Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Kestrel

It's been awhile since I've written anything worth posting on my blog, but thanks to my writing group I discovered this prompt you can read here.  In response I've written this short story. The story is fictional, but it is based off of true events from my past.

The Kestrel

Colin watched a mob of jays descend on his freshly mowed lawn as he sat on the front porch sipping ice-cold lemonade through a straw.  Dozens of them speckled the yard like tiny polka dots from his mother’s favorite dress.  They strutted about as if they owned the place, occasionally poking the ground for bugs.  Colin leaned back in his lawn chair and placed his feet on the front porch railing.  He was exhausted after mowing his parent’s two-acre yard in the hot afternoon sun, and began to drift to sleep. 

CHEE!  CHEE!  CHEE!  Shrill unearthly screeching filled the sky.  Colin jerked awake to see a kestrel and one of the jays fighting in a furious flurry of wings.  The jay’s companions had retreated to a nearby tree.  CHEE!  CHEE!  CHEE!  They cried flapping their wings in distress. 

The kestrel and jay were equal in size, but the jay was no match for the kestrel’s deadly beak and vicious talons.  He thrashed about beating his wings desperately against the predatory bird, but was soon beaten to the ground.  Unable to stand idle any longer, his fellow jays began swooping down upon the kestrel one by one, pecking and harassing, anything to give the injured jay a fighting chance all the while screaming CHEE!  CHEE!  CHEE!  But it was not enough.  The kestrel held firm to the dying jay’s neck despite its assailing comrades, until finally the jay went limp and breathed no more.  The battle was won.  Realizing their defeat the jays fell silent and returned to the tree to watch helplessly as the kestrel ate their friend.  

Unable to look away Colin watched as the kestrel gobbled down what appeared to be the jay’s intestines.  The flock of jays seemed to accept the loss of their comrade for they took flight, in one united motion, like a school of fish swimming in the open sky.  Colin was left alone with the murderous bird.  The villain.  As is the nature of teenage boys Colin felt drawn to the gruesome display before him.  He was appalled.  He was disgusted.  And yet he could not repress the urge to take a closer look.  He approached slowly.  The kestrel froze, eyeing him warily.  She must have been starving for she refused to leave her hard earned meal despite the unnervingly short distance between herself and Colin.  Colin sat unmoving for several seconds before the kestrel finally began feasting again. 

Colin was amazed he could watch the unpleasant scene in such a detached and indifferent sort of way.  He remembered a time many years ago when he watched the nature channel at his grandparent’s house.  A hawk had attacked a small bird of some sort and there was an epic sky chase. His 5 year-old self had been convinced the small bird would escape in the end, but he soon learned that the real world does not guarantee happy endings.  The hawk caught the bird and claimed it for dinner.  Colin sat on the floor in front of the TV with his mouth hung open in shock.  His grandparents continued watching as if nothing unusual had happened.  A knot formed in his throat, but couldn’t let his grandparents think he was a sissy, so he shut himself in the guest bedroom, slumped down in a corner, and cried for that poor little bird.

Where had that innocent, tender-hearted little boy gone?  When had he become so calloused?  The kestrel continued to eye Colin as she cautiously picked at her food.  She was tense at first, ready to take flight at any moment, but after awhile hunger took over caution and she devoured her meal without reserve.  An epiphany dawned on Colin as he watched.  He’d always made the predatory birds out to be the villains ever since he watched that nature show at his grandparent’s house, but this kestrel here was no villain.  She was just a hungry bird trying to survive like any other bird.  In fact, his fluffy cat Gingersnap was more of a villain than she was.  Gingersnap, a sweet cat who liked to snuggle with him on the couch while they watched movies, would catch unsuspecting robins and mice and leave them on the front doorstep uneaten.  He killed for the fun of it.  It was a game.  This kestrel killed because she needed to.  She had no one to look after her.  No one to serve her meals from a cute ceramic bowl with her name inscribed on the front.  She was alone in the world, forced to fend for herself.

The kestrel finished eating, glared distrustfully at Colin one last time, and took flight leaving nothing but bones, feathers, and a pensive boy behind.

This photograph is the one my mother took of the actual event with the kestrel.  I unfortunately was not present, but when she told me about it I found the whole thing so fascinating I just had to write about it!


  1. This is a powerful story, Heather. You capture the feeling very well.

  2. Really lovely, Heather. Love how you challenge our ideas of what stereotypical "boy-ness" looks like.