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Original Issue

A warm feeling for a wild bird

Ikuma Dan, author of this appealing tale of an unusual adventure with a wild kite of Japan, is one of his country's foremost composers, creator of the background music for the well-known films "Samurai" and "Ricksha-Man. "His story first appeared in the newspaper "Mainichi"

One morning, the summer before last, I suddenly had an absurd idea. I thought I would like to tame a free-flying kite. From the time I was a child I have kept a lot of birds. I should have been satisfied with keeping canaries and parakeets, but I always tired quickly of small birds kept mainly for their looks. I couldn't stand the attitude of fearfulness, even within the safety of their cages, of birds who couldn't live on their own outside the cage. At the same time I knew there were some species that would remain wild no matter how kind one was to them.

Unlike pet birds kept for show, wild birds have a balanced character. I think I can say that the species of wild birds I have fed have no limit in character. And each one has taught me something new about the miraculousness of the laws of nature.

The interesting thing about wild birds is the ease with which they become accustomed to man. The fact that wild birds become friendly while so-called pet birds do not appears to me to provide considerable food for thought. It seems that in this is a preliminary key to the secret of the character of birds.

But it pained me to keep wild birds penned up in confining cages. Thus, when the birds became accustomed to me and a sort of friendship had sprung up between us, I let them out of their cages—first only within the house, then later outside. These freed birds took up abode in the trees around the house or in the forest on the hill behind my house. Some of them returned to my room at night, and in the morning flew off again.

Then this one morning I was standing in my garden. I was watching five kites making wide circles high in the sky. My house is located on the seashore at Hayama. On the northern side stretches out the series of low hills peculiar to the Miura Peninsula. The kites were flying high above these hills. An idea struck me. I went into the kitchen, picked up several slices of meat left over from last night's sukiyaki and returned to the garden. Holding my right hand with the meat high over my head, I continued to watch the kites. I moved my hand, waving the strips of meat. High in the sky, the kites began to notice. The wide, lazy circles made by the soaring birds as they searched the ground for food suddenly became erratic. Two of the five birds began slowly descending a little at a time.

For two hours I kept on waving my hand, unable to wipe away the sweat brought on by the blazing summer sun. When I moved my left hand to wipe away the sweat, the birds seemed to become alarmed. At the end of the two-hour test of endurance, the kites had descended to fly in slow circles only 20 or 30 meters above my head. I could clearly see each brown feather on their bodies. I saw that the birds' eyes were much more gentle-looking than I had been led to believe. When one bird flew down even lower, I suddenly threw the strips of meat upward.

I believed that the kite would catch the meat in its claws or in its beak. But the bird was startled and flew off.

The next day, about the same time, I went through the whole routine again. This time one bird flew in from the hills almost immediately. Apparently much more accustomed to me than the day before, it flew down close to me in a short time. When I threw the meat the bird swooped down and caught it neatly in its claws, then proceeded to devour the meat in flight. After repeating this five or six times the bird flew off seaward.

Appointment at 10:30

From then on every day, except the days when I had to go to Tokyo on my work, the kite and I played our little game. By the time summer was over, the kite was flying low circles over my house exactly at 10:30 every morning. According to other members of my family, the kite invariably appeared on days when I was absent, but when any one of them came out with the intention of feeding the bird, the kite flew away.

In this way, friendship between myself and the kite became very close. Eventually, I didn't have to throw the meat. The bird would cleverly take it right out of my hand. On days when I went out into the garden before the kite appeared, I would whistle, imitating the bird's call, and wave my arm in wide circles. The bird would suddenly come flying swiftly in, either from high above or from the woods on the nearby hills. Occasionally the bird would alight on my head or shoulder. Even when I gently stroked its breast feathers it seemed to trust me. Frequently, when I sat on the big rocks on the seashore fishing, the kite would watch me. And when I gave it some small fish, it devoured them eagerly.

Strangely, the kite failed to appear when December came around. But in March of the following year it turned up again daily.

Nature is full of mysteries. I know no reason why friendship should have blossomed between me and this particular kite. I don't know where the bird winters from December to March and I know nothing about its family. The only thing I know is that between the bird and me there exists a warm feeling. Call it affection or friendship.