I could hear them screeching before I crested the ridge. The crater walls below were littered with sac nests, a great easter egg hunt descending over 10 stories and stopping about three stories above the river valley.

The din was maddening. Though a few flew in great circles, leaping from sac to sac in chaos, most guarded their homes with a beaked maw threatening anyone who came near.

Their plumage was varied, much more varied than any I’d seen. The fact that such a large family group hadn’t killed each other was astounding. A matriarch could only keep about 20 in control at one time. If no males were born for 3 seasons, the group would end up battling to the death. They were only content when there was a mate to vie for (and use) or babies to nurture. Males only lasted a couple years, then spent, the females would dispose of them, maiming, starving, or even clawing them to death.

No one had seen a male. Ever. They were closely guarded. Only bones remained, if you were lucky.

I was more than lucky.

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