It is morning in the Bac Lieu Bird Sanctuary in the Mekong Delta province of Bac Lieu. Flocks of great tit, western reef-heron, painted stork, and other birds raucously head toward Hai Cuong.
He is like a loving mother dispensing food to his hungry children. In his hands, he has crushed tilapia fish he bought from ponds nearby.
But he ignores the larger, bolder birds and makes a “túc túc” sound with his tongue to attract new arrivals who are understandably wary of humans.
The newcomers are western reef-herons, who fortunately come there and end up making it their home.
“It is essential to pay attention to the new ones to help them get along with the flock,” Cuong explains, “or else they will be distressed and refuse to eat.”
“Besides, the larger birds will fight off the others if there is not enough food. In this case, the victims will be the weaker ones.”
“At first they are all timid and reserved, but after knowing each other and me they become assertive,” Cuong, who has been dubbed ‘the No. 1 bird man’ in the Mekong Delta, says.
“Each bird sanctuary is like a society where birds are not too different from humans if they are treated well.”