Something over a week ago, there were two juvenile green herons living in a cluster of bushes on the southwest corner of the Plaza. As of Friday, both birds were dead.
Their deaths are a troubling mystery, at best, a sickening outrage, at worst. We may never know definitively what happened to them but given the circumstances of their deaths, we lean heavily toward the painful conclusion that they died by human hands.
Consider this: The first dead bird was found wedged among branches in a vertical position, about six feet off the ground. But for the yellow sheen of its immature beak it might have gone unnoticed until its bleached bones fell into view. Because its neck was wedged between two stout branches, we speculated that somehow a shift in the wind, some natural tension in the branch, might have transpired to catch the bird unawares and snap its little neck.
Over the ensuing days, the surviving bird became a fixture on the Plaza, wandering the lawn, sometimes striding down the sidewalk, even hopping into the Napa Street gutter. At times it stalked the grass, neck outstretched snatching bugs on the ground. Frequently it climbed back through the thick bush and popped into view on the crown of the shrubbery and sat there watching the parade of curious humans watching it. It seemed to be healthy, alert and not suffering from disease or malnutrition.
We worried it would be the victim of a car, a dog, a lawn mower, but conventional wisdom held that moving it wasn't wise and that in another week or two it would find its wings and fly away.
We last saw the bird on Thursday evening sitting alertly atop that sculptured bush, but by a little after 5 p.m. on Friday, when we checked again, the little heron was dead, strung-out upside down in precisely the same spot that its nest-mate was discovered.
It doesn't make logical sense to assume that this bird somehow drew its last breath and naturally expired in the exact same place, in the same position, except upside-down. A necropsy might tell us what happened, and it may not. If both birds died of a broken neck, it was more likely the result of human intervention than a shift of the wind.
There's a huge irony in the fact the herons survived the human onslaught of the July 4th parade and party in the Plaza, several farmers markets, the risky business of wandering unprotected across the Plaza lawn, only to succumb to what may have been some form of foul play.
If there were human culprits, logic suggests they may have been young. There is an atavistic impulse locked in our DNA that has to do with killing prey. In some children (and in sociopaths) it is less constrained. But sweeping conclusions about our children, our community, ourselves are pointless.
Two birds are dead and will be quickly forgotten. What remains is a deeply saddening realization that somehow we cannot guarantee a modicum of safety for wild and beautiful creatures living in our midst, harming no one, waiting simply to develop their wings and fly.
It makes us immensely and profoundly sad.