The single most symbolic event in James Hurst's short story, "The Scarlet Ibis," occurred when the bird tumbled from the bleeding tree and died in Doodle's yard. An omen of bad luck, the death of the bird was particularly traumatic to Doodle, who sympathized with the beautiful "red, dead bird" and may have seen similarities between it and himself. He suddenly lost his appetite and went about burying the ibis, "slowly, while singing 'Shall We Gather at the River.' "
Its legs were crossed and its clawlike feet were delicately curved at rest. Even death did not mar its grace, for it lay on the earth like a broken vase of red flowers, and we stood around it, awed by its exotic beauty.
Later, "Doodle said he was too tired to swim," and his brother realized even more clearly that their regimen to make Doodle like one of the other boys had failed. As the lightning neared and the rain poured, Doodle's brother left him behind amid the little boy's cries for help. When the brother returned, he found Doodle with his head down,
... Limply, he fell backwards onto the earth. He had been bleeding from the mouth, and his neck and the front of his shirt were stained a brilliant red... He sat very awkwardly, with his head thrown far back, making his vermilion neck appear unusually long and slim. His little legs, bent sharply at the knees, had never before seemed so fragile, so thin. I began to weep, and the tear-blurred vision in red before me looked very familiar.
... For a long time, it seemed forever, I lay there crying, sheltering my fallen scarlet ibis from the heresy of rain.
In the end, Doodle resembled the "red dead bird," with the bloody shirt and the awkwardly bent legs. Like the bird, who had flown farther than anyone could have imagined, Doodle, too, had lived a life longer than even his family had predicted. The story ends with the brother admiring his own fallen, exotic beauty.