again.

During his trapping expeditions into the woods in midwinter, I was
curious to know how Uncle Nathan passed the nights, as we were twice
pinched with the cold at that season in our tent and blankets. It was
no trouble to keep warm, he said, in the coldest weather. As night
approached, he would select a place for his camp on the side of a hill.
With one of his snow-shoes he would shovel out the snow till the ground
was reached, carrying the snow out in front, as we scrape the earth out
of the side of a hill to level up a place for the house and yard.
On this level place, which, however, was made to incline slightly
toward the hill, his bed of boughs was made. On the ground he had
uncovered he built his fire. His bed was thus on a level with the
fire, and the heat could not thaw the snow under him and let him down,
or the burning logs roll upon him. With a steep ascent behind it the
fire burned better, and the wind was not so apt to drive the smoke and
blaze in upon him. Then, with the long, curving branches of the spruce
stuck thickly around three sides of the bed, and curving over and
uniting their tops above it, a shelter was formed that would keep out
the cold and the snow, and that would catch and retain the warmth of
the fire. Rolled in his blanket in such a nest, Uncle Nathan
had passed hundreds of the most frigid winter nights.

One day we made an excursion of three miles through the woods to Bald
Mountain, following a dim trail. We saw, as we filed silently along,
plenty of signs of caribou, deer, and bear, but were not blessed with a
sight of either of the animals themselves. I noticed that
Uncle Nathan, in looking through the woods, did not hold his head as we
did, but thrust it slightly forward, and peered under the branches like
a deer or other wild creature.

The summit of Bald Mountain was the most impressive mountain-top I had
ever seen, mainly, perhaps, because it was one enormous crown of nearly
naked granite. The rock had that gray, elemental, eternal look which
granite alone has. One seemed to be face to face with the gods of the
fore-world. Like an atom, like a breath of to-day, we were suddenly
confronted by abysmal geologic time,--the eternities past and the
eternities to come. The enormous cleavage of the rocks, the appalling
cracks and fissures, the rent boulders, the smitten granite floors,
gave one a new sense of the power of heat and frost. In one place we
noticed several deep parallel grooves, made by the old glaciers.
In the depressions on the summit there was a hard, black, peaty-like
soil that looked indescribably ancient and unfamiliar. Out of this
mould, that might have come from the moon or the interplanetary spaces,
were growing mountain cranberries and blueberries or huckleberries.
We were soon so absorbed in gathering the latter that we were quite
oblivious of the grandeurs about us. It is these blueberries that
attract the bears. In eating them, Uncle Nathan said, they take the
bushes in their mouths, and by an upward movement strip them clean of
both leaves and berries. We were constantly on the lookout for the
bears, but failed to see any. Yet a few days afterward, when two of
our party returned here and encamped upon the mountain, they saw five
during their stay, but failed to get a good shot. The rifle was in the
wrong place each time. The man with the shot-gun saw an old bear and
two cubs lift themselves from behind a rock and twist their noses
around for his scent, and then shrink away. They were too far off for
his buckshot. I must not forget the superb view that lay before us,
a wilderness of woods and waters stretching away to the horizon on
every band. Nearly a dozen lakes and ponds could be seen, and in a
clearer atmosphere the foot of Moosehead Lake would have been visible.
The highest and most striking mountain to be seen was Mount Bigelow,
rising above Dead River, far to the west, and its two sharp peaks
notching the horizon like enormous saw-teeth. We walked around and
viewed curiously a huge boulder on the top of the mountain that had
been split in two vertically, and one of the halves moved a few feet
out of its bed. It looked recent and familiar, but suggested gods
instead of men. The force that moved the rock had plainly come from
the north. I thought of a similar boulder I had seen not long before
on the highest point of the Shawangunk Mountains in New York, one side
of which is propped up with a large stone, as wall-builders prop up a
rock to wrap a chain around it. The rock seems poised lightly, and has
but a few points of bearing. In this instance, too, the power had come
from the north.

The prettiest botanical specimen my trip yielded was a little plant
that bears the ugly name of horned bladderwort (Utricularia cornuta),
and which I found growing in marshy places along the shores of Moxie
Lake. It has a slender, naked stem nearly a foot high, crowned by two
or more large deep yellow flowers,--flowers the shape of little bonnets
or hoods. One almost expected to see tiny faces looking out of them.
This illusion is heightened by the horn or spur of the flower, which
projects from the hood like a long tapering chin,--some masker's
device. Then the cape behind,--what a smart upward curve it has, as if
spurned by the fairy shoulders it was meant to cover! But perhaps the
most notable thing about the flower was its fragrance,--the richest and
strongest perfume I have ever found in a wild flower. This our
botanist, Gray, does not mention; as if one should describe the lark
and forget its song. The fragrance suggested that of white clover, but
was more rank and spicy.

The woods about Moxie Lake were literally carpeted with LinnŠa. I had
never seen it in such profusion. In early summer, the period of its
bloom, what a charming spectacle the mossy floors of these remote woods
must present! The flowers are purple rose-color, nodding and fragrant.
Another very abundant plant in these woods was the Clintonia borealis.
Uncle Nathan said it was called "bear's corn," though he did not know
why. The only noticeable flower by the Maine roadsides at this season
that is not common in other parts of the country is the harebell. Its
bright blue, bell-shaped corolla shone out from amid the dry grass and
weeds all along the route. It was one of the most delicate roadside
flowers I had ever seen.

The only new bird I saw in Maine was the pileated woodpecker, or black
"log cock," called by Uncle Nathan "wood cock." I had never before
seen or heard this bird, and its loud cackle in the woods about Moxie
was a new sound to me. It is the wildest and largest of our northern
woodpeckers, and the rarest. Its voice and the sound of its hammer are
heard only in the depths of the northern woods. It is about as large
as a crow, and nearly as black.

We stayed a week at Moxie, or until we became surfeited with its trout,
and had killed the last Merganser duck that lingered about our end of
the lake. The trout that had accumulated on our hands we had kept
alive in a large champagne basket submerged in the lake, and the
morning we broke camp the basket was towed to the shore and opened;
and after we had feasted our eyes upon the superb spectacle, every
trout, twelve or fifteen in number, some of them two-pounders, was
allowed to swim back into the lake. They went leisurely, in couples
and in trios, and were soon kicking up their heels in their old haunts.
I expect that the divinity who presides over Moxie will see to it that
every one of those trout, doubled in weight, comes to our basket in the


The country is more of a wilderness, more of a wild solitude, in the
winter than in the summer. The wild comes out. The urban, the
cultivated, is hidden or negatived. You shall hardly know a good field
from a poor, a meadow from a pasture, a park from a forest. Lines and
boundaries are disregarded; gates and bar-ways are unclosed; man lets
go his hold upon the earth; title-deeds are deep buried beneath the
snow; the best-kept grounds relapse to a state of nature; under the
pressure of the cold all the wild creatures become outlaws, and roam
abroad beyond their usual haunts. The partridge comes to the orchard
for buds; the rabbit comes to the garden and lawn; the crows and jays
come to the ash-heap and corn-crib, the snow-buntings to the stack and
to the barn-yard; the sparrows pilfer from the domestic fowls; the pine
grosbeak comes down from the north and shears your maples of their
buds; the fox prowls about your premises at night, and the red
squirrels find your grain in the barn or steal the butternuts from your
attic. In fact, winter, 1ike some great calamity, changes the status
of most creatures and sets them adrift. Winter, like poverty, makes us
acquainted with strange bedfellows.

For my part, my nearest approach to a strange bedfellow is the little
gray rabbit that has taken up her abode under my study floor. As she
spends the day here and is out larking at night, she is not much of a
bedfellow after all. It is probable that I disturb her slumbers more
than she does mine. I think she is some support to me under there-a
silent wild-eyed witness and backer; a type of the gentle and harmless
in savage nature. She has no sagacity to give me or lend me, but that
soft, nimble foot of hers, and that touch as of cotton wherever she
goes, are worthy of emulation. I think I can feel her good-will
through the floor, and I hope she can mine. When I have a happy
thought I imagine her ears twitch, especially when I think of the sweet
apple I will place by her doorway at night. I wonder if that fox
chanced to catch a glimpse of her the other night when he stealthily
leaped over the fence near by and walked along between the study and
the house? How clearly one could read that it was not a little dog
that had passed there. There was something furtive in the track;
it shied off away from the house and around it, as if eying it
suspiciously; and then it had the caution and deliberation of the fox
--bold, bold, but not too bold; wariness was in every footprint. If it
had been a little dog that had chanced to wander that way, when he
crossed my path he would have followed it up to the barn and have gone
smelling around for a bone; but this sharp, cautious track held
straight across all others, keeping five or six rods from the house, up
the hill, across the highway towards a neighboring farmstead, with its
nose in the air and its eye and ear alert, so to speak.

A winter neighbor of mine in whom I am interested, and who perhaps
lends me his support after his kind, is a little red owl, whose retreat
is in the heart of an old apple-tree just over the fence. Where he
keeps himself in spring and summer I do not know, but late every fall,
and at intervals all winter, his hiding-place is discovered by the jays
and nut-hatches, and proclaimed from the tree-tops for the space of
half an hour or so, with all the powers of voice they can command.
Four times during one winter they called me out to behold this little
ogre feigning sleep in his den, sometimes in one apple-tree, sometimes
in another. Whenever I heard their cries, I knew my neighbor was being
berated. The birds would take turns at looking in upon him and
uttering their alarm-notes. Every jay within hearing would come to the
spot and at once approach the hole in the trunk or limb, and with a
kind of breathless eagerness and excitement take a peep at the owl, and
then join the outcry. When I approached they would hastily take a
final look and then withdraw and regard my movements intently. After
accustoming my eye to the faint light of the cavity for a few moments,
I could usually make out the owl at the bottom feigning sleep.
Feigning, I say, because this is what he really did, as I first
discovered one day when I cut into his retreat with the axe. The loud
blows and the falling chips did not disturb him at all. When I reached
in a stick and pulled him over on his side, leaving one of his wings
spread out, he made no attempt to recover himself, but lay among the
chips and fragments of decayed wood, like a part of themselves.
Indeed, it took a sharp eye to distinguish him. Nor till I had pulled
him forth by one wing, rather rudely, did he abandon his trick of
simulated sleep or death. Then, like a detected pickpocket, he was
suddenly transformed into another creature. His eyes flew wide open,
his talons clutched my finger, his ears were depressed, and every
motion and look said, "Hands off, at your peril." Finding this game
did not work, he soon began to "play 'possum " again. I put a cover
over my study wood-box and kept him captive for a week. Look in upon
him any time, night or day, and he was apparently wrapped in the
profoundest slumber; but the live mice which I put into his box from
time to time found his sleep was easily broken; there would be a sudden
rustle in the box, a faint squeak, and then silence. After a week of
captivity I gave him his freedom in the full sunshine: no trouble for
him to see which way and where to go.

Just at dusk in the winter nights, I often hear his soft bur-r-r-r,
very pleasing and bell-like. What a furtive, woody sound it is in the
winter stillness, so unlike the harsh scream of the hawk. But all the
ways of the owl are ways of softness and duskiness. His wings are shod
with silence, his plumage is edged with down.

Another owl neighbor of mine, with whom I pass the time of day more
frequently than with the last, lives farther away. I pass his castle
every night on my way to the post-office, and in winter, if the hour is
late enough, am pretty sure to see him standing in his doorway,
surveying the passers-by and the landscape through narrow slits in his
eyes. For four successive winters now have I observed him. As the
twilight begins to deepen he rises out of his cavity in the apple-tree,
scarcely faster than the moon rises from behind the hill, and sits in
the opening, completely framed by its outlines of gray bark and dead
wood, and by his protective coloring virtually invisible to every eye
that does not know he is there. Probably my own is the only eye that
has ever penetrated his secret, and mine never would have done so had I
not chanced on one occasion to see him leave his retreat and make a
raid upon a shrike that was impaling a shrew-mouse upon a thorn in a
neighboring tree and which I was watching. Failing to get the mouse,
the owl returned swiftly to his cavity, and ever since, while going
that way, I have been on the lookout for him. Dozens of teams and
foot-passengers pass him late in the day, but he regards them not, nor
they him. When I come alone and pause to salute him, he opens his eyes
a little wider, and, appearing to recognize me, quickly shrinks and
fades into the background of his door in a very weird and curious
manner. When he is not at his outlook, or when he is, it requires the
best powers of the eye to decide the point, as the empty cavity itself
is almost an exact image of him. If the whole thing had been carefully
studied it could not have answered its purpose better. The owl stands
quite perpendicular, presenting a front of light mottled gray; the eyes
are closed to a mere slit, the ear-feathers depressed, the beak buried
in the plumage, and the whole attitude is one of silent, motionless
waiting and observation. If a mouse should be seen crossing the
highway, or scudding over any exposed part of the snowy surface in the
twilight, the owl would doubtless swoop down upon it. I think the owl
has learned to distinguish me from the rest of the passers-by;
at least, when I stop before him, and he sees himself observed,
he backs down into his den, as I have said, in a very amusing manner.
Whether bluebirds, nut-hatches, and chickadees --birds that pass the
night in cavities of trees--ever run into the clutches of the dozing
owl, I should be glad to know. My impression is, however, that they
seek out smaller cavities. An old willow by the roadside blew down one
summer, and a decayed branch broke open, revealing a brood of
half-fledged owls, and many feathers and quills of bluebirds, orioles,
and other songsters, showing plainly enough why all birds fear and
berate the owl.

The English house sparrows, that are so rapidly increasing among us,
and that must add greatly to the food supply of the owls and other
birds of prey, seek to baffle their enemies by roosting in the densest
evergreens they can find, in the arbor-vitŠ, and in hemlock hedges.
Soft-winged as the owl is, he cannot steal in upon such a retreat
without giving them warning.

These sparrows are becoming about the most noticeable of my winter
neighbors, and a troop of them every morning watch me put out the hens'
feed, and soon claim their share. I rather encouraged them in their
neighborliness, till one day I discovered the snow under a favorite
plum-tree where they most frequently perched covered with the scales of
the fruit-buds. On investigating I found that the tree had been nearly
stripped of its buds--a very unneighborly act on the part of the
sparrows, considering, too, all the cracked corn I had scattered for
them. So I at once served notice on them that our good understanding
was at an end. And a hint is as good as a kick with this bird.
The stone I hurled among them, and the one with which I followed them
up, may have been taken as a kick; but they were only a hint of the
shot-gun that stood ready in the corner. The sparrows left in high
dungeon, and were not back again in some days, and were then very shy.
No doubt the time is near at hand when we shall have to wage serious
war upon these sparrows, as they long have had to do on the continent
of Europe. And yet it will be hard to kill the little wretches, the
only Old World bird we have. When I take down my gun to shoot them I
shall probably remember that the Psalmist said, "I watch, and am as a
sparrow alone upon the house-top," and maybe the recollection will
cause me to stay my hand. The sparrows have the Old World hardiness
and prolificness; they are wise and tenacious of life, and we shall
find it by and by no small matter to keep them in check. Our native
birds are much different, less prolific, less shrewd, less aggressive
and persistent, less quick-witted and able to read the note of danger
or hostility--in short, less sophisticated. Most of our birds are yet
essentially wild, that is, little changed by civilization. In winter,
especially, they sweep by me and around me in flocks,--the Canada
sparrow, the snow-bunting, the shore-lark, the pine grosbeak,
the red-poll, the cedar-bird,--feeding upon frozen apples in the
orchard, upon cedar-berries, upon maple-buds, and the berries of the
mountain ash, and the celtis, and upon the seeds of the weeds that rise
above the snow in the field, or upon the hay-seed dropped where the
cattle have been foddered in the barn-yard or about the distant stack;
but yet taking no heed of man, in no way changing their habits so as to
take advantage of his presence in nature. The pine grosbeak will come
in numbers upon your porch, to get the black drupes of the honeysuckle
or the woodbine, or within reach of your windows to get the berries of
the mountain-ash, but they know you not; they look at you as innocently
and unconcernedly as at a bear or moose in their native north, and your
house is no more to them than a ledge of rocks.

The only ones of my winter neighbors that actua1ly rap at my door are
the nut-hatches and woodpeckers, and these do not know that it is my
door. My retreat is covered with the bark of young chestnut-trees, and
the birds, I suspect, mistake it for a huge stump that ought to hold
fat grubs (there is not even a bookworm inside of it), and their loud
rapping often makes me think I have a caller indeed. I place fragments
of hickory-nuts in the interstices of the bark, and thus attract the
nut-hatches; a bone upon my window-sill attracts both nut-hatches and
the downy woodpecker. They peep in curiously through the window upon
me, pecking away at my bone, too often a very poor one. A bone nailed
to a tree a few feet in front of the window attracts crows as well as
lesser birds. Even the slate-colored snow-bird, a seed-eater, comes
and nibbles it occasionally.

The bird that seems to consider he has the best right to the bone both
upon the tree and upon the sill is the downy woodpecker, my favorite
neighbor among the winter birds, to whom I will mainly devote the
remainder of this chapter. His retreat is but a few paces from my own,
in the decayed limb of an apple-tree which he excavated several autumns
ago. I say "he" because the red plume on the top of his head proclaims
the sex. It seems not to be generally known to our writers upon
ornithology that certain of our woodpeckers--probably all the winter
residents--each fall excavate a limb or the trunk of a tree in which to
pass the winter, and that the cavity is abandoned in the spring,
probably for a new one in which nidification takes place. So far as I
have observed, these cavities are drilled out only by the males. Where
the females take up their quarters I am not so well informed, though I
suspect that they use the abandoned holes of the males of the previous

The particular woodpecker to which I refer drilled his first hole in my
apple-tree one fall four or five years ago. This he occupied till the
following spring when he abandoned it. The next fall he began a hole
in an adjoining limb, later than before, and when it was about half
completed a female took possession of his old quarters. I am sorry to
say that this seemed to enrage the male, very much, and he persecuted
the poor bird whenever she appeared upon the scene. He would fly at
her spitefully and drive her off. One chilly November morning, as I
passed under the tree, I heard the hammer of the little architect in
his cavity, and at the same time saw the persecuted female sitting at
the entrance of the other hole as if she would fain come out. She was
actually shivering, probably from both fear and cold. I understood
the situation at a glance; the bird was afraid to come forth and brave
the anger of the male. Not till I had rapped smartly upon the limb
with my stick did she come out and attempt to escape; but she had not
gone ten feet from the tree before the male was in hot pursuit, and in
a few moments had driven her back to the same tree, where she tried to
avoid him among the branches. A few days after, he rid himself of his
unwelcome neighbor in the following ingenious manner: he fairly
scuttled the other cavity; he drilled a hole into the bottom of it that
let in the light and the cold, and I saw the female there no more.
I did not see him in the act of rendering this tenement uninhabitable;
but one morning, behold it was punctured at the bottom, and the
circumstances all seemed to point to him as the author of it. There is
probably no gallantry among the birds except at the mating season.
I have frequently seen the male woodpecker drive the female away from
the bone upon the tree. When she hopped around to the other end and
timidly nibbled it, he would presently dart spitefully at her.
She would then take up her position in his rear and wait till he had
finished his meal. The position of the female among the birds is very
much the same as that of woman among savage tribes. Most of the
drudgery of life falls upon her, and the leavings of the males are
often her lot.

My bird is a genuine little savage, doubtless, but I value him as a
neighbor. It is a satisfaction during the cold or stormy winter nights
to know he is warm and cosy there in his retreat. When the day is bad
and unfit to be abroad in; he is there too. When I wish to know if he
is at home, I go and rap upon his tree, and, if he is not too lazy or
indifferent, after some delay he shows his head in his round doorway
about ten feet above, and looks down inquiringly upon me--sometimes
latterly I think half resentfully, as much as to say, "I would thank
you not to disturb me so often." After sundown, he will not put his
head out any more when I call, but as I step away I can get a glimpse
of him inside looking cold and reserved. He is a late riser,
especially if it is a cold or disagreeable morning, in this respect
being like the fowls; it is sometimes near nine o'clock before I see
him leave his tree. On the other hand, he comes home early, being in
if the day is unpleasant by four P. M. He lives all alone; in this
respect I do not commend his example. Where his mate is I should like
to know.

I have discovered several other woodpeckers in adjoining orchards, each
of which has a like home and leads a like solitary life. One of them
has excavated a dry limb within easy reach of my hand, doing the work
also in September. But the choice of tree was not a good one; the limb
was too much decayed, and the workman had made the cavity too large;
a chip had come out, making a hole in the outer wall. Then he went a
few inches down the limb and began again, and excavated a large,
commodious chamber, but had again come too near the surface; scarcely
more than the bark protected him in one place, and the limb was very
much weakened. Then he made another attempt still farther down the
limb, and drilled in an inch or two, but seemed to change his mind;
the work stopped, and I concluded the bird had wisely abandoned
the tree. Passing there one cold, rainy November day, I thrust in my
two fingers and was surprised to feel something soft and warm: as I
drew away my hand the bird came out, apparently no more surprised than
I was. It had decided, then, to make its home in the old limb;
a decision it had occasion to regret, for not long after, on a stormy
night, the branch gave way and fell to the ground.

"When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
and down will come baby, cradle and all."

Such a cavity makes a snug, warm home, and when the entrance is on the
under side if the limb, as is usual, the wind and snow cannot reach the
occupant. Late in December, while crossing a high, wooded mountain,
lured by the music of fox-hounds, I discovered fresh yellow chips
strewing the new-fallen snow, and at once thought of my woodpeckers.
On looking around I saw where one had been at work excavating a lodge
in a small yellow birch. The orifice was about fifteen feet from the
ground, and appeared as round as if struck with a compass. It was on
the east side of the tree, so as to avoid the prevailing west and
northeast winds. As it was nearly two inches in diameter, it could not
have been the work of the downy, but must have been that of the hairy,
or else the yellow-bellied woodpecker. His home had probably been
wrecked by some violent wind, and he was thus providing himself
another. In digging out these retreats the woodpeckers prefer a dry,
brittle, trunk, not too soft. They go in horizontally to the centre
and then turn downward, enlarging the tunnel as they go, till when
finished it is the shape of a long, deep pear.

Another trait our woodpeckers have that endears them to me, and that
has never been pointedly noticed by our ornithologists, is their habit
of drumming in the spring. They are songless birds, and yet all are
musicians; they make the dry limbs eloquent of the coming change. Did
you think that loud, sonorous hammering which proceeded from the
orchard or from the near woods on that still March or April morning
was only some bird getting its breakfast? It is downy, but he is not
rapping at the door of a grub; he is rapping at the door of spring,
and the dry limb thrills beneath the ardor of his blows. Or, later in
the season, in the dense forest or by some remote mountain lake, does
that measured rhythmic beat that breaks upon the silence, first three
strokes following each other rapidly, succeeded by two louder ones with
longer intervals between them, and that has an effect upon the alert
ear as if the solitude itself had at last found a voice--does that
suggest anything less than a deliberate musical performance? In fact,
our woodpeckers are just as characteristically drummers as is the
ruffed grouse, and they have their particular limbs and stubs to which
they resort for that purpose. Their need of expression is apparently
just as great as that of the song-birds, and it is not surprising that
they should have found out that there is music in a dry, seasoned limb
which can be evoked beneath their beaks.

A few seasons ago a downy woodpecker, probably the individual one who
is now my winter neighbor, began to drum early in March in a partly
decayed apple-tree that stands in the edge of a narrow strip of
woodland near me. When the morning was still and mild I would often
hear him through my window before I was up, or by half-past six
o'clock, and he would keep it up pretty briskly till nine or ten
o'clock, in this respect resembling the grouse, which do most of their
drumming in the forenoon. His drum was the stub of a dry limb about
the size of one's wrist. The heart was decayed and gone, but the outer
shell was hard and resonant. The bird would keep his position there
for an hour at a time. Between his drummings he would preen his
plumage and listen as if for the response of the female, or for the
drum of some rival. How swift his head would go when he was delivering
his blows upon the limb! His beak wore the surface perceptibly. When
he wished to change the key, which was quite often, he would shift his
position an inch or two to a knot which gave out a higher, shriller
note. When I climbed up to examine his drum he was much disturbed.
I did not know he was in the vicinity, but it seems he saw me from a
near tree, and came in haste to the neighboring branches, and with
spread plumage and a sharp note demanded plainly enough what my
business was with his drum. I was invading his privacy, desecrating
his shrine, and the bird was much put out. After some weeks the female
appeared; he had literally drummed up a mate; his urgent and
oft-repeated advertisement was answered. Still the drumming did not
cease, but was quite as fervent as before. If a mate could be won by
drumming she could be kept and entertained by more drumming; courtship
should not end with marriage. If the bird felt musical before,
of course he felt much more so now. Besides that, the gentle deities
needed propitiating in behalf of the nest and young as well as in
behalf of the mate. After a time a second female came, when there was
war between the two. I did not see them come to blows, but I saw one
female pursuing the other about the place, and giving her no rest for
several days. She was evidently trying to run her out of the
neighborhood. Now and then she, too, would drum briefly as if sending
a triumphant message to her mate.

The woodpeckers do not each have a particular dry limb to which they
resort at all times to drum, like the one I have described. The woods
are full of suitable branches, and they drum more or less here and
there as they are in quest of food; yet I am convinced each one has its
favorite spot, like the grouse, to which it resorts, especially in the
morning. The sugar-maker in the maple-woods may notice that their
sound proceeds from the same tree or trees about his camp with great
regularity. A woodpecker in my vicinity has drummed for two seasons on
a telegraph pole, and he makes the wires and glass insulators ring.
Another drums on a thin board on the end of a long grape-arbor, and on
still mornings can be heard a long distance.

A friend of mine in a Southern city tells me of a red-headed woodpecker
that drums upon a lightning-rod on his neighbor's house. Nearly every
clear, still morning at certain seasons, he says, this musical rapping
may be heard. "He alternates his tapping with his stridulous call, and
the effect on a cool, autumn-like morning is very pleasing."

The high-hole appears to drum more promiscuously than does the downy.
He utters his long, loud spring call, whick--whick--whick--whick, and
then begins to rap with his beak upon his perch before the last note
has reached your ear. I have seen him drum sitting upon the ridge of
the barn. The log cock, or pileated woodpecker, the largest and
wildest of our Northern species, I have never heard drum. His blows
should wake the echoes.

When the woodpecker is searching for food, or laying siege to some
hidden grub, the sound of his hammer is dead or muffled, and is heard
but a few yards. It is only upon dry, seasoned timber, freed of its
bark, that he beats his reveille to spring and wooes his mate.

Wilson was evidently familiar with this vernal drumming of the
woodpeckers, but quite misinterprets it. Speaking of the red-bellied
species, he says: "It rattles like the rest of the tribe on the dead
limbs, and with such violence as to be heard in still weather more than
half a mile off; and listens to hear the insect it has alarmed."
He listens rather to hear the drum of his rival or the brief and coy
response of the female; for there are no insects in these dry limbs.

On one occasion I saw downy at his drum when a female flew quickly
through the tree and alighted a few yards beyond him. He paused
instantly, and kept his place, apparently without moving a muscle.
The female, I took it, had answered his advertisement. She flitted
about from limb to limb (the female may be known by the absence of the
crimson spot on the back of the head), apparently full of business of
her own, and now and then would drum in a shy, tentative manner.
The male watched her a few moments and, convinced perhaps that she
meant business, struck up his liveliest tune, then listened for her
response. As it came back timidly but promptly, he left his perch and
sought a nearer acquaintance with the prudent female. Whether or not a
match grew out of this little flirtation I cannot say.

Our smaller woodpeckers are sometimes accused of injuring the apple and
other fruit trees, but the depredator is probably the larger and rarer
yellow-bellied species. One autumn I caught one of these fellows in
the act of sinking long rows of his little wells in the limb of an
apple-tree. There were series of rings of them, one above another,
quite around the stem, some of them the third of an inch across.
They are evidently made to get at the tender, juicy bark, or cambium
layer, next to the hard wood of the tree. The health and vitality of
the branch are so seriously impaired by them that it often dies.

In the following winter the same bird (probably) tapped a maple-tree in
front of my window in fifty-six places; and when the day was sunny,
and the sap oozed out, he spent most of his time there. He knew the
good sap-days, and was on hand promptly for his tipple; cold and cloudy
days he did not appear. He knew which side of the tree to tap, too,
and avoided the sunless northern exposure. When one series of
well-holes failed to supply him, he would sink another, drilling
through the bark with great ease and quickness. Then, when the day was
warm, and the sap ran freely, he would have a regular sugar-maple
debauch, sitting there by his wells hour after hour, and as fast as
they became filled sipping out the sap. This he did in a gentle,
caressing manner that was very suggestive. He made a row of wells near
the foot of the tree, and other rows higher up, and he would hop up and
down the trunk as these became filled. He would hop down the tree
backward with the utmost ease, throwing his tail outward and his head
inward at each hop. When the wells would freeze or his thirst become
slaked, he would ruffle his feathers, draw himself together, and sit
and doze in the sun on the side of the tree. He passed the night in a
hole in an apple-tree not far off. He was evidently a young bird not
yet having the plumage of the mature male or female, and yet he knew
which tree to tap and where to tap it. I saw where he had bored
several maples in the vicinity, but no oaks or chestnuts. I nailed up
a fat bone near his sap-works: the downy woodpecker came there several
times a day to dine; the nut-hatch came, and even the snow-bird took a
taste occasionally; but this sap-sucker never touched it; the sweet of
the tree sufficed for him. This woodpecker does not breed or abound in
my vicinity; only stray specimens are now and then to be met with in
the colder months. As spring approached, the one I refer to took his

I must bring my account of my neighbor in the tree down to the latest
date; so after the lapse of a year I add the following notes. The last
day of February was bright and springlike. I heard the first sparrow
sing that morning and the first screaming of the circling hawks,
and about seven o'clock the first drumming of my little friend.
His first notes were uncertain and at long intervals, but by and by he
warmed up and beat a lively tattoo. As the season advanced he ceased
to lodge in his old quarters. I would rap and find nobody at home.
Was he out on a lark, I said, the spring fever working in his blood?
After a time his drumming grew less frequent, and finally, in the
middle of April, ceased entirely. Had some accident befallen him,
or had he wandered away to fresh fields, following some siren of his
species? Probably the latter. Another bird that I had under
observation also left his winter-quarters in the spring. This, then,
appears to be the usual custom. The wrens and the nut-hatches and
chickadees succeed to these abandoned cavities, and often have amusing
disputes over them. The nut-hatches frequently pass the night in them,
and the wrens and chickadees nest in them. I have further observed
that in excavating a cavity for a nest the downy woodpecker makes the
entrance smaller than when he is excavating his winter-quarters.
This is doubtless for the greater safety of the young birds.

The next fall, the downy excavated another limb in the old apple-tree,
but had not got his retreat quite finished, when the large hairy
woodpecker appeared upon the scene. I heard his loud click, click,
early one frosty November morning. There was something impatient and
angry in the tone that arrested my attention. I saw the bird fly to
the tree where downy had been at work, and fall with great violence
upon the entrance to his cavity. The bark and the chips flew beneath
his vigorous blows, and before I fairly woke up to what he was doing,
he had completely demolished the neat, round doorway of downy. He had
made a large ragged opening large enough for himself to enter. I drove
him away and my favorite came back, but only to survey the ruins of his
castle for a moment and then go away. He lingered about for a day or
two and then disappeared. The big hairy usurper passed a night in the
cavity, but on being hustled out of it the next night by me, he also
left, but not till he had demolished the entrance to a cavity in a
neighboring tree where downy and his mate had reared their brood that
summer, and where I had hoped the female would pass the winter.



I am more than half persuaded that the muskrat is a wise little animal,
and that on the subject of the weather, especially, he possesses some
secret that I should be glad to know. In the fall of 1878 I noticed
that he built unusually high and massive nests. I noticed them in
several different localities. In a shallow, sluggish pond by the
roadside, which I used to pass daily in my walk, two nests were in
process of construction throughout the month of November. The builders
worked only at night, and I could see each day that the work had
visibly advanced. When there was a slight skim of ice over the pond,
this was broken up about the nests, with trails through it in different
directions where the material had been brought. The houses were placed
a little to one side of the main channel, and were constructed entirely
of a species of coarse wild grass that grew all about. So far as I
could see, from first to last they were solid masses of grass, as if
the interior cavity or nest was to be excavated afterward, as doubtless
it was. As they emerged from the pond they gradually assumed the shape
of a miniature mountain, very bold and steep on the south side,
and running down a long gentle grade to the surface of the water on the
north. One could see that the little architect hauled all his material
up this easy slope, and thrust it out boldly around the other side.
Every mouthful was distinctly defined. After they were two feet or
more above the water, I expected each day to see that the finishing
stroke had been given and the work brought to a close. But higher yet,
said the builder. December drew near, the cold became threatening,
and I was apprehensive that winter would suddenly shut down upon those
unfinished nests. But the wise rats knew better than I did; they had
received private advices from headquarters that I knew not of.
Finally. about the 6th of December, the nests assumed completion; the
northern incline was absorbed or carried up, and each structure became
a strong massive cone, three or four feet high, the largest nest of the
kind I had ever seen. Does it mean a severe winter? I inquired. An
old farmer said it meant "high water," and he was right once, at least,
for in a few days afterward we had the heaviest rainfall known in this
section for half a century. The creeks rose to an almost unprecedented
height. The sluggish pond became a seething, turbulent watercourse;
gradually the angry element crept up the sides of these lake dwellings,
till, when the rain ceased, about four o'clock they showed above the
flood no larger than a man's hat. During the night the channel shifted
till the main current swept over them, and next day not a vestige of
the nests was to be seen; they had gone down-stream, as had many other
dwellings of a less temporary character. The rats had built wisely,
and would have been perfectly secure against any ordinary high water,
but who can foresee a flood? The oldest traditions of their race did
not run back to the time of such a visitation.

Nearly a week afterward another dwelling was begun, well away from the
treacherous channel, but the architects did not work at it with much
heart; the material was very scarce, the ice hindered, and before the
basement-story was fairly finished, winter had the pond under his lock
and key.

In other localities I noticed that where the nests were placed on the
banks of streams, they were made secure against the floods by being
built amid a small clump of bushes. When the fall of 1879 came, the
muskrats were very tardy about beginning their house, laying the
corner-stone--or the corner-sod-about December 1st, and continuing the
work slowly and indifferently. On the 15th of the month the nest was
not yet finished. This, I said, indicates a mild winter; and, sure
enough, the season was one of the mildest known for many years. The
rats had little use for their house.

Again, in the fall of 1880, while the weather-wise were wagging their
heads, some forecasting a mild, some a severe winter, I watched with
interest for a sign from my muskrats. About November 1st, a month
earlier than the previous year, they began their nest, and worked at it
with a will. They appeared to have just got tidings of what was
coming. If I had taken the hint so palpably given, my celery would not
have been frozen in the ground, and my apples caught in unprotected
places. When the cold wave struck us, about November 20th, my
four-legged "I-told-you-so's" had nearly completed their dwelling;
it lacked only the ridge-board, so to speak; it needed a little
"topping out," to give it a finished look. But this it never got.
The winter had come to stay, and it waxed more and more severe, till
the unprecedented cold of the last days of December must have
astonished even the wise muskrats in their snug retreat. I approached
their nest at this time, a white mound upon the white, deeply frozen
surface of the pond, and wondered if there was any life in that
apparent sepulchre. I thrust my walking-stick sharply into it, when
there was a rustle and a splash into the water, as the occupant made
his escape. What a damp basement that house has, I thought, and what a
pity to rout out a peaceful neighbor out of his bed in this weather and
into such a state of things as this! But water does not wet the
muskrat; his fur is charmed, and not a drop penetrates it. Where the
ground is favorable, the muskrats do not build these mound-like nests,
but burrow into the bank a long distance, and establish their
winter-quarters there.

Shall we not say, then, in view of the above facts, that this little
creature is weather-wise? The hitting of the mark twice might be mere
good luck; but three bull's-eyes in succession is not a mere
coincidence; it is a proof of skill. The muskrat is not found in the
Old World, which is a little singular, as other rats so abound there,
and as those slow-going English streams especially, with their grassy
banks, are so well suited to him. The water-rat of Europe is smaller,
but of similar nature and habits. The muskrat does not hibernate like
some rodents, but is pretty active all winter. In December I noticed
in my walk where they had made excursions of a few yards to an orchard
for frozen apples. One day, along a little stream, I saw a mink track
amid those of the muskrat; following it up, I presently came to blood
and other marks of strife upon the snow beside a stone wall. Looking
in between the stones, I found the carcass of the luckless rat, with
its head and neck eaten away. The mink had made a meal of him.


FOR the largest and finest chestnuts I had last fall I was indebted to
the gray squirrels. Wa1king through the early October woods one day,
I came upon a place where the ground was thickly strewn with very large
unopened chestnut burs. On examination I found that every bur had been
cut square off with about an inch of the stem adhering, and not one had
been left on the tree. It was not accident, then, but design. Whose
design? The squirrels'. The fruit was the finest I had ever seen in
the woods, and some wise squirrel had marked it for his own. The burs
were ripe, and had just begun to divide, not "threefold," but fourfold,
"to show the fruit within." The squirrel that had taken all this pains
had evidently reasoned with himself thus: "Now , these are extremely
fine chestnuts, and I want them; if I wait till the burs open on the
tree the crows and jays will be sure to carry off a great many of the
nuts before they fall; then, after the wind has rattled out what
remain, there are the mice, the chipmunks, the red squirrels, the
raccoons, the grouse, to say nothing of the boys and the pigs, to come
in for their share; so I will forestall events a little; I will cut off
the burs when they have matured, and a few days of this dry October
weather will cause everyone of them to open on the ground; I shall be
on hand in the nick of time to gather up my nuts." The squirrel, of
course, had to take the chances of a prowler like myself coming along,
but he had fairly stolen a march on his neighbors. As I proceeded to
collect and open the burs, I was half prepared to hear an audible
protest from the trees about, for I constantly fancied myself watched
by shy but jealous eyes. It is an interesting inquiry how the squirrel
knew the burs would open if left to know, but thought the experiment
worth trying.

The gray squirrel is peculiarly an American product, and might serve
very well as a national emblem. The Old World can beat us on rats and
mice, but we are far ahead on squirrels, having five or six species
to Europe's one.


I STOOD on a high hill or ridge one autumn day and saw a hound run a
fox through the fields far beneath me. What odors that fox must have
shaken out of himself, I thought, to be traced thus easily, and how
great their specific gravity not to have been blown away like smoke by
the breeze! The fox ran a long distance down the hill, keeping within
a few feet of a stone wall; then turned a right angle and led off for
the mountain, across a plowed field and a succession of pasture lands.
In about fifteen minutes the hound came in full blast with her nose in
the air, and never once did she put it to the ground while in my sight.
When she came to the stone wall she took the other side from that taken
by the fox, and kept about the same distance from it, being thus
separated several yards from his track, with the fence between her and
it. At the point where the fox turned sharply to the left, the hound
overshot a few yards, then wheeled, and feeling the air a moment with
her nose, took up the scent again and was off on his trail as
unerringly as fate. It seemed as if the fox must have sowed himself
broadcast as he went along, and that his scent was so rank and heavy
that it settled in the hollows and clung tenaciously to the bushes and
crevices in the fence. I thought I ought to have caught a remnant of
it as I passed that way some minutes later, but I did not. But I
suppose it was not that the light-footed fox so impressed himself upon
the ground he ran over, but that the sense of the hound was so keen.
To her sensitive nose these tracks steamed like hot cakes, and they
would not have cooled off so as to be undistinguishable for several
hours. For the time being she had but one sense: her whole soul was
concentrated in her nose.

It is amusing when the hunter starts out of a winter morning to see his
hound probe the old tracks to determine how recent they are. He sinks
his nose down deep in the snow so as to exclude the air from above,
then draws a long full breath, giving sometimes an audible snort. If
there remains the least effluvium of the fox the hound will detect it.
If it be very slight it only sets his tail wagging; if it be strong it
unloosens his tongue.

Such things remind one of the waste, the friction that is going on all
about us, even when the wheels of life run the most smoothly. A fox
cannot trip along the top of a stone wall so lightly but that he will
leave enough of himself to betray his course to the hound for hours
afterward. When the boys play "hare and hounds" the hare scatters bits
of paper to give a clew to the pursuers, but he scatters himself much
more freely if only our sight and scent were sharp enough to detect the
fragments. Even the fish leave a trail in the water, and it is said
the otter will pursue them by it. The birds make a track in the air,
only their enemies hunt by sight rather than by scent. The fox baffles
the hound most upon a hard crust of frozen snow; the scent will not
hold to the smooth, bead-like granules.

Judged by the eye alone, the fox is the lightest and most buoyant
creature that runs. His soft wrapping of fur conceals the muscular
play and effort that is so obvious in the hound that pursues him, and
he comes bounding along precisely as if blown by a gentle wind. His
massive tail is carried as if it floated upon the air by its own

The hound is not remarkable for his fleetness, but how he will hang!
--often running late into the night and sometimes till morning, from
ridge to ridge, from peak to peak; now on the mountain, now crossing
the valley, now playing about a large slope of uplying pasture fields.
At times the fox has a pretty well-defined orbit, and the hunter knows
where to intercept him. Again he leads off like a comet, quite beyond
the system of hills and ridges upon which he was started, and his
return is entirely a matter of conjecture; but if the day be not more
than half spent, the chances are that the fox will be back before
night, though the sportsman's patience seldom holds out that long.

The hound is a most interesting dog. How solemn and long-visaged he is--how peaceful and well-disposed! He is the Quaker among dogs. All
the viciousness and currishness seem to have been weeded out of him;
he seldom quarrels, or fights, or plays, like other dogs. Two strange
hounds, meeting for the first time, behave as civilly toward each other
as if two men. I know a hound that has an ancient, wrinkled, human,
far-away look that reminds one of the bust of Homer among the Elgin
marbles. He looks like the mountains toward which his heart yearns so

The hound is a great puzzle to the farm dog; the latter, attracted by
his baying, comes barking and snarling up through the fields bent on
picking a quarrel; he intercepts the hound, snubs and insults and
annoys him in every way possible, but the hound heeds him not; if the
dog attacks him he gets away as best he can, and goes on with the
trail; the cur bristles and barks and struts about for a while, then
goes back to the house, evidently thinking the hound a lunatic, which
he is for the time being--a monomaniac, the slave and victim of one
idea. I saw the master of a hound one day arrest him in full course to
give one of the hunters time to get to a certain runaway; the dog cried
and struggled to free himself and would listen neither to threats nor
caresses. Knowing he must be hungry, I offered him my lunch, but he
would not touch it. I put it in his mouth, but he threw it
contemptuously from him. We coaxed and petted and reassured him, but
he was under a spell; he was bereft of all thought or desire but the
one passion to pursue that trail.


Writers upon rural England and her familiar natural history make no
mention of the marmot or woodchuck. In Europe this animal seems to be
confined to high mountainous districts, as on our Pacific slope,
burrowing near the snow line. It is more social or gregarious than the
American species, living in large families like our prairie-dog.
In the Middle and Eastern States our woodchuck takes the place, in some
respects, of the English rabbit, burrowing in every hillside and under
every stone wall and jutting ledge and large bowlder, from whence it
makes raids upon the grass and clover and sometimes upon the garden
vegetables. It is quite solitary in its habits, seldom more than one
inhabiting the same den, unless it be a mother and her young. It is
not now so much a wood chuck as a field chuck. Occasionally, however,
one seems to prefer the woods, and is not seduced by the sunny slopes
and the succulent grass, but feeds, as did his fathers before him, upon
roots and twigs, the bark of young trees, and upon various wood plants.

One summer day, as I was swimming across a broad, deep pool in the
creek in a secluded place in the woods, I saw one of these sylvan
chucks amid the rocks but a few feet from the edge of the water where I
proposed to touch. He saw my approach, but doubtless took me for some
water-fowl, or for some cousin of his of the muskrat tribe; for he went
on with his feeding, and regarded me not till I paused within ten feet
of him and lifted myself up. Then he did not know me; having, perhaps,
never seen Adam in his simplicity, but he twisted his nose around to
catch my scent; and the moment he had done so he sprang like a
jumping-jack and rushed into his den with the utmost precipitation.

The woodchuck is the true serf among our animals; he belongs to the
soil, and savors of it. He is of the earth, earthy. There is
generally a decided odor about his dens and lurking-places, but it is
not at all disagreeable in the clover-scented air, and his shrill
whistle, as he takes to his hole or defies the farm dog from the
interior of the stone wall, is a pleasant summer sound. In form and
movement the woodchuck is not captivating. His body is heavy and
flabby. Indeed, such a flaccid, fluid, pouchy carcass, I have never
before seen. It has absolutely no muscular tension or rigidity, but is
as baggy and shaky as a skin filled with water. Let the rifleman shoot
one while it lies basking on a sidelong rock, and its body slumps off,
and rolls and spills down the hill, as if it were a mass of bowels
only. The legs of the woodchuck are short and stout, and made for
digging rather than running. The latter operation he performs by short
leaps, his belly scarcely clearing the ground. For a short distance he
can make very good time, but he seldom trusts himself far from his
hole, and when surprised in that predicament, makes little effort to
escape, but, grating his teeth, looks the danger squarely in the face.

I knew a farmer in New York who had a very large bob-tailed churn-dog
by the name of Cuff. The farmer kept a large dairy and made a great
deal of butter, and it was the business of Cuff to spend nearly the
half of each summer day treading the endless round of the
churning-machine. During the remainder of the day he had plenty of
time to sleep, and rest, and sit on his hips and survey the landscape.
One day, sitting thus, he discovered a woodchuck about forty rods from
the house, on a steep side-hill, feeding about near his hole, which was
beneath a large rock. The old dog, forgetting his stiffness, and
remembering the fun he had had with woodchucks in his earlier days,
started off at his highest speed, vainly hoping to catch this one
before he could get to his hole. But the woodchuck, seeing the dog
come laboring up the hill, sprang to the mouth of his den, and, when
his pursuer was only a few rods off, whistled tauntingly and went in.
This occurred several times, the old dog marching up the hill, and then
marching down again, having had his labor for his pains. I suspect
that he revolved the subject in his mind while he revolved the great
wheel of the churning-machine, and that some turn or other brought him
a happy thought, for next time he showed himself a strategist. Instead
of giving chase to the woodchuck when first discovered, he crouched
down to the ground, and, resting his head on his paws, watched him.
The woodchuck kept working away from the hole, lured by the tender
clover, but, not unmindful of his safety, lifted himself up on his
haunches every few moments and surveyed the approaches. Presently,
after the woodchuck had let himself down from one of these attitudes of
observation, and resumed his feeding, Cuff started swiftly but
stealthily up the hill, precisely in the attitude of
a cat when she is stalking a bird. When the woodchuck rose up again,
Cuff was perfectly motionless and half hid by the grass. When he again
resumed his clover, Cuff sped up the hill as before, this time crossing
a fence, but in a low place, and so nimbly that he was not discovered.
Again the wood chuck was on the outlook, again Cuff was motionless and
hugging the ground. As the dog nears his victim he is partially hidden
by a swell in the earth, but still the woodchuck from his outlook
reports "all right," when Cuff, having not twice as far to run as the
'chuck, throws all stealthiness aside and rushes directly for the hole.
At that moment the woodchuck discovers his danger, and, seeing that it
is a race for life, leaps as I never saw marmot leap before. But he is
two seconds too late, his retreat is cut off, and the powerful jaws of
the old dog close upon him.

The next season Cuff tried the same tactics again with like success;
but when the third woodchuck had taken up his abode at the fatal hole,
the old churner's wits and strength had begun to fail him, and he was
baffled in each attempt to capture the animal.

The woodchuck always burrows on a side-hill. This enables him to guard
against being drowned out, by making the termination of the hole higher
than the entrance. He digs in slantingly for about two or three feet,
then makes a sharp upward turn and keeps nearly parallel with the
surface of the ground for a distance of eight or ten feet farther,
according to the grade. Here he makes his nest and passes the winter,
holing up in October or November and coming out again in April. This
is a long sleep, and is rendered possible only by the amount of fat
with which the system has become stored during the summer. The fire of
life still burns, but very faintly and slowly, as with the draughts all
closed and the ashes heaped up. Respiration is continued, but at
longer intervals, and all the vital processes are nearly at a
standstill. Dig one out during hibernation (Audubon did so), and you
find it a mere inanimate ball, that suffers itself to be moved and
rolled about without showing signs of awakening. But bring it in by
the fire, and it presently unrolls and opens its eyes, and crawls
feebly about, and if left to itself will seek some dark hole or corner,
roll itself up again, and resume its former condition.

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