Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Toto the Toucan
Just a reminder that there is an index to all of Verrill's stories here.
Toto the Toucan
By A. Hyatt Verrill
IN a deep hole far up in a dead tree Toto the Toucan was hatched—an ungainly, bluish, naked, pot-bellied chick, the ugliest little creature you can imagine.
But his mother and father thought him the finest and most beautiful baby in the world and clattered and croaked the news of his arrival to all the denizens of the forest round about. They had little time to think of his appearance, however, for Toto was a very hungry little chap and his parents were kept busy, flying back and forth from the nest to the vast green forest and bringing bits of fruit and squirming insects to fill their baby's ever-open mouth.
Toto grew rapidly, and very soon he was able to crawl to the edge of the hole where, sticking his funny big beak through the opening and cocking his bright blue head on one side, he could look about at the world far below. For the toucans' nest was a hundred feet and more above the earth, and Toto could gaze upon many miles of the wonderful jungle and the great, winding, silver river that flowed near. Overhead in the blue sky he could see great black vultures wheeling on motionless wings and looking for all the world like aeroplanes. Beneath him in the tree-tops he could see monkeys scampering about and chattering, and gaudy red and blue macaws flying hither and thither, and with his sharp ears he could hear the screams of parrots, the songs of countless birds, and the wild howling of the babboons.
It seemed a very wonderful and beautiful world to Toto, as indeed it was, for the toucans' nest was in the heart of the great Guiana forest in South America, where there are many wonderful and beautiful things to be seen. But it was a very dangerous world, as well, for while the baby toucan was quite safe from furred or feathered foes, far above their reach in the hole in the dead tree, yet there were plenty of hungry creatures ready to gobble him down should he tumble or scramble from his lofty home. The squawking, complaining Caracara hawks would have thought him a welcome breakfast; the great boas and anacondas would have seized him in an instant; the prowling ocelots would have licked their chops as they crunched such a tidbit in their sharp teeth, and even the lazy green iguanas and the ugly alligators beside the river would have snapped him up before he had time even to squawk for help.
There was one danger, however, which Toto's parents had not thought of and against which the high dead tree was no protection. This danger came paddling down the river in a narrow dugout canoe, a bronze, naked figure with keen, black eyes and with a scarlet loincloth about its waist and a long bow and arrows by its side. In other words, this danger was an Indian, and his sharp eyes, seeking among the forest trees for game, soon spied the baby toucan's beak projecting from the hole in the dead tree-trunk.
With a smile of satisfaction the Indian ran his canoe ashore, and stepping upon the bank, hewed his way through the jungle to the foot of the tree. It seemed impossible that any man could climb that great, bare, polished trunk, but to the Indian it was a simple matter. Cutting a piece of tough vine, he tied loops in the ends, passed the ropelike creeper around the tree and slipped his feet through the loops. Then, grasping the trunk with his hands, he jerked up his feet and the rope, braced his toes against the tree, and straightening up secured a new hold with his hands.
Over and over again he repeated this funny froglike motion, and each time he rose higher and higher on the tree.
Hardly had he commenced to climb before Toto's parents realized that their baby was in danger, and with loud cries and clattering, snapping beaks they flew anxiously about with a queer, jerky flight, arousing all the toucans far and near. But the Indian gave no heed to them, for the baby toucan would mean a new knife for himself or a string of beads for his own brown baby, for at his village was a white man who bought all manner of strange things from the Indians and who particularly wished a live toucan.
At last the Indian reached the nest and thrusting his hand in the hole drew Toto forth, squawking and struggling. Tucking the frightened toucan in his deerskin pouch, the Indian slid quickly down the tree. An hour later Toto was eating bits of banana from the white man's hand while Komahri sharpened a brand new knife and gazed fondly at his fat, brown baby with a string of shiny, glass beads about its chubby neck.
But Komahri and his wife were not half as pleased with what they received for Toto as were the white man's daughters when, on returning from his long journey through the "bush," he brought them the funny bird with the wise, brown eyes and gigantic bill.
And a very funny and interesting pet he was, or rather is, for Toto is a real bird and while I am writing his story he is hopping about and begging to be petted and played with, as much at home as if he were in the South American forest, and far safer than he would be there.
No longer is he an ungainly, ugly, naked baby, and I doubt if his own mother or father would know him if they saw him now. His body is covered with a coat of glossy, blue-black feathers, there is a patch of yellow over his tail and a patch of scarlet below, and his throat is snowy white with an edge of crimson, which makes him look, as Valerie says, "like a man in evening clothes with a white shirt bosom and fancy red vest." About his eyes the skin is bare and sky-blue, and his enormous bill is gay with scarlet, orange, yellow, green, and blue.
But funny as he looks, his appearance is not half as comical as his ways are. He barks like a dog and whistles like a boy and sometimes makes a sound like a bell, and when he wants to be petted or fed he makes a queer, complaining little noise in his throat which sounds precisely like a dog barking a long way off.
He is very fond of being petted and loves to play, and if you could see him, hopping about on his big, blue feet and investigating every thing by tapping it with his gaudy bill, you would burst out laughing, for Toto doesn't walk or hop like other birds, but moves by great leaps, more like a kangaroo than a bird.
Perhaps you think that his big, bright-hued bill is clumsy and a nuisance. Not a bit of it. Toto can pick up the smallest object in the daintiest manner and can move so quickly and use his bill so deftly that he captures flies in mid-air and, large as it is, he can use his bill as well and can preen his feathers as readily as any other bird.
How do you suppose this funny bird eats? He seizes his food in the tip of his bill, tosses it in the air, and with bill wide open catches the food in his throat. A wonderfully elastic throat it is too, and Toto makes no difficulty of swallowing a whole banana at a single gulp; but whether it is a banana, a spider, an ant, or any other tidbit, he never thinks of swallowing it without first throwing it up and catching it in this way.There is nothing he loves better than to have some one stand at a distance and toss him bits of fruit or dainties so that he can catch them. Very seldom indeed does he miss, and if he is not hungry, he is just as fond of catching a wad of paper or any other light object, for Toto never tires of playing ball and showing his skill as a catcher.
Perhaps the funniest thing about Toto is his tail, for when he is excited or pleased it snaps up over his back as if it worked by a spring. When he goes to bed, Toto places his big beak upon his back, spreads his tail like a fan, snaps it up over his bill, and standing on one foot goes to sleep, looking like a big, round, black ball.
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.