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I think that Santiago makes similarities between himself and the bird in the context of the sea. Both the bird and Santiago are visiting the sea and living off her bounty.
A small bird came toward the skiff from the north. He was a warbler and flying very low over the water. The old man could see that he was very tired. The bird made the stern of the boat and rested there. Then he flew around the old man’s head and rested on the line where he was more comfortable. "How old are you?" the old man asked the bird. "Is this your first trip?" Ch. 3