Doodle acts strangely--even for Doodle--but seems to almost immediately identify with the "red, dead bird" that falls from the bleeding tree in the James Hurst short story, "The Scarlet Ibis." When he first sees the bird high in the tree, Doodle grabs his throat with both hands. When he realizes it is dead, he wants to bury it but is warned not to touch it. So he drapes a string around the ibis's neck and drags it off to its final resting place. He sings "Shall We Gather at the River" and then buries it next to the petunia bed in the front yard. Twice he refuses his mother's offer of peach cobbler before heading off to Old Woman Swamp with his brother. But on this day, he is too tired to swim, and he
"did not speak and kept his head turned away, letting one hand trail limply in the water."
Perhaps he, too, can sense that his life is nearing its end.
When the family first hears the cry of the scarlet ibis, Doodle is the first to go outside and point up at the bird sitting on the top-most branch of a bleeding tree. As the family wonders about the bird, Doodle appears transfixed by it. Brother relates that he's never seen Doodle stand still for so long to look at something.
As the family try to decide whether the bird is sick or tired, the ibis falls to its death. Immediately after this, Daddy tells Brother to fetch the bird book. From its pages, the family discovers that the scarlet ibis has actually flown far away from its natural habitat. A tropical bird, it originally hails from a tropical climate and can be found from South America to Florida.
Meanwhile, Doodle is greatly affected by the bird's death, and he proclaims his desire to bury it. Upon hearing this, Mama warns him against touching the bird, as she is concerned that the bird might carry some avian disease. Doodle promises that he will refrain from touching the bird; however, he does not keep his promise.
When the family returns to the dining room, Doodle does not follow. Instead, he takes a piece of string from his pocket and proceeds to make a loop. He pulls the loop over the ibis' neck and drags it to the front yard. While he is transporting the ibis, he sings a hymn named "Shall We Gather at the River." Next to the petunia bed, Doodle laboriously digs a hole, where he eventually buries the ibis. After this compassionate act, he goes inside. When his father asks whether he has managed to bury the ibis, Doodle nods an affirmative answer.
He doesn't speak much and refuses his mother's offer of peach cobbler for dessert. It is obvious that the ibis' death has greatly affected Doodle.