Harold the Hornbill
(Page 2 of 2)
Harold was not beautiful by Hollywood standards. He had a small body and a large head. But he was good-natured and friendly, and he remained on good terms with most of the household during a lifetime of 12 years.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Harold's best friends were those who fed him, and he was willing even to share his food with us, sometimes trying to feed me with his great beak. While I turned down his offers of beetles and similar delicacies, I did occasionally share a banana with him. Eating was a serious business for Harold, and if there was any delay at mealtime he would summon me with raucous barks and vigorous bangs of his bill on the woodwork of the kitchen window.
He loved bananas and dates and balls of boiled rice. I would throw him the rice balls, and he would catch them in his beak, toss them in the air, and let them drop into his open mouth. He perfected this trick of catching things, and in time I taught him to catch a tennis ball thrown with some force from a distance of 15 yards. He would have made a great baseball catcher.
Having no family, profession, or religion, Harold gave much time and thought to his personal appearance. He carried a rouge-pot on his person and used it very skillfully as an item of his morning toilet. This rouge-pot was a small gland situated above the roots of his tail feathers; it produced a rich yellow fluid. Harold would dip into his rouge-pot from time to time and then rub the color over his feathers and the back of his neck. It would come off on my hands whenever I touched him.
Harold would toy with anything bright or glittering, often swallowing it afterward. On one occasion he seized a rupee coin from me (a week's pocket money in those days) and swallowed it neatly. I never saw the coin again, although I followed him about in the hope that the coin might be ejected, as were my marbles from time to time.
Only once did he really misbehave. That was when he removed a lighted cigar from the hand of an American cousin who was visiting us. Harold swallowed the cigar. It was a moving experience for Harold, and an unnerving one for our guest.
Although Harold never seemed to drink any water, he loved the rain. We always knew when it was going to rain, because Harold would start chuckling to himself about an hour before the first raindrops fell. This used to irritate my Aunt Ruby. She was always being caught in the rain. Harold would be chuckling when she left the house. And when she returned, drenched to the skin, he would be in fits of laughter.
As the storm clouds gathered, and gusts of wind shook the banana trees, Harold would get very excited, and his chuckle would change to an eerie whistle. ``Wheee ... wheee,'' he would scream. And then as the first drops of rain hit the veranda steps, and the scent of the freshened earth passed through the house, he would start roaring with pleasure. The wind swept the rain into the veranda, and Harold would spread out his wings and dance, tumbling about like a circus clown. My grandparents and I would come out on the veranda to watch him and share in his happiness.
Many years later, I still miss Harold's raucous bark and the banging of his great bill. If there is a heaven for good hornbills, I hope he is getting all the summer showers he could wish for, and plenty of tennis balls to catch.