A crane braves hazardous conditions to complete his first migration
The crane cocked his head and sighted the mountains just below, the great Himalayas. They stretched into the horizon, as far as the eye could see. The sun slanted over a peak, giving an eerie green-gray glow to the crisp morning air. The wind was blustery, rushing hard against the crane’s feathers. Sometimes the cold pierced his skin, and he had to shiver to keep warm. His wings were numb with cold, but at the same time were burning with the endless, tedious flapping. As the mountains grew larger, the crane in the front of the formation grew tired. It let itself drift to the back, and the next crane, hesitating at first, flew to the front.
Each crane took its turn flying in the apex. It was the crane’s turn to go in the front when the lead crane tired. He stared at her tail, half awake, flapping just when needed. At the beginning of the migration, he had been boisterous while the older cranes had conserved their energy. The crane shook his head; he had heard keee-kee-ke, an eagle’s cry. But there was nothing the flock could do. Their only defense was in numbers. The crane was drifting left too much; he flapped back into position.
Suddenly, the flock came into a dense cloud. He shivered as the cold dew clung to his feathers, soaking
him to the skin. They flew through the cloud for a very long time, and eventually the exhausted crane at the apex of the V flew towards the rear. It was the crane’s turn. He felt a shocking burst of cold as the wind and water droplets blasted his face. His feathers blew into his eyes, further obscuring his visibility. He flapped on. The clouds seemed endless. He closed his clear eye membrane to shield his eyes from the savage wind. He thought he saw a flash of brown feathers, but dismissed it as a shadow. He persevered through the soaking cloud. Eventually, it was too much for the crane; he started to move back to let another crane take his position.
An eagle’s talons ripped the air where the crane had been flying. Realizing its mistake, the eagle dove again. Forgetting his fatigue, hunger, and thirst, the crane swooped right, and the eagle dove past him, snatching up the next crane by the neck. The eagle, clutching its prey, disappeared into the clouds.
The crane croaked quietly, in shock. Everything had happened so fast. But the crane was tired. He drift- ed to the back and flew on numbly. His toes were cold, hanging limply behind his tail, exposed to the open air. When eventually they broke through the heavy cloud, the mountains were considerably smaller.
When the crane was in the front again, he realized it was less windy. An older crane shrieked the stopping call: kleu-ka-ka-kee. The crane considered the land below. Before him lay an open field with a few cranes already on it, their silvery feathers shining in the warm, golden sunlight. The crane descended, crying out in excitement. He put on a burst of speed, landing on his toes and flapping to keep his balance, his primary feathers brushing against the soft earth.
He scanned all around him. There were plenty of plants and seeds, and there was a stream flanking the edge of the field. The crane hopped over to it and gulped water, feeling the cool, refreshing liquid flow down his parched throat. He ruffled his feathers in satisfaction. His instincts told him there were no threats to them in this place. They would have to risk the journey back in spring; for the rest of their lives, they would fly this dangerous route. But, for now, they were safe, and the migration was complete.