The Disobedient Woodpecker

Pileated and Red-bellied Woodpecker on same tree by Ray

Pileated and Red-bellied Woodpecker on same tree by Ray

The Disobedient Woodpecker ~ from The Curious Book of Birds


Cur Book of Birds letter-lONG, long ago, at the beginning of things, they say that the Lord made the world smooth and round like an apple. There were no hills nor mountains: nor were there any hollows or valleys to hold the seas and rivers, fountains and pools, which the world of men would need. It must, indeed, have been a stupid and ugly earth in those days, with no chance for swimming or sailing, rowing or fishing. But as yet there was no one to think anything about it, no one who would long to swim, sail, row, and fish. For this was long before men were created.

The Lord looked about Him at the flocks of newly made birds, who were preening their wings and wondering at their own bright feathers, and said to Himself,—

“I will make these pretty creatures useful, from the very beginning, so that in after time men shall love them dearly. Come, my birds,” He cried, “come hither to me, and with the beaks which I have given you hollow me out here, and here, and here, basins for the lakes and pools which I intend to fill with water for men and for you, their friends. Come, little brothers, busy yourselves as you would wish to be happy hereafter.”

Then there was a twittering and fluttering as the good birds set to work with a will, singing happily over the work which their dear Lord had given them to do. They pecked and they pecked with their sharp little bills; they scratched and they scratched with their sharp little claws, till in the proper places they had hollowed out great basins and valleys and long river beds, and little holes in the ground.

Then the Lord sent great rains upon the earth until the hollows which the birds had made were filled with water, and so became rivers and lakes, little brooks and fountains, just as we see them to-day. Now it was a beautiful, beautiful world, and the good birds sang happily and rejoiced in the work which they had helped, and in the sparkling water which was sweet to their taste.

All were happy except one. The Woodpecker had taken no part with the other busy birds. She was a lazy, disobedient creature, and when she heard the Lord’s commands she had only said, “Tut tut!” and sat still on the branch where she had perched, preening her pretty feathers and admiring her silver stockings. “You can toil if you want to,” she said to the other birds who wondered at her, “but I shall do no such dirty work. My clothes are too fine.”

Now when the world was quite finished and the beautiful water sparkled and glinted here and there, cool and refreshing, the Lord called the birds to Him and thanked them for their help, praising them for their industry and zeal. But to the Woodpecker He said,—

“As for you, O Woodpecker, I observe that your feathers are unruffled by work and that there is no spot of soil upon your beak and claws. How did you manage to keep so neat?”

The Woodpecker looked sulky and stood upon one leg.

“It is a good thing to be neat,” said the Lord, “but not if it comes from shirking a duty. It is good to be dainty, but not from laziness. Have you not worked with your brothers as I commanded you?”

“It was such very dirty work,” piped the Woodpecker crossly; “I was afraid of spoiling my pretty bright coat and my silver shining hose.”

“Oh, vain and lazy bird!” said the Lord sadly. “Have you nothing to do but show off your fine clothes and give yourself airs? You are no more beautiful than many of your brothers, yet they all obeyed me willingly. Look at the snow-white Dove, and the gorgeous Bird of Paradise, and the pretty Grosbeak. They have worked nobly, yet their plumage is not injured. I fear that you must be punished for your disobedience, little Woodpecker. Henceforth you shall wear stockings of sooty black instead of the shining silver ones of which you are so proud. You who were too fine to dig in the earth shall ever be pecking at dusty wood. And as you declined to help in building the water-basins of the world, so you shall never sip from them when you are thirsty. Never shall you thrust beak into lake or river, little rippling brook or cool, sweet fountain. Raindrops falling scantily from the leaves shall be your drink, and your voice shall be heard only when other creatures are hiding themselves from the approaching storm.”

It was a sad punishment for the Woodpecker, but she certainly deserved it. Ever since that time, whenever we hear a little tap-tapping in the tree city, we know that it is the poor Woodpecker digging at the dusty wood, as the Lord said she should do. And when we spy her, a dusty little body with black stockings, clinging upright to the tree trunk, we see that she is creeping, climbing, looking up eagerly toward the sky, longing for the rain to fall into her thirsty beak. She is always hoping for the storm to come, and plaintively pipes, “Plui-plui! Rain, O Rain!” until the drops begin to patter on the leaves.

Rufous-bellied Woodpecker (Dendrocopos hyperythrus) by Nikhil Devasar

Rufous-bellied Woodpecker (Dendrocopos hyperythrus) by Nikhil Devasar

Lee’s Addition:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. (Ephesians 6:1-3 KJV)
Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. (Colossians 3:20 KJV)

Apparently the Woodpecker had not learned to obey. I trust you are obeying your parents. You are also to honor or give respect to your father and mother.

Now don’t think unkindly about the real Woodpeckers, because of course this is only a story. I think Woodpeckers are really neat birds and the Lord has provided them with just the right beak so it can make holes for a nest and for digging out worms.




  Picidae – Woodpeckers Family



Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) ©©Flickr



  Bird Tales




Curious Book of Birds - Cover



  The Curious Book of Birds



Spanish Sparrow (Passer Hispaniolensis) female ©WikiC




  Wordless Birds




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