The Black-Billed Bird Who Tickled My Fancy

It is not for nothing that this place is called Herons Over. There are herons galore. Eight of the 12 species of heron roam the water's edge of this inlet.

One day, as I was kneeling in the garden, I felt a presence. I looked around, and there at one corner of the porch sat a black-crowned night heron, staring in my direction with large saucery eyes. This heron is bittern-shaped, short, chunky, ungraceful.

George, as I subsequently called him, did nothing but sit. I talked to him as I weeded, noticing that he shied away from other birds, taking to the underbrush. When I saw him trip over the hose and bump into the birdbath, I knew where George ''was coming from.'' I went right away for some pieces of fish and a pair of large tongs.

Speaking sweetly, I approached that heavy black bill. George didn't move. Slowly I passed the tongs and fish before his eyes. At a certain point, he could see the food and grabbed fiercely, snorting in excitement, and off he flew - tongs and all.

But the tongs were too heavy, so they dropped onto the dock and bounced into the deep. That did not discourage George. Or me. I had another pair of tongs and a stronger grip. Carefully and quietly, he found his place again and sat.

From that time on, we began a good relationship. One never owns a wild creature. One has an understanding with it.

At feeding time, it awed me to see that mouth open in expectation. Where did such trust and patience in adversity come from? George was teaching me. Self-preservation is built into all that lives. I quoted Scripture to him: ''Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.'' (Psalms 81:10) Creatures like being talked to endearingly. Then they come readily.

I splashed a hand in the low water basin, so he could learn where to get a drink. Water is a must, if you want to attract creatures. And there is a deep container for the long of leg.

George learned his name. I would go to the garden. No bird. But when I said ''George,'' he would appear and come hustling and bustling. He was my friend for several months. I haven't seen him lately. But the last time I did, his eyesight had improved.

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