"He was dressed like a ragpicker. There were only a few faded hairs left on his bald skull and very few teeth left in his mouth.... His huge buzzard wings, dirty and half-plucked, were forever entangled in the mud."
The old man appears forlorn and decrepit, and he wears inexplicable wings that are dirty and missing many of their feathers. His wings have also been attacked by parasites, and he smells like the outdoors, as any human would.
In addition, the old man speaks in an unintelligible language with "a strong sailor's voice," so Pelayo and Elisenda conclude that the old man is a castaway sailor. However, a neighbor believes the old man is an angel, even though the local priest finds out that the angel does not speak Latin.
When a crowd comes to see the old man, who has been penned in a chicken coop, he does not pay them any heed and refuses all food except eggplant mush. Even when people throw stones at him and pluck out his feathers, he does not respond. The only time he is moved to action is when someone tries to brand him with an iron, and he wakes up, speaks in his strange language, and flaps his wings.
When a doctor examines the old man, the doctor thinks that the man has so much whistling going on in his heart and so many noises in his kidneys that it's a miracle that the old man is still alive. The doctor also can't fathom how the man can have wings that work so seamlessly. The old man can barely see out of his eyes, and he bumps into objects. He seems close to death but survives the winter and then begins to sprout feathers. After a great deal of time has passed, he flies off when the weather gets warmer.