THE BLUEBIRDS & THEIR NEIGHBOURS

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CHAPTER 17

An Undesirable Neighbor

TATTLER the Jay knew better than to try again to steal the Little Robins, and after that there was peace around the Grand Old House. The Bluebirds and the Robins were happy, because they were kept very busy hunting beetles and grasshoppers and other bugs for their babies. Of course, they had to watch out for Sharpshin the Hawk and for Hunting Cat, but the little birds were well protected.

My, how those Young Robins and Baby Bluebirds grew! Within a few days they were almost as large as their parents. Soon they were dressed in coats of new feathers, They did not look like baby birds any more.

Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird were proud of their family. They had five children, and it wasn't long until the Nesting Box was crowded. Then came the day when the Baby Bluebirds were ready to leave the nest.

One at a time they hopped into the doorway of the Nesting Box and sat there a moment looking around at the Great Wide World. Each one seemed to be looking for a place to alight at the end of its first flight. Some went one way and some went another. Soon Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird were hustling from one side of the lawn to the other while they watched over and encouraged the scattered young birds. And it was about this time that the Young Robins left their nest in the Red Cedar.

Within a few days the Baby Bluebirds could fly as well as their parents. They were babies no longer. Of course, the Young Bluebirds still needed the attention of some one to complete their education. Mrs. Bluebird left that to Mr. Bluebird. You see, Mrs. Bluebird had decided to raise another family, and so she was busy laying more eggs. You may be sure, it kept Mr. Bluebird busy caring for his first family, and at the same time feeding Mrs. Bluebird while she kept the new eggs warm. It surely was a busy time for Mr. Bluebird. In fact, he was so busy he could not find time to sing.

In a few days the Young Bluebirds were able to find their own food and to take care of themselves. Then Mr. Bluebird could give all his attention to Mrs. Bluebird. Robin Red is not like that. He cares for his family of youngsters until they are quite old. He is not much good at teaching them how to find their own food. Sometimes we see children who are spoiled by their parents just like that. They are pampered so much that they are not very self-reliant. Mr. Bluebird believed in showing his. children how to do a thing and then letting them do it.

Besides showing them how to find food, Mr. Bluebird warned them against their enemies. He told them about Sharpshin the Hawk and Hunting Cat and Sharptoes the Duck Hawk and others. There are many enemies that the Young Bluebirds have to watch.

One day when the Young Bluebirds were in the Green Meadow looking for bugs, they were frightened by a great shadow that came sailing over. My, how frightened they were! You should have seen them hurry back to the shelter of the Apple Orchard near the Grand Old House.

"What is the matter?" asked Bobby White, who was standing in the shade of the Hedgerow; "whatever is the matter?"

"Oh," exclaimed Betty Bluebird, "we saw a great bird many times larger than Sharpshin the Hawk, and we were frightened!"

Bobby White looked up at High Cliff On a rocky pinnacle, high above the Little Jungle Thicket where Molly and Peter lived, was the nest of Aquila the Golden Eagle. Bobby White knew what had frightened the Bluebirds, for he had seen Aquila before. You see, Aquila had been living on High Cliff many years. Every year he and Mrs. Aquila carried a few new sticks to the old nest to be used in remodeling it just a little. They were living on High Cliff when Bobby White was hatched several years before. Eagles live to a grand old age, sometimes using the same nest for more than fifty years, or at least some of the family do. Bobby White knew Aquila the Golden Eagle well from a distance.

"That was Aquila the Golden Eagle whom you saw," explained Bobby White; "but you do not need to fear him. Aquila is looking for larger game than Bluebirds, and, besides, you are perfectly safe as long as Scrapper the kingbird is sitting on his Lookout Stub by his nest. Aquila will not come near, for he knows that Scrapper will pick out his eyes. But there are Molly and Peter in the Little Jungle Thicket at the foot of High Cliff. And there is their neighbor, Johnny Chuck. I am sure that Aquila has his eye on them, for I have seen him circling over the Little Jungle Thicket. Molly and Peter are usually out of sight during the day, but Johnny Chuck is rather careless at times."

"Oh, dear," said Betty Bluebird, "I'm glad we do not have such a neighbor as Aquila. It must be trying to have to watch every minute or else be carried high in the air and fed to waiting Baby Eaglets. I don't know whether we should venture to the Green Meadow again or not"

Betty Bluebird was not the only one who was worrying about Aquila, for right that minute Johnny Chuck was wondering how he could enjoy a nap in the warm sun without getting caught.

 

CHAPTER 18

Johnny Chuck Has a Narrow Escape

JOHNNY CHUCK poked his nose out of his Friendly Burrow under a large, flat rock and looked around. Everything looked peaceful. He could see Aquila the Golden Eagle circling far over the Black Forest. At least he thought it was Aquila. As a matter of fact, it was not Aquila at all but his cousin Baldy that Johnny Chuck saw.

Baldy the Eagle looks very much like Aquila, and especially from a distance. If they are close, it is easy to tell one from the other because Aquila the Golden Eagle for one thing has feathers all the way down his legs to his toes, while Baldy the Eagle's shins are bare. But of course Johnny Chuck could not be expected to know the difference from that distance. He thought that Baldy was Aquila. Baldy lived in a nest that he had built in an old dead tree that stood near the Black Forest on another cliff.

Johnny Chuck might have known that he should not crawl out on that flat rock even though Aquila had been hunting over the Black Forest. He should have known better. For when the Laughing Yellow Sun smiles down on Johnny's broad back, it makes him feel just as little boys and girls feel when the Sandman calls.

At first Johnny Chuck just nodded, keeping one eye open for Aquila and other foes. But there was no use resisting the Bright Little Sunbeams. No, sir; it was simply useless. They danced through Johnny's hair and warmed his back, and the first thing Johnny Chuck knew they had him completely in their power. His head dropped down on his front feet, and he was sound asleep.

It seems as if Johnny could have stayed awake awhile after sleeping most of the winter, but not even the fear of being caught by Aquila could keep his eyes open when the Bright Little Sunbeams were playing tag on his back. Johnny should have had Mrs. Chuck watch while he slept, but Mrs. Chuck was busy with family duties just then. She was in the Friendly Burrow caring for her nine tiny babies that had not yet opened their eyes.

Now, when Johnny Chuck was sleeping, that was just the time that Aquila the Golden Eagle was not asleep. Aquila had been watching for Johnny Chuck to come out of his Friendly Burrow for some time. Aquila liked to sit on a high pinnacle near his nest where he could watch every Friendly Burrow and Crooked Trail and Feeding Place of the Wild Creatures, and see them when they ap�peared. Aquila had very sharp eyes, and Johnny Chuck had not been stretched out on that flat rock any time until Aquila had seen him.

Of course, Aquila knew better than to make a dive after Johnny while he was awake, for Johnny would have tumbled into his Friendly Burrow, and that would have been all there was to it. Then Aquila would have had to look for something else for supper for his awkward-looking babies. And so Aquila waited until he saw Johnny's head drop on his front feet, and then he knew that Johnny was sound asleep. Johnny had been eating many Ten�der Grass Shoots and Clover Leaves in the Green Meadow near, and he had grown fat and lazy.

And so when Aquila saw that Johnny Chuck was asleep, he lost no time waiting for him: to awaken. Down through the air shot Aquila on his strong wings like an arrow falling, from the sky. And there was Johnny Chuck dreaming about the time when his babies would be large enough to play around the Friendly Burrow like brown balls rolling around.

Nearer and nearer came Aquila, and still Johnny Chuck slept. Molly Cottontail had been resting in the shade of a Leafy Bush, and she saw Aquila making straight for Johnny Chuck. Molly thumped a warning as loudly as she could, and then hurried to her own Friendly Burrow. But Johnny Chuck was sleeping too soundly to hear.

Not far from Johnny's home was an old Friendly Burrow that had been his home before he moved farther up the side of High Cliff. Of course, Johnny Chuck seldom used the old Friendly Burrow any more unless he needed a place to run into in a hurry. And so Spot the Skunk had borrowed it for a few days until he could make up his mind where he wanted to spend the summer.

It happened that about the time Aquila started for Johnny Chuck, Spot the Skunk had decided it was time to start out for an evening stroll. It was a little early, but Spot the Skunk was hungry, for he had done considerable walking the night before while he was looking for a summer home. He had done so much walking that he had not taken much time to find something to eat. And so he was starting out a little earlier, than usual.

Spot the Skunk could not see very well after coming out of the darkness in the Friendly Burrow, but he could see well enough to know that danger was near. He was almost passing the home of Johnny Chuck when Aquila swooped down with his sharp claws, intending to fasten them in the broad back of Johnny Chuck and carry him away. Of course, Spot the Skunk thought that Aquila was after him, and so he tried to defend himself the best way he knew how.

You see, Spot the Skunk is a little cousin of Mephitis the Skunk. He carries a very powerful gun that shoots a spray of yellow liquid that blinds the eyes of every one that gets, in its way; and so does Mephitis the Skunk. Spot does not use his gun unless he is sorely pressed. But when Aquila the Golden Eagle dived past him after Johnny Chuck, Spot raised his tail over his back and sprayed Aquila full in the face.

That was too much for Aquila. For a moment he could scarcely see, and he almost missed Johnny Chuck entirely. As it was, one of his sharp claws cut a deep gash in Johnny's back and carried him off the rock before he could shake loose. When Johnny looked up, there was Spot the Skunk still standing with his tail over his back.

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