What better way to begin the new year than with a moral tale? The fabled Dean of Student Affairs at S.U.N.Y. Oswego and amateur ornithologist Robert Roc received a commission from National Geographic to write and photograph an essay on seabirds nesting on a small and very rocky island off the coast of Maine. It would take him all spring and summer, so he prepared himself thoroughly and built an inconspicuous camp and several blinds at strategic locations on the islet. He moved himself in before mating season started, and he began taking photographs and copious notes.
As time passed, it became clear that the various species of birds got along poorly, to say the least. They were always mounting incursions into each other’s territory, and the larger birds preyed on the smaller ones, either eating them or their eggs or forcing them to relinquish their catches. Eventually, however, Bob became aware of one small seabird who seemed to have a sense of altruism.
This bird, when it saw an altercation developing between its island mates would attempt to break it up before it got started. If the parents of a chick were somehow killed or driven off, this bird would actually try to feed the baby until it became a fledgling. The good Samaritan bird would even lend a wing in nest building if the builder were inept. Roc was simply amazed.
He began to focus on the helpful bird, and at last he became so interested in it — almost obsessively so — that all of his efforts were bent toward chronicling this feathered friend’s existence. When he sat down at his laptop to begin writing his article he soon found that he had enough material for a book. The following fall he submitted his original article to the magazine and began to write the book because, as he said in his journal, “One good tern deserves an author.”