The Headless Cormorant
There it stood on the asphalt, unmoving, a headless bird the size of a large duck. The headless-head was actually turned and nestled down between the back wings. With the rhythmic rise and fall of its chest, it was clear the bird was sleeping. It wasn’t bothered in the least with my van now parked five feet away.
The morning was a windy, cold, gray-skied spring morning with puddles of water all about the marina parking lot from the previous night’s rain. I was driving around through the sailboats in dry dock seeing how they placed their logos on their boats. It was early, and nobody was around as I rounded the corner and saw the “headless” bird.
Being a bird fan, I stopped and watched from a distance. Then, curious as to how close I could get to him, I drove my van closer and stopped. He was still sleeping . . . ignoring me. I rolled down the window and called to get his attention as I tapped the car door. He slowly unfurled his head, looked at me, then slowly turned and tucked it again between his back wings, dozing off.
When he looked at me, I was surprised to see that he was a Cormorant. I had never seen one up close before without binoculars, so this was a bit of a treat for me. They are amazing aquatic birds and are powerful swimmers that swim under water to catch fish. Amazingly, they can even swim one hundred feet below the surface of the water. Fishermen in Asia use them to catch fish to sell at the market. They are in the Pelican family and have long necks with slender long beaks. This one stood nearly three feet tall.
Still curious as to how close I could get, I got out of the van and slowly walked toward him. At any moment, I expected him to burst into a furious flapping of fear and consternation–but he did not. He stood there with both webbed feet planted firmly on the asphalt sleeping. Finally, I knelt down in front of him and softly talked to him as I began stroking his chest. He unfurled his head, cocked it sideways and stared at me. I could see he was an old bird—his beak was ragged, and the brown and white down feathers on his chest were coming off on my hand as I stroked him.
He had pretty eyes that startled me. Around his staring eye, I saw a delicate row of small bright blue dots that circled his eye. I chuckled as he chomped on my finger with his long sharp beak. It wasn’t a defensive bite but a taste-test bite to see if I was anything fishy and good to eat. I wasn’t, and he let go. During this time, I periodically looked around to see if anyone else was seeing this old bird. But it was still early and nobody was in the parking lot.
Stroking his downy head and chest, I found myself praying. I knew it was just a bird and not like a human-in-need, but still I quietly prayed out loud, “Lord Jesus, thank you for making this awesome beautiful bird. I thank you for letting me get close and spend some time with him. The way he’s acting and just standing here, he must be near death. Lord, I know he is just a bird, but let him die in peace and not at the jaws of a predator. I can’t imagine heaven when the lion will lay down with the lamb, and I know not a sparrow falls without your knowledge. So Lord, please keep him safe till he is gone. In Jesus name, Amen.”
I looked up startled to see an old sailor standing about fifty feet away by a barrel. He wore a bright yellow rain jacket with a yellow rain hat. His hair was all white with a mustache, short beard, and curly shaggy hair bushing from under his hat. A little embarrassed, I thought, “Goodness, I wonder if he heard me praying for the old bird!?” But when I looked at his face, he just smiled and seem to nod in approval. I glanced down at the old bird and smiling, I looked back up at the old sailor—he was gone. We were in an open parking lot, and I looked around but couldn’t see him. It made me wonder.
Saying good bye to the old bird, I climbed back into my van and slowly drove off, thinking about my own mortality. Through my rearview mirror, I saw the old bird gradually turn his head back and tuck it between his wings–once again to sleep . . . till he becomes a fallen sparrow in God’s memory.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31 (NIV)
Copyright © 2010 by William D. (Nick) Nichols