It was not the
fox barking, but rather the klee-klee-klee call of the slate-blue
winged falcon, which always sounded to Agnes like kill thee, kill thee,
kill thee, that startled the small passerine. She shook as she resettled
herself over her sparse nest. That falcons constant call, coupled with
the regular response of the areas kestrel population, worried her so much
that she had only managed to lay two eggs.
When her chicks
hatched, theyd be blind, featherless and helpless until they fledged.
That span would take roughly two weeks. In the interim, she and Barney would
have to continuously cull insects and berries and then to regurgitate those
meals for their young to better the odds that at least one of those hatchlings
would survive. The neighborhoods aerial predators, those avians intent on
swooping down not just on mice, on moles, on adders, and on lizards, but also
on songbirds, too, had young to feed.
Martha had met her end
in their talons. That silly meadowlark had audaciously flapped her wings at
those larger birds, hoping to draw their attention away from her nest, toward
the bothersome grass snakes that had taken up residence nearby. She had
The winged hunters had
caught and eaten nearly half of a dozen of the reptilian monsters. Thereafter,
those falcons had returned for Martha, for her young, and for the contents and
guardians of close by partridge, dove, and yellowthroat homes. The only
goodness resulting from Marthas unintentional sacrifice was that the
slithering fiends had temporarily been reduced in number.
As for the predators,
kestrels have few natural enemies. Agnes believed that only larger hawks and
humans hunted those near apex brutes and that while those otherwise peerless
raiders preferred rabbits, squirrels, and lizards to redwings, theyd as
easily feast on small birds as chomp on other creatures.
Agnes shuddered anew
when the air was temporarily filled with the chatter call of several killers.
She also tensed; Barney had not yet returned to the nest. They were taking
turns incubating their eggs since each of them preferred the relatively safer
task of feeding themselves. Not only did incubating make a parent bird
susceptible to falcons, but at sunset and sunrise, crepuscular fiends such as
badgers, martens, and mink also sought the taste of winged things. Only at
night, when she and her brooding partner settled together for warmth and
companionship did Agnes feel less anxious.
The sun sank. Mixed
avian babble was replaced by the kestrels klee-klee-klee
rant. Barney still had not returned. Agnes distress was punctuated by
gurgles from her alimentary canal. She and her mate had built their twig and
grass nest, she had laid their eggs, and she had warmed them Now, she was
If she flew off, she
might survive, but her eggs would perish from lack of heat or because of some
beasts jaws. If she remained, she, herself, might get eaten or die of
cold from lack of a stoked metabolism. Redwings tend not to build fat reserves
only before migrating.
A hawks scream
decided her. She leapt into the air toward a bower of pine. Simultaneously, a
blur of bone and feather dove for her nest. There was no sound of impact, only
the loud noise of crunching reverberating through the meadow.
Agnes puffed her
feathers to increase her seeming size. Birds dont cry; all she could do
was to shake. She inched farther and farther into the brush. If she could have,
she would have fainted.
Somehow, Agnes survived
the night. Around her, tiny nubs, perhaps shoots, which were almost translucent
green, sprouted. They unfurled to reveal tiny stems. Those stems, in turn,
possessed small, round leaves, which were, fortunately, teeming with small
insects. Agnes ate well.
All day she ate. At
night, she stayed in the understory. She had no mate, no babies, and no nest to
which to return. She had only beardgrass and foxtail in which to find comfort.
As she fell asleep, Agnes noted the additional presence of a sparse clump of
goldenseal and of a lone stand of joyweed. If she could have shrugged, she