40% of young eagles do not survive their first flight–baldeagleinfo.com/
“And the sky is our home,” Shadow’s mother replied.
The two eagles traded approving looks and each tossed a strip of warm rabbit into the nest. Shadow and Screech both scrambled for the food and gulped it down as fast as they could. Screech, of course, screeched when he was done.
If Shadow ever had kids, he was never naming one Screech. His brother acted like he always had to live up to his name, and it was so annoying.
Just then, Screech sniffed the air and put his head up, into the breeze. He stretched out his wings, and with a flash of intense envy Shadow watched as his two-day-older brother rode the air, weightless, and settled back again lightly.
Screech’s beak fell open into a smug grin. “Bet you can’t do that—can you, chick?”
“Can, too.” Shadow spread his wings, but he still had too much down and not enough flight feathers. He stayed firmly rooted in their treetop nest.
“See? You can’t do it ’cause you’re just a chick.”
“Here, chick, chick. C’mere fluffy little chick, chick.”
Their mother’s foot came down between them, sharp talons extended. And just to make sure neither of them missed the point, she fixed each of them in turn with a fierce golden eye.
Screech wasn’t bright enough to shut up. “You keep telling us how important it is to fly, Mom. I’m just trying to help him.”
Their mother dove at Screech with her sharp beak, and it was Shadow’s turn to feel smug as he watched his brother try to disappear into the twigs of their nest.
“Fifteen years I have raised eaglets,” their mother said. “From egg to flight. When I want help, I’ll tell you.”
Shadow tossed one last snarky look over his shoulder before tucking his head under his wing. The sun was setting anyway.
As his flight feathers filled in, Shadow experienced the elation of breezes lifting him for a heart-stopping moment of joy. But just as everything was going well, his parents developed a truly sick sense of humor.
“Mmm, look at this rabbit,” his father called as he glided by. “Fly out to the ridge across the water, and I’ll split it with you.”
Screech bumped into Shadow, and Shadow screeched as he barely hung on to the underside of the nest. It was a horrible, gut-wrenching, long way down. The rocks at the bottom looked ready to chew him up.
Shadow scrambled back onto the nest. He had no idea if he’d ever be ready to face that. But what kind of eagle would he be if he didn’t fly? They were Lords of the Air. It’s what eagles did.
“Too much for you, little chick?” taunted Screech.
“Fine,” Shadow said, trying not to show how scared he was. “You fly over there if it’s no big deal.”
“Not hungry right now,” said Screech, and Shadow stalked to the other side of the nest, which was nowhere near big enough. Given some sort of miracle, one day Shadow would be a Lord of the Air. Today his world consisted of this nest. And how very close it was to that watery chasm below. And how annoyingly full of Screech.
“Come join me,” their mother cried. “I’ve got enough for all of us.” She circled overhead so they could clearly see the two squirrels she had clutched in her talons. Shadow’s mouth watered at the thought of all that delicious meat. And then she darted away, to a knob on the rock face across the chasm.
Their parents did toss them scraps—enough to live on, but nowhere near enough to satisfy. Shadow and Screech were constantly hungry. It did not make for a happy nest. They both had scratches on their feet from the constant scuffles.
But Shadow and Screech also grew lean. Every breeze lifted them off their feet now. One day, Screech called out, “Good-bye, chick!” and floated up. His wings worked furiously, and Screech was flying after their father, who was waiting on the rock face with a fat marmot.
Shadow paced back and forth. For all that he had wanted Screech to just go away, now he desperately wanted him back. What if Screech never came home? Then he’d never see Shadow fly.
Shadow picked his way gingerly to the edge of the nest and stared down into the roaring water. It was so far down. He let a breeze pick him up, but he pulled his wings back in as it lifted him. If he failed at this, he wouldn’t get a second chance. He would die.
Shadow scooted back to the center. The chasm wasn’t just made of water and rocks, it was made of fear. His fear. He wasn’t worthy to be a Lord of the Air. They all feasted on fresh rabbit that night in honor of Screech’s flight, but the tender meat sat in a hard lump in Shadow’s stomach.
Three agonizing days followed—watching Screech take off and land again, having to hear about how easy it was. Shadow would run at Screech, wings out, but Screech would just let the breeze catch him, and he’d move right out of reach. Every time.
On the fourth day, Screech landed and spat out a lizard foot. “There. I saved you some, chick.”
Shadow stared at the scrawny bite, and the terrible thing was, he was so hungry, he wanted it. Shadow charged Screech, wings out instead, and Screech didn’t dodge until the last possible moment. Shadow went straight over the edge.
“Screw you, Screech!” he screamed as the gorge took him. But then he spread his wings, and air cupped beneath them, and the world quit rushing past. He was the same height above the water as a human. Shadow knew because one was looking right at him.
Shadow pumped his wings desperately. And thank all the Lords of the Air, it worked. He rose in a steadily widening circle.
He flew, higher and higher, and the world spread out in front of him. He could go anywhere now. Do anything. He was free.
He landed on the rock knob on the ledge across the gorge, and he finally gazed at the nest from the other side. It looked tiny.
Screech landed next to Shadow. “I guess I can’t call you a chick anymore.”
Shadow shook his head. “No, we’re eagles.”
The clouds were reflected in Screech’s fierce eyes. “And the sky is our home.”