In The Holidays

Entry by: writerQRFHBGVPZX

3rd July 2015
In the Holidays
It was a comfortable time for the birds, but boring. The intense teamwork of building nests and raising chicks had finished. It rained each night, filling the cooling dew ponds. The sun shone all day. There was a bumper harvest of grain on the farms.

Windfall fruit, plums, apples and pears were alive with juicy grubs just waiting to be pecked free. Badgers gorged on apples. They would dig up lawns looking for worms when the apples had gone.

There was no thrill in finding the last blackberry or that elusive hazelnut because there were always more waiting. The jackdaws had eaten so well, they hardly had the energy to attack plants in seed trays left outside by humans.

“We need sport,” grumbled the crow. “Perhaps races, but not today.” He was feeling too full. He had cream on his beak from piercing the metal cap on a milk bottle for a drink to wash down the roadkill rabbit he had dined on.

“Perhaps the pigeons can suggest a suitable length for a race? ” he asked.

It could not be a distance race, they decided, for such wide range of contestants, from the sparrows to eagles. But a contest was needed, to result in the victor being crowned king of the birds.

“Let’s see who can fly the highest,” suggested the eagle. He bent his yellow head to preen his large brown wings, trying to look casual. He knew he would win himself but he needed to let the others think they were in with a chance, otherwise they would not bother to enter. He needed them to lose so he could gain the pleasure of winning.

The brown cockerel fluffed out his luxurious feathers, “It's OK for you fellows, but I’m a lover not a fighter and the girls can’t manage without me, I’ve got responsibilities.” It was settled that the poultry would be match officials and ensure fair play on a circular route around the boundaries of the parish, to start and end at the hen house.

The cock crowed the starting signal at dawn. Wood pigeons rose slowly in formation, making a clapping sound with their wings. The starlings ascended in such great numbers that the sky was momentarily darkened until the birds spread out according to their speed.

The heavy legged pheasants and partridges were the first to drop out of the race . They preferred running to flying so this was no surprise. Next, smaller birds, robins and sparrows became hungry and were lured to earth by a cabbage patch alive with delicious worms and caterpillars.

The thrushes and nightingales began to realise they had no chance of rising as high as the front runners. Passing the village churchyard, they saw the early red berries on the holly and came to rest in the branches of nearby yew trees, loudly warning the slower birds that the pink yew berries were theirs alone.

The crows and jackdaws stuck together. When the younger birds were distracted by shining metal, the lead birds admonished them but one by one they dropped away, weariness and the lure of bright things overcame them. The last few alighted on the golden weathervane over the squire’s home.

The kestrels and the kittyhawks flew on until voles running along the river bank drew them down to strike.

The eagle could see the grey geese, mighty travellers of the ocean, flagging below him. His wings ached. He felt exultant and this spurred him to go higher. He knew he had won, he had never doubted himself.

He looked all around and underneath. The other birds had landed. He was just about to open his beak to whoop out a victory cry when he felt the beat of wings brush past his head. Above him was a little brown wren.

The eagle had no more to give. The wren edged higher again. At a normal height he would have eaten the wren for his impudence but the eagle could not reach him.

A well fed hare was crossing the field below; the wren was a mere peck of food, out of reach anyway. Waiting below was a good meal to carry home to the nest.

The eagle swooped downwards. The wren sang in triumph and cautiously, seeing the eagle flying off with its prey in its talons, he began to descend to the winner's perch on the roof of the henhouse.