FLORIDA is a bird kingdom. What our family has done in behalf of birds borders on the very dedicated. In New England, feeding birds was simple. You affixed a big hunk of suet and watched the sparrows, cardinals, and chickadees come and go. Florida birds have character.
There are several egrets, herons, and pelicans that land at Whitecap Circle in Venice, near the Gulf of Mexico. They have different names and different behavior patterns. How they act sometimes determines what name they get. An identification chart is needed to tell all.
Fluffy. Fluffy is a large white heron that stands around all day looking through the dining room window. He wiggles his throat and opens his beak several times. These are hints.
If he sees somebody in the house he will stride to the back door and wait in excited hope. When the door opens, he gets nervous, shifting every wing and tail feather upward. He is half domesticated, half wild. He will eat from your hand only when he is ravenous.
Cranky. Here is a small egret with an upturned ducktail. He has no fear. He stands at the edge of a vibernum bush and eats one chicken heart after another from your hand.
But before each bite there is a squawk. This is either thank you or protest. Cranky is a gourmet bird. The higher in quality the smelts, minnows, and chicken livers are, the more attentive he becomes. When he can no longer squawk, it means he's full.
Rollow. The most beloved of guests, a brown pelican. She has character, too. She pants, just like a little boy who's hit a home run. Out of a flock of identical birds it is the heavy breathing that gives her away. She keeps her wings half extended and waddles around in circles like Charlie Chaplin. Her eating capacity is unlimited. Unless you own a smelt fishery, she will swallow you out of house and home.
Fishface. Fishface is a white heron with a long skinny neck. Fishface is tame, and he competes with Cranky for nutritional attention. They sit side by side on the same vibernum bush while you divide the food between the two, passing a piece of gizzard to one, then the other. Fishface is easy to get along with, and he's called Fishface because he looks directly at you, sometimes with open mouth, like a brook trout hiding under a rock.
Big Blue. This is a heron that my mother likes. But this bird is too wild and skittish for my liking. You open the door and she backs up, terrified. A real non-expresser of intelligence. The sea gulls eat half the food thrown to Big Blue. If she wants to do better, Big Blue has to get domesticated and play the game like all the rest.
Birds of this type are a genuine alternative to television reruns. They are natural performers with their own style of method acting. Otherwise, if 50 pelicans were to land here tomorrow, I couldn't say, ``Will the real Rollow please step forward?''