Floating lazily on its back rocking in the city icy ocean waves this otter might seem just to be taking a nap. Not true! if you look closely, you’ll see this furry fellow is hard at work getting the tasty meat out of a clamshell. A strange way to eat, lying on your back! But that’s how sea otters often do it. They use their front paws as hands and their stomachs for tables!
Most amazing of all, the sea otter sometimes uses a stone to help it get food. It is one of the few animals smart enough to use a tool. This diving sea otter didn’t go to the ocean bottom only to gather clams. While it was down there it picked up a stone to use in cracking open the clamshells! An otter’s big webbed feet are just right for swimming and diving deep under the water. Otters are among the fastest swimming animals. When night comes, this clever fisherman likes to wrap itself in some giant seaweed near shore. The weeds make a soft nest for sleeping and also keep the otter safe from dangerous sharks.
If you should see a whiskery shiny animal with a long, skinny body sliding down a muddy bank into a river-splash-it would look like a sea otter. But it isn’t. It’s a river otter. Playful and funny, it makes a delightful pet. River otters are champion swimmers too. The river otter knows just how to build a nest lined with leaves and grass-not in water but under the ground-in a tunnel that it digs near a river or a lake. Sometimes the nest will be buried under the roots of a tree. But no matter where the nest is, it’s warm and safe for the whole family. Baby otters don’t know how to swim when they’re born. The babies that are afraid of the water are carried on their mother’s back until they’re ready to take off on their own. Then they dive for good things to eat fish, frogs, snails and shellfish.
What if you looked out the window and saw a bird as tall as a tree? You’d surely be surprised. Maybe even frightened. Of course there aren’t any birds that large anymore. But thousands of years ago, there really were giant birds. One was so enormous that it is called an elephant bird. What if you looked out the window and saw an ostrich?You’d probably be surprised but you wouldn’t need to be afraid. The ostrich is usually quite gentle. And it is the biggest living bird in the whole world today. The very biggest!
Ostriches are so big and so heavy and their wings so short that they can’t fly. But they can run faster than any other bird-almost as fast as horse. To help them go faster, they flap their wings when they run. Sometimes they roam in large herds in the deserts or on the grassy plains. People used to say that an ostrich was a foolish bird. They thought it buried its head in the sand when it was in danger. They said that when an ostrich could not see its enemies it thought its enemies could not see it.
But this isn’t true about the ostrich. When it has its head down like that, it is looking for berries and seeds to eat. It fights with its beak and especially with its feet. Don’t stand close to an ostrich if it is angry. It can kick like a mule! But if you are kind to an ostrich and treat it well, it may become so tame that it will carry you around on its back.
It’s springtime. All the birds are building nests. But what is this bird doing? It’s a mother oriole, and she’s building a nest, too! But won’t be an ordinary nest-a little bowl of mud and twigs and grass perched on a tree limb. To build her nest, the mother oriole hangs upside down from a high tree limb, holding a long piece of string in her beak. With this and other piece of string and grass, she weaves a long sack that will sway gently in the wind.
The oriole usually fastens her fancy nest in a tree at a place where two branches come together. This leaves plenty of room for the birds to get into the nest from the open top. Once the long sides of the hanging nest are made the mother oriole stands over the top, balancing herself with spread wings while she sticks her head inside the sack nest and weaves the bottom.It takes her about six days to make this remarkable nest.
What do you suppose the father oriole is doing all this time? Not very much. He lets Mamma do all the work, while he struts back and forth on the limb, showing the world his pretty orange and black feathers. But now it’s time for him to work too. He crawls inside the new sack and begins fluttering his wings making all kinds of noise and shacking the branches. His fast-moving wings widen and shape the nest so that there will be room for the eggs the mother oriole is going to lay.
The mother oriole finishes the nest by putting soft pieces of moss and rags in the bottom. After the baby orioles are hatched from the eggs they are safe and warm in their sack home. Even the rough winds of a spring storm can’t harm them. Their home just swings back and forth while they sleep inside. Oriole nest in the same tree year after year. If you see orioles nesting in a tree near your house or in a park, you should look for the same birds again next spring.
Did you ever see an animal ” play dead’? The opossum is a little forest creature that uses this trick to protect itself from bigger and stronger animals.When rabbits are in danger, they hop away very fast. Woodchucks burrow into deep holes. Squirrels climb trees. But the opossum?It just stay still!
A huge dog might be towering over it with its mouth open and its teeth showing. The opossum freezes into a statue and then topples to the ground. It appears to be dead. The dog loses interest and leaves. When the scare is over, the opossum calmly gets up and walks away. Some people call this kind of make believe ” playing possum.” When the opossum is a tiny, furless baby no bigger than bumblebee, it snuggles inside its mother’s built in pocket pouch. No baby sitter for this baby. The opossum mother carries it everywhere she goes.
And a baby opossum doesn’t jiggle around all by itself in that pouch. There’s the company of as many as 11 brothers and sisters all bundled in, one for each nipple in the pouch. Imagine the shoving as the tiny opossums grow and grow and grow, until they are the size of little mice. Then in about six weeks, time for a change. Time for a piggyback ride!The mother opossum gives a special clicking signal and the babies crawl out of the pouch. They hold into her thick silver black fur with special grabbing thumbs and climb up her back.
Loaded with babies, like twelve furry flowers nestled in her hair, the mother opossum goes scampering through the woods and scurrying up trees. When a baby opossum is tired, with a quick tumble back into the pouch it’s nicely settled for a nap. But like all babies, it does have to grow up. Soon-no more pouch or piggyback rides. It will travel on its own and have grown up opossum jobs to do. It must make a nest home out of leaves in tree hollow. It must learn to loop its long. strong tail around the branches of trees as if the tail were a fifth hand.