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Pecky The Woodpecker

2006-07-13 22:54

  A tall, wide, spreading, wild mango tree stood in a forest clearing. On one of its upper branches a pair of golden-backed woodpeckers dug a hole and raised a brood of their young. Pecky was the youngest of the brood. As he was the smallest and weakest of the young woodpeckers, his parents fussed over him a lot. Thus spoilt, he became lazy.

  Pecky had two sisters and a brother. As soon as they grew their flight feathers they worried Papa and Mama to teach them to fly. Their parents were only too happy to teach them. They then taught the youngsters to hunt for food. Soon, a day came when Pecky's brother and sisters bid them a merry farewell “Kee-kee_kee_krr” and were gone.

  Pecky showed no signs of moving. Besides being lazy, he had grown fond of the mango tree and its surroundings. The tree stood beside a pool of water. It attracted wild animals from far and near. From his nest hole high above, Pecky could see all that happened below. It was fun to watch the young ones of monkeys, elephants and deer at play.

  It was not often that Pecky saw tigers and leopards.his father told Pecky that they were creatures of the night and only rarely moved about during the day. When they did come to the pool by day, there was great excitement all around. It thrilled Pecky to see these handsome animals. Life was pleasant for Pecky. He did not have a care in the world. His parents gave him all the food he could eat and cared for him. So Pecky decided to live in the nest for ever.

  But Pecky's parents began to worry. They were worn out after they cares of raising a family and were tired and needed some rest. They wanted to leave the nest. But they felt that it was their duty to teach Pecky to look after himself before going. But Pecky proved to be a difficult pupil. He had to be bribed with juicy insects to learn even simple things. He was afraid of flying and would not even attempt it. Finally, his father had to push him down. In order to avoid crashing to the ground, Pecky flapped his wings and lo and behold, he could fly!

  Teaching Pecky to hunt for food the woodpecker way proved more difficult. When all attempts failed, his Papa and Mama let him starve. It worked. He was prepared to follow them and take his lesson.

  Pecky's parents took him to a tree nearby. While his mother and he watched, Papa woodpecker set to work. It was a thick straight tree they had chosen. Papa woodpecker ran up the tree trunk, pausing to tap, “tok-tok-tok”。 He was trying to locate insects or larvae lying hidden below the surface. A hollow sounding spot could mean that there was something worth looking for. When he thought he had passed up a likely spot he would go back in 'reverse gear'. Very few birds could do such a thing.

  And Pecky watched in amazement. “How does Pa do it?”

  “It is simple, really,” his mother explained. “We have short strong legs, sharp claws and our toes are directed forward and backwards to give us a good grip for clinging to tree trunks.”

  “It looks pretty crazy to me. Why don't we simply perch on a branch like other birds, instead of doing all these circus tricks?” he joked.

  Papa woodpecker located some larvae and called Pecky over. When Pecky joined him, Papa woodpecker wedged his short stiff tail against the tree, took a firm grip of the trunk, raised his head and pounded away “drr-r-r-r”。 Wood chips flew in all directions. It was like a power drill at work. Pecky was impressed. “Oh my, what a performance!” he exclaimed. He asked his mother, “How does he do it?”

  “Look at your bill, son,” she said and then remembered that he could not see his own bill very well as it was set close to his eyes and they both laughed their tinny laugh, “Kee-kee_kee_krr.” Then Mama woodpecker explained, “Look at my bill, Pecky. It is shaped like a chisel. The head is the hammer, for which power comes from our neck and back muscles. We can bore holes in wood with these tools.”

  “Why should we bore holes in wood?” Pecky asked.

  “It is a case of adaptation. Every part of our body is adapted for this way of life, to hunt for insects in tree trunks.”

  This did not impress Pecky. To appeal to his pride she said, “We are specialists, son.” As she spoke she became enthusiastic and clapped Pecky on the shoulder and declared, “We are professionals.”

  Just then a pair of mynahs came and sat on the tree and she pointed to them and said, “These two may be adapted to their way of life. But they are certainly not professionals. Are you not proud son, to be doing something which others can not do?”

  Lazy Pecky, who was looking for an easy living, did not share his mother's enthusiasm. Instead he asked his father, “Doesn't this pounding give you a horrible headache, Pa?”

  “No, Pecky,” he said and went on to explain that they had special absorbent muscles and spongy bones around their brain to save them from shock. His father had by then finished digging. He asked Pecky to take his place, push his beak in as far it would go and then stick his tongue in further. To his surprise Pecky found that he could stretch his tongue beyond his bill. He rolled his long, barbed tongue, sticky with saliva, over the fat larva inside, pulled it into his mouth and ate it greedily.

  “Now, it your turn, son,” his father told him. Pecky did not like the idea at all. When both his parents insisted, he agreed to give it a try. He wanted to get over the unpleasant task quickly. His father found him a likely spot to dig. Pecky went over and without taking a proper grip, without placing his body in the correct position and without bracing himself with his tail, started hammering away. Not only his head ache but he lost his grip and fell. Then and there he decided that the woodpecker's way of life was not for him.

  He asked his parents if he could eat anything else. “Of course, you can try some pulpy fruits now and then, and hunt ants for a change,” his mother told him.

  His question worried her and she asked, “What is the idea, Pecky?”

  He replied, “If I can adapt myself to an easier way of life, why should I go banging my head against a tree and get a headache in the bargain?”

  His mother was annoyed. As a last chance, she tried to appeal to his sentiment. “Son, we have a place in nature. A very important place. Many of the trees you see here would have died, had we not dug out wood-boring beetles and other insects that were damaging them.” She continued, “Why, this very mango tree you are so found of, would have been killed by its enemies but for your father and me.”

  Pecky refused to be convinced.

  When Pecky went back to the nest, Papa woodpecker looked at Mama woodpecker, who looked as tired and worn out as he, and said, “I don't think we should waste our time any more. Pecky will have to learn for himself.” They flew away with heavy hearts.

  Pecky did not miss his parents much. In a way he was happy they had gone. He thought they nagged him for nothing. “I haven't a care in the world,” he shouted for all the animals and birds to hear. “Why should I have?” he asked. “Am I not handsome?”

  He was indeed handsome, He had a beautiful crimson crest, a shiny, golden-yellow back, dashes of white and black, a beautiful combination of colours. The whole effect was striking, especially when he flew in the manner of his kind - jerkily, up and down, up and down.

  “Am I not clever?” Pecky had decided that he was not going to be dumb like other woodpeckers, knocking his head against wood.

  “And don't I have my own lovely tree?” He was very proud and fond of the wild mango tree, which he considered his own. The mango tree was tall and majestic and was in bloom at that time. A mild scent filled the air around the tree. “Kee-kee_kee_krr,” he laughed, clapping his wings together.

  Pecky's happiness was short-lived. Soon his stomach began to rumble. When he was thinking how best to get a meal, a pair of nuthatches came and sat on mango tree. Pecky was about to chase them away. But then he thought he would learn from them how they hunted. As Pecky watched, they moved up and down the trunk of the tree, very much like woodpeckers. But unlike woodpeckers, they did not bore holes into tree trunks but picked off insects from cracks in the bark.

  “How sensible these 'bark inspectors' are,” commented Pecky. After they left he tried to copy them. But his bill and tongue were too large to get into the cracks in the bark. At his clumsy approach, insects withdraw further into their hiding places. At the end of the day, Pecky was more hungry than ever. He curled up in his nest hole and spent a restless night.

  A warbler was the first visitor to the mango tree the following morning. He flitted from one cluster of leaves to another poking his bill among them, caught many insects. It looked very simple. Pecky called the warbler the 'leaf inspector' and thought he was a very clever hunter. He spent the whole of that morning trying to catch insects the way the 'leaf inspector' did. He found that he was too heavy and his bell too large for such fine work.

  The next creature to catch Pecky's attention was a chameleon. It was with great difficulty that he made out the creature. The animal looked much like a mango leaf, under which he lay hidden. As Pecky watched him, the chameleon shot out his tongue and neatly caught a bee which was hovering over a cluster of mango flowers. Pecky remembered that he had a long tongue, too. The chameleon's way of hunting seemed so easy. When Pecky tried to copy the chameleon he found that with his crimson crest and golden back, he could not hide however much he tried. When he did manage to get close to an insect, he found his tongue was not enough or fast enough to produce results.

  The following morning Pecky noticed a flock of green parrots flying in a particular direction. Some mynahs soon followed them. Not long afterwards, a pair of golden orioles returned from the same direction. And Pecky saw that they were in a happy mood. Pecky approached them and asked, “What is going on there, friends?” pointing in the direction from which they had come.

  “Oh, don't you know, brother? A big banyan tree is in fruit, five minutes' flight away.”

  Pecky remembered his mother feeding him occasionally with some fruit pulp and also telling him he could eat pulpy fruit. Thanking the orioles he rushed to the banyan tree.

  When Pecky reached the banyan tree he found it loaded with fruit. A large number of birds and some animals had gathered to enjoy them. They were noisy and excited. Pecky joined in the feast. The fruit did not taste good. But he was very hungry. The fruit-eating birds had never seen woodpecker gulp fruit so greedily before. They stopped to watch Pecky eating, which he did clumsily. Some younger ones made fun of him. But Pecky did not mind. He ate and ate until he could eat no more. By the time he got back to the mango tree Pecky was beginning to feel uneasy. Soon he had relised that while his stomach could manage a fruit or two, it was not made for a feast of fruits.

  Pecky managed to pull through. But he had not learned his lesson. He was still looking for, what he thought was, an easy way of life. Three kinds of flycatchers visited the mango tree and they caught insects on the wing, expertly. They made fly-catching on the wing look so simple that Pecky decided that he would give it a try. Pecky was hopelessly clumsy. Each bird has a tail to suit its made of life. A tail is only slightly less important to a bird than its wings. Pecky's tail being short and stiff did not help him at all when he tried to twist and turn in the air like a flycatcher. Neither he wings, nor his heavy body, nor for that matter, was his beak of any use. So Pecky gave up the attempt.

  As Pecky sat thinking what to do next, down below, on the forest floor, a jungle hen was busy teaching her chicks to find food. The hen found a termite nest, and opened it by scratching. Then they started feeding on the termites. “This is what I should have done from the beginning,” Pecky said to himself.

  The jungle fowl family got back under cover when it became hot and Pecky flew down to the termite mound. Some termites were busy trying to repair the damage caused by the hen. Pecky caught and ate them. His beak picked up more earth than termites. This he did not mind as the termites tasted sweet. His whole attention was on the termites which were trying to dodge him.

  The termites mound was in a meadow. A passing hawk saw Pecky. The young woodpecker sat exposed and unprotected. The hawk seldom got such an opportunity with a woodpecker. The bird of prey dived to make a kill. A squirrel who had been watching the hawk sounded his “Rat-tat-tat-tat” alarm call, which echoed through the forest like machine-gun fire. Thus alerted, Pecky turned, and saw the hawk.

  The killer bird was diving straight at him. The distance between them narrowed with every passing moment. Pecky stood little chance; he was a weak flier. The hawk was within striking distance. It stretched its dagger like talons to seize Pecky. Desperately the woodpecker dived into the nearest cover, where the hawk could not follow. All that the hawk got was a talon full of golden feathers.

  It was a narrow escape that set Pecky thinking. “I am safest here on a tree,” he admitted to himself. “The branches and leaves protect me from attack from above. Even if I am attacked from the side, I can always slip behind the trunk, faster than any hawk can fly.” This brought to his mind a picture of a hawk dashing himself to death on a tree trunk trying to get at him. he smiled. Thus cheered he began to look at his world in a new light.

  Pecky's mother had not forgotten her youngest son. She often worried about Pecky. One day she decided to visit him, to see how he was getting on. When she came to the mango tree, Pecky, thinking it was a strange woodpecker, went to attack her. He considered the mango tree as his own. Although he allowed other birds to share the tree with him, he chased away any woodpecker which happened to come along. He considered them rivals. On recognising his mother, he welcomed her. She was shocked to see how thin he had grown. “Are you still looking for an easy way of life, son?” she asked.

  “I was Mama. But I know what I can not do,” he replied.

  “I am so glad, son,” she said. And advised him, “Try to do the thing you can do well.”

  Then Pecky's mother looked around and remarked, “Son, do you know your tree is sick?”

  “How do you know, Mama?” he asked in disbelief.

  “Look, how pale the leaves are. I am sure wood-boring insects are sapping its strength,” she said. Then she warned him, “Unless you do something quickly they will kill the tree.”

  Pecky was angry with himself and the wood-borers. “I shall attend to them at once,” he assured his mother.

  “Good hunting, son,” she said and left.

  “Tok-tok-tok-tok,” Pecky sounded the tree trunk rapidly. It sounded hollow. Then “drr-r-r-r-r”, he bored a hole and pulled out a borer eating into the tree. It tasted better than any other insects. Pecky had used his special skill as a woodpecker. Although it was hard it gave him satisfaction. Pecky worked all day for many days, until he saved his beloved tree from being killed by wood-boring, insects. He was happy and proud. Then he found time to sing “Kee-kee-kee-krr” in happiness and in triumph.

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