I walk 4 or 5 times a week on Fiesta Island and have come to see territories claimed by various creatures, a little blue here, an Osprey there between 7 and 8 in the morning.
Three years ago when I started birding I noticed a young blue heron. He was always at the same location, his territory I assumed. I always came about 7:00 AM and rain or shine, he was standing post.
I had recently discovered a nesting sight for Great Blues and was following the maturation of two chicks. I had watched them grow, stretch their feathers, practicing to fledge. Then one day…they were gone. I wondered at the time if maybe this bird was one of the fledges. Maybe not, but it was continuity for me.
One day about 2 years ago I noticed he had a piece of wood jammed into a space below his beak. It was at least 14 inches long. When he would move his head it would move. I was frantic with maternal instinct, made a few telephone calls to the local wildlife people and was told that: “Nature will take its course. We don’t intervene in cases like this.” He didn’t appear to be disabled.
Over the next year the stick became shorter and shorter. For the last 6 months it appeared to be about 4 inches long. So obviously, it hadn’t interfered with eating or balance, or survival. I often wondered if it was a deterent to a female who he might be drawn to, much like a person with a handicap is often detered in human relations. (I once traveled with a friend who had lost a limb and was made very aware of how different her experience is in the world.) Creatures are very visual, especially birds, whose health and sexual attractiveness is signaled by visual cues, brightness of feathers, etc. He had this thing sticking out of his mouth. It might be difficult to help feed young. It might be a turn off.
Years ago I read Painted Bird, a 1965 novel by Jerzy Kosiński which describes the world as seen by a young Jewish boy hiding during World War II in barns and forests. The book was filled with allegories about human beings. In one of the stories, the boy meets a man who captures birds. Occasionally, when bored, (and reflecting his true nature), the man paints one of his birds with many bright colors of paint. He then releases the bird who flies to join his flock. The painted bird is now perceived as “other” and is torn apart by the other birds.
The Great Blue was a survivor but I hadn’t seen him for a month. I know many Great Blues migrate. Maybe he decided to go on a long trip this year. I hope so.
I have been taking care of my ailing mother for 5 years. This month she had a fall and broke some bones in her neck. She is 91 years old and is currently in the intensive care ward at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla. It has been touch and go and we have concerns about her surviving this last onslaught. So in the morning when I walk my dog, she is heavy on my mind.
This morning when I drove past the the Great Blue’s sentinel spot, I imagined him somewhere, now bones and dust, a jawbone, with an imbeded piece of wood with bone grown around it.