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red bill.

From The suns babies by Edith Howes.
Age Rating 2 to 4.

Start of Story

In a sand-strewn hollow of a rock ledge on a tiny island lay a seagull's egg, yellow and grey and brown, to match the yellow and grey and brown of the sand and rocks. White waves played beneath it, dancing each day to the foot of the ledge, and throwing handfuls of spray up its rocky side, but never breaking over the top. Sea winds whisked above it, but never blew it from its sandy bed. No hungry hawk spied it from his vigilant soaring place; no hunting dog found it. Safe from harm, and quickened by the genial sun and the warmth of the mother's tender breast, the speck of life inside the egg grew slowly to a seagull baby. When the baby first peeped out from the soft darkness of his mother's sheltering wings the world looked very wide and dazzling. Overhead the big blue sky shone brightly, sunshine flooded all the air; nearer home gleaming points of light, like little stars, flashed on all sides amidst the sand. He drew in his head. "The light is too bright, mother," he said. "It hurts my eyes. But what is that sweet sound I hear?" "Dear one, those are the white waves at play. They are the kind friends who carry your meals to shore. See--here is your father with a sea-worm for your breakfast. Open your bill and swallow." He was the fluffy darling of his parents, their sole care and joy. Day after day, week after week, they waited on him, by turns guarding him and fishing for him, bringing him soft delicious morsels of crab and pipi and tender fish. Under such faithful feeding he grew fast. Each day he looked over his ledge. "The waves, mother!" he said. "The white, white waves! They are always calling. May I not go yet to the sea?" "Not yet," his mother would reply. "Baby gulls must wait till feathers grow in place of down." Feathers grew in place of down. Baby wings broadened and grew strong, and at last he could fly. "The waves still call, mother," he pleaded. "Come, then," said his mother at last, and down they all went to the sea, and the joy of life began. He was as yet only a mottled brown baby, not nearly so handsome as his dove-backed parents with their breasts of snow. But his pink webbed toes oared their way gleefully through the clear water, and his little brown bill learned to snap the fleeing fish as cunningly as the crimson beaks of the older birds. What a life that was! They soared over restless waves on scarcely-moving wings, swooping low and dropping where the flash of fins proclaimed a feast. They circled tiny bays whose seaweed carpets clothed the floors in rainbow hues; or rode like fairy craft upon the ever-rolling breakers on the shelving shores. When fierce winds blew, they wheeled and screamed like spirits of the storm, laughing to see the surface of the sea torn up and flung against the high coast rocks. Slowly, as the months rolled by, the little Red-bill's feathers changed from mottled brown to pearly grey and shining white; scarlet flamed on bill and feet. The full bright beauty of his kind was on him. Mating season came. "Little love," he said to his chosen one, "I know an island where our egg will be safe and our baby sheltered. There, where white waves sing and dance all day, he shall be loved and tended as I was loved and tended."


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