It’s getting colder again, and you know it’s time to move when you hear your father’s three-note call.
The fields are glistening with snow, long circles of dark green grass diminishing until all that’s left is the sludge of white. Adorned with a silver frost, the red and yellow flowers have lost their colour. The only constant is the sky, which shines a brilliant blue. It’s your long winding road, your transportation, your perpetual home.
You have a few others flying beside you. Your mother is ahead, her black and grey wings outspread. She’s been doing this journey for years, longer than you can imagine, and it’s mesmerising to watch her little body rocket through the morning clouds. She’s not the strongest, but you’ve seen her hold her own against cocky eagles and menacing ravens.
Your brother is next to you, slightly older and more assertive in his movements. He’s had an extra year’s practice compared to you, and he never lets you forget it. He bobs through the clouds, disappearing and returning in the smoke. You’d never tell him, but you admire his bravery. You’re too scared to lose eyesight of your mother, scared that you’ll lose your place, scared you’ll end up flying into the unknown. You know your parents won’t come back for you if you disappear.
Your father is the furthest ahead, his bowed wings wider than any of the others in the flock. He’s shrieking his three-note call, like the pied piper leading the children to their deaths, but your father is leading you to safety. His voice is shrill, a solid ‘pip, pip, pip’. It echoes through your skull as you soar and sounds like two pebbles scraping against one another. You hope he’ll stop singing soon. The journey always becomes better once he’s stopped yelling.
You have to stop after a few hours to grab some grub. You soar down from the clouds until you find yourself perched upon a surprisingly sturdy area of mudflat. The shallow tide is waiting for you, full of all the delicacies you could ask for. Marine worms, small crustaceans, and your personal favourite, biofilm. Your parents think you’re weird for pecking at the mud, trying to reach that gorgeous goo when you have an entire menu in front of you, but you find you fly best when you get the nutrients from the biofilm. You find it challenging. The layers are thin, and eating marine worms would be easier, but you peck and peck until the mucus-like substance covers your beak and travels into your small body. You let out a shrill squeak, pleased with your dinner. You feel like you’re ready to fly once more. Your brother hasn’t been as lucky; he’s eating half a sea slug and his wings are drooping. You can tell while you twitter that he hasn’t enjoyed his meal.
It’s soon time to fly again, and your wings are flayed out. You’re ahead of your brother. The biofilm has made you feel more confident, like you deserve to be closer to your dad, the clear leader of the flock. Still, you don’t dare go to close to him. He’s the leader, the one who knows the route, the one who no one should disturb. Disturbing him would be sure death. Instead, you stick close to your mother’s side, enjoying the sensation of being as regal and graceful in appearance as she is while she flies. You teeter up and down through the clouds until the sky turns black, and then you continue flying straight. Your brother follows behind, and you know he’s sulking about the fact you’re ahead, that you’re impressing your parents when that should be his job. You can’t help but feel a little smug.
You fly over the ocean, barely stopping. It’s in your nature to be fast, to travel as quickly as you’re able. The waves crash below you, reaching heights you’ve never seem them reach before. A spray of water hits your wings and you drop slightly lower than you should while flying. You swallow the droplets as they hit your beak, grateful for any hydration during your trip. Your mother cricks her neck as she flies past, and you feel proud.
You fly for what feels like months, but in reality is only a few days. Your wings are sore and your head is aching from your dad’s constant chirping, but then you see it. The gorgeous grey cliffs, with turquoise waves slamming against the rocky surface. On the surface stand your friends, friends who can’t fly. They’re so much bigger than you, but your parents say they’re not so different from you, although their wings don’t work, and they waddle together with their babies between their webbed feet. They’re friendly, though, and so you continue soaring until you find yourself sat on the rocky coastline.
You let out an excited chirp as you realise you’ve made it to your new home for the next few months. Your brother settles down next to you, huffing. He seems to be out of breath, as if he were trying to beat you to the finish line. Your mother and father are bobbing over the ocean, swooping down to collect food for later. You watch as they fill their beaks with sea slugs and clams and aquatic worms, returning them to your side. You’ll be eating like kings tonight.
The air is cool, and the waves spray you as you nestle into the hard rock. Your mother hasn’t found the equipment to start your nest yet, but you try not to feel upset by it, especially not after the delicious meal she’s managed to get for everyone. You swallow a few clams and keep quiet. Your mother has been doing this for years. She’ll know when to build a new home.
It’s only a few hours later when you hear another loud three-note call. At first, you think it’s your dad, but the voice is too deep, the squawk doesn’t match your father’s timbre. You glance up from where you are waiting next to your brother and let out an answering call. It’s the rest of your group, slightly lagging behind, but here now. They fly in unison, gorgeous brown wings outstretched as they soar against the black of the night sky. The males fly until they’re sat next to you, while the females drop down in search of lichen, leaves and moss. You realise they’re trying to build a better nest and feel a sense of gratitude. The rock has been too cold against your soft feathers.
They squawk as they work, breaking the silence of the night, but not waking up your bigger friends. Your family awake and begin helping. Your father and brother try to grab some more food for everyone, while your mother helps the others looking for equipment to build the nest. You puff out your chest and soar down to the ocean, scanning for any tasty morsels you can find.
Tonight, you want to make sure everyone eats well.