Sunday, February 22, 2009

Run! Here comes a Great Egret!

The college campus where I work has a Great Egret that often fishes from the bank of the artificial river near our cafeteria. I’m always pleased when I spot it standing there while scores of people walk by only a few yards away, because I see it as an example of how wildlife and people can coexist. So I was amazed when one of the cafeteria workers recently told me that she was afraid of the egret and always crossed to the opposite bank of the river to avoid it. I couldn’t help but laugh as I assured her that egrets don’t attack people.

However, when I thought about it later, I realized that her fear wasn’t totally absurd. After all, people are sometimes attacked by birds, particularly during nesting season. YouTube has several videos of pedestrians being harassed by nesting Northern Mockingbirds, and anyone who walks on a beach near nesting terns is likely to get a mini-taste of what Tippi Hedren experienced in “The Birds.” Then there are those streets in downtown Houston that sometimes have to be cordoned off because nesting Common Grackles swoop down on pedestrians and even cyclists and cars. It isn’t just nesting birds that can be a problem either. On more than one occasion I have had to move quickly away from Canada Geese that seemed determined to bite my ankles. And British nature photographer Eric Hosking became famous partly as a result of losing an eye to a Tawny Owl.


Oddly enough, all this got me thinking about my grandma, Mama Douglas, who has been dead for nearly 40 years. She was a tough old bird herself. She could wring a chicken’s neck in less time than it takes to say “Sunday lunch,” and she thought nothing of going down into our cellar and whacking huge rats with a wooden broom. Even she had an Achilles heel, though: She was terrified of snakes. Whenever my (totally harmless) pet grass snake escaped from the aquarium where it lived, Mama would go and stand in the middle of the street, refusing to come back into the house until the snake had been recaptured. I can’t imagine she would have flinched at the sight of an egret but …

2 comments:

Birdwoman said...

It's funny what people are afraid of, isn't it? Totally innocuous things like grass snakes and egrets. But then I guess I wouldn't want my own fears scrutized too closely...

Jeff said...

It really is odd. Except that most people seem to be afraid of snakes and spiders.
I'm afraid of fire ants - since I got dozens of bites on my hand a couple of years ago!