The roadrunner always knew she wanted to fly.
Since the first time her talons touched the human sky-road where the metal birds flew, she knew she wanted to fly like the metal birds. Away from the desert heat. Away from the coyotes and the bobcats, and definitely away from the snakes. And the humans.
But she couldn’t fly on her own.
One of the metal birds sat on the human sky-road. It looked far bigger than any bird ever grew. She wanted to fly inside the bird. Then she could soar above all the other desert predators. Including the hawks that swooped with their talons outstretched.
Every roadrunner she knew was afraid of hawks. And snakes. And mountain lions. Hawks coming down from the sky. Mountain lions slinking down from the heights. Bobcats running with their screams.
She could race fast across the sky-road, but her brown eyes darted wildly at the changes in the shadows. Suppose a hawk was swooping down on her. What would happen to her babies, especially with no mate to care for them? After a predator--most likely a hawk or a coyote--took her mate away?
It might seem selfish to want to fly. But if she were able to fly like the big metal bird, she and her three babies would never need to be afraid again.
She approached the big metal bird. It seemed to block out the sun with its wings. What a truly spectacular pair of wings, shading her from the constant sun. She looked for a way to climb on its back or at least a way to climb up.
There was some kind of a nest attached to the wing, an oval-shaped nest with a gaping mouth, She somehow took a leap of faith and jumped inside, finding it a bit lower to the ground than she thought.
Inside, the nest was warm, and she smelled a faint smoky odor. While exploring the dark warmth of the nest, she bumped up against a feathery bundle. It cried out, afraid, and tried to push her away. She felt the nest vibrate, as though it were filling up with sound. As though it were moving. That smoky odor grew stronger and her eyes watered.
Some instinct warned her to grab the feathery bundle in her talons and leap out of the nest onto the human sky-road, which came up to meet her, hard…Or it would have if human hands didn’t catch her and the feathery bundle. The human hands cradled them both and a soothing human voice surrounded them.
“Where did you come from?” the human female voice asked. “That was lucky. A few more seconds and the engines would be full power. I don’t like to think what would have happened to you then!”
The roadrunner cried out and the feathery bundle also cried. She’d know the smell of a baby bird anywhere. This human had saved both of them, even though she didn’t know what an “engine” was or why it was so bad.
The baby bird whimpered and looked up at her. Its feathers didn’t look like her babies’ downy fluff when they were born. “Where are your parents?” she asked.
The baby couldn’t talk, only whimper in response.
The human, meanwhile, was walking with both of them, and other human voices joined them. Someone said, “Talk about timing, Mary. If you hadn’t saved them, their goose would have been cooked.”
“Shhh! They might hear you,” the rescuer named Mary said in a sharp tone.
“I should have checked the engine one more time,” another human moaned.
“This roadrunner actually saved this baby hawk,” the human named Mary said. “Isn’t nature wonderful? Maybe she…I think it’s a girl…thought it was her baby.”
“Pushing the kid out of harm’s way? She’s a mother,” the second human said. “That is a mom.”
There was lots of discussion about what to do with them. The roadrunner couldn’t even follow it because she heard only one word. Hawk. She had saved a baby hawk, and she didn’t know what to think. Its downy fluff was just as soft as her babies. She needed to return to her babies.
The baby hawk whimpered again. This tiny hatchling, only a few days old. It would become a predator, merciless in flight, seeking her babies because that was the way of nature.
“Isn’t nature wonderful?” Mary, the human rescuer, repeated these words again.
The humans swept them up and carried them. Where were they going? The roadrunner tried to move and felt pain shoot up her leg. She couldn’t move, and when she looked down, she could not see the ground. Almost as if she somehow climbed onto that plane. But she had wanted to be much higher up, and not with a leg that felt like someone bent it backwards until it hurt.
To think, she injured herself to save a hawk! Her babies would be waiting for her at home. Would the other hawks seize them? Would the coyotes? Or would the hawks know that she saved one of their own, and return the favor?
The humans chattered on about where to take them. “The animal hospital at the wildlife reserve,” one suggested. “They know how to take care of wild animals.”
“We need to make sure we can move them safely,” Mary said.
* * * * *
The roadrunner felt herself being carried, then put in one of the human motor vehicles. The baby hawk shivered as it lay next to her. It couldn’t talk to her. It could only say, “Mama.”
“I’m not your mama,” she said. “I don’t know where your mama is. I don’t know where my babies are.”
She wanted to tell the humans about her babies, but she couldn’t. Moving around pointing toward her nest didn’t work. They didn’t understand.
The motor vehicle was not the metal bird she’d wanted to fly in. Because she tried to help the hawk, she’d lost her babies. The baby hawk tried to snuggle up to her, its fluff brushing against her. She could barely stand it, and she snapped at the baby. It lay motionless. Fear gripped her. She rubbed the baby with her beak, and once again it snuggled against her.
Mary said, “Look at that. What do you make of it?”
One of the other humans answered, “Birds of a feather?”
They all laughed. The human who was driving the metal vehicle said, “But roadrunners and hawks don’t—”
“Cats adopt dogs,” Mary said. “I’ve read about a lioness that treated a baby antelope as its own cub. Humans have raised lion cubs and then decades later they recognize each other.”
“So maybe the hawk thought the T-Bird was a real bird?” the driver asked.
“It’s a baby, who knows? Maybe it thought it found its mother’s nest,” Mary answered.
Nest. The mother roadrunner jerked her head up. She thought of her own nest. How could she make these humans understand? Maybe someone at the place they were taking her to would be able to understand.
She closed her eyes. So very tired. Her leg felt like someone had pierced it with a cactus spine.
"Poor things," Mary said in a soothing voice.
She must have slept, because when she awoke, she lay on a table bathed in light so bright it hurt her eyes. Humans with cloth over their faces worked on her, tending to her.
"...The pins are holding."
The mother roadrunner tried to lift her tiny head, but it felt like the time she attempted to lift a heavy lizard with her beak.
“She’ll need to stay here,” one of the healer humans said.
The roadrunner heard a soft plaintive cry and looked over. The fluffy hawk hatchling sat across the room. The roadrunner had the feeling the hawk hatchling could sense her presence.
“It’s kind of cute the way they’ve bonded,” one of the healer humans said.
“Cute! It won’t leave her alone.”
“It’s a ‘she.’ The eyas is a ‘she.’”
Eyas. That must be the baby hawk’s name. But they had mentioned another name, a name they gave to the big metal bird. T-Bird. The mother roadrunner liked that name better. She would call the baby hawk T-Bird.
“T-Bird,” she said to the baby bird, “I’m not sure if you can understand me.”
T-Bird lifted her head. She did understand somehow.
“We’re with humans. They’ve touched you. I don’t know where your mother is, but…”
How could she tell T-Bird that her mother might be gone? Killed by a human…not the humans that rescued them, she hoped. Killed by a coyote.
“All I wanted was to fly in the big metal bird,” she said. “That was my dream. And to take my babies away, to a place where no predator could ever touch them. It’s a dangerous world. Now look at me. My leg feels like I fell onto a cactus. It’s not your fault, no…Don’t cry, don’t cry. I know you didn’t ask for this either. That you want your mother back.”
A soft peep from T-Bird.
“No. No. I’m not your mother. I’m a roadrunner. You’re a hawk.”
Another soft peep.
“You don’t understand. If you knew anything about roadrunners and hawks, you’d see that this is all wrong. I can’t be your mother.”
And she tried to leap up, but her leg wouldn’t cooperate. Lizard guts! She’d forgotten she was hurt. One of the humans hovered over her and picked her up, carrying her over to some kind of glass box.
“I want to keep a close eye on her,” said the human carrying her.
T-bird actually sat up and rolled around. One of the other humans ran over to scoop her up.
“Will you look at that?” one of the other healer humans said. “They’re inseparable.”
“I think our mama roadrunner has somehow imprinted on the eyas,” the human healer carrying her said.
T-Bird. The baby’s name was T-Bird, not eyas. When would these humans understand? Ooooh, if only she could tell them. If only they would listen.
“We should put them together,” the other human healer said. “It’s like the roadrunner is the baby hawk’s emotional support bird. This happened with that yellow lab puppy who took a liking to one of our bobcats years ago.”
The mama roadrunner felt herself being placed in the glass box with what felt like sand underneath. The box was warm, just the right temperature. Next, the humans put T-Bird down beside the roadrunner.
“What do we name them?” asked the first human healer.
“The team from the airfield wanted to name them after the planes. One of them is T-Bird.”
The roadrunner hit the glass with her beak and the humans laughed together. “I guess Mama Roadrunner likes that idea,” the second human healer said.
“The hawk was found in the ‘bird, so I think we name her T-Bird.”
The mama roadrunner tossed her head. “Yes! They understand.”
“Okay, so she’s T-Bird. What about the mama?” the second human healer asked.
“I kind of like Warbird,” answered the first human healer.
“Well, she was a warrior for that baby hawk. She’s a fighter,” the first human healer said, squatting down and looking at Warbird eye to eye. “Aren’t you?”
T-Bird seemed to understand. She made a peep of agreement.
Warbird thought it over while she preened the dust from her feathers, and then groomed T-Bird. She did fight for the baby hawk.
“She’s a fighter for her babies too,” the second human healer said. “Mary just told me that the crew at the airfield found a nest of roadrunner babies close to the landing strip. They’re taking care of them and watching over the nest. What Warbird was doing so far away from them, though, I can’t imagine.”
“Looking for food, probably,” the first human healer said, staring at Warbird and speaking to her in a cheerful voice. “Isn’t that right?”
Human eyes were big and strange, especially when that was all you could see. Warbird stared back, cocking her head. The human healer could never understand that she wanted to fly.
And then the realization hit, and she wanted to sing, if she could sing like songbirds. Her babies were safe!
She nuzzled T-Bird with her beak. “You’re coming home to my nest,” she said. “My babies and I will take care of you. I can’t teach you to be a hawk, but maybe these humans will help you. They seem to know a lot. And maybe you can help me fly someday. Deal?”
T-Bird cuddled with her. Warbird closed her eyes, able to rest completely for the first time in days, and for the first time since she lost her mate.
In dreams, she soared in the metal bird with her babies and with T-Bird.