When Shao Xuan arrived, he saw a group of people crowding at the base of the mountain. They didn’t ascend the mountain. There was a wide area at the bottom and they still had to finish dealing with the birds. If they brought them all up the mountain, it would be too noisy.
Shao Xuan could already hear all sorts of birds chirping from afar. He also noticed the iconic feathers of the Feather tribesmen from afar.
The Feather tribesmen held birdcages of all sizes in their hands. Some were made from rattan, and others were made from straw. They used different cages for different species, and the shapes of the cages were different too.
This was the Flaming Horns’ first time seeing so many different types of birdcages.
They had to admit that the Feather tribesmen valued appearance a lot. They even decorated their cages before they came. How fancy!
“Everyone’s back?” Shao Xuan asked a warrior who was craning his neck to look past the crowd.
Seeing Shao Xuan, the person immediately answered, “Yes, Hunt Leader Ta and the others are back, but Ta only brought back eggs. The Feather tribesmen brought back both eggs and birds.”
They even brought eggs back? Were they planning on hatching them?
Seeing Shao Xuan arrive, the people who were crowding there made way for him to pass.
Shao Xuan noticed how the Feather tribesmen were displaying the birds they caught. Some were even let out of their cages. They had probably been tamed, but most of the other birds were still in their cages. They were all put out for display.
Most of the birds the Feather tribesmen caught had pretty feathers. They either had a fancy tail, a peculiar crown, or colourful body parts.
Shao Xuan was worried that the people from the Feather tribe didn’t bring back any birds that were of any value. Even though they already emphasised before that they didn’t care about the birds’ appearance and only cared about their usefulness, he couldn’t be too sure if they got what the Flaming Horns wanted. Before seeing the results, no one could be sure.
Shao Xuan didn’t look at the Feather tribesmen’s birds for too long. He walked directly in Ta’s direction.
Gui He and the others had all arrived. They were all listening to Ta speak.
“The feather tribesmen said that the Withered Leaf Bird is active both day and night, especially around sunrise and sunset. They are more active at night than in the day. I think our most pressing concern is nighttime security and since it still isn’t tight enough, I think we can give these birds a try.”
Ta had a beast hide scroll in his hands. Shao Xuan went over and took a look at the scroll. It was a drawing, most likely drawn by someone from the Feather tribe. Although it looked abstract, most of the bird’s features were drawn out clearly. One could tell just by skimming through.
Ta handed Shao Xuan the scroll right away so he could take a good look at it. After all, Shao Xuan was one of the people who was going to decide whether they should keep these withered leaf bird eggs.
“Why is it called a withered leaf bird?” Shao Xuan asked. The Feather tribe definitely gave this name.
“They said this bird looks like a pile of withered leaves. Their mother would cover the eggs in dead leaves and let them hatch inside.” Ta repeated what the Feather tribesmen told him. He only roughly said what he could remember.
Even though it wasn’t a complete explanation, Shao Xuan understood the general idea.
In summary, the colour of the withered leaf bird’s feathers and the way their mothers hatched them was what gave them this name.
Compared to other birds, this was a rare hatching method. This was more similar to the hatching methods of reptiles who usually hid their eggs in a pile of dirt mixed with dried leaves. When those leaves ferment in the dirt, heat would be generated from the reaction. The withered leaf birds were utilising the heat from the fermentation to hatch their eggs.
Most of these birds successfully hatched from this method, proving that this bird species was not stupid at all. This made the Flaming Horns satisfied with the bird they found. At least they weren’t stupid. Even if they didn’t have a nice appearance, the Flaming Horns didn’t mind.
Shao Xuan looked again at the drawing on the beast hide scroll. There were a few concentric circular patterns around the bird’s eye, similar to a radar’s. “What is that thing on its head?” Shao Xuan asked. There was something similar to an antenna on the bird’s head.
There was a long thin hair that grew from the bird’s head in the drawing. This hair was about half the bird’s height.
“Oh, that’s the crown feather of the withered leaf bird. The Feather tribesmen couldn’t appreciate this crown, so their ancestors stopped taming these birds a few hundred years ago. But they said that these birds are very alert and sensitive to danger. The crown feather on their head would stand erect whenever there’s danger. They have many different chirping sounds too, and they would chirp with a different sound for each situation. This makes it easier for us to know what it sensed. This type of bird isn’t suitable for expedition trips and can’t fly too far. They usually just stay active in one area, so we don’t have to worry about them flying away. That’s why I think we can try taming these birds as per the Feather tribe’s recommendation.”
Ta repeated what the Feather tribesmen had told him and explained it to Shao Xuan. He wasn’t someone who could be easily swayed by the Feather tribesmen but he agreed with the reasons why the Feather tribesmen recommended this bird species.
“But why don’t the Feather tribesmen tame them too? Is it really just because they don’t look attractive?” someone asked.
“Not exactly,” Ta continued, “The Feather tribesmen said that the withered leaf birds are quite noisy. It’s not that they’re noisy all the time, but they don’t get along with other birds. So once they start fighting with the other birds, the Feather tribe would be stuck in the middle of a chaotic bundle of bird fights.”
The Feather tribe kept so many birds. They couldn’t imagine how noisy it would be if all those birds cawed and chriped and cried at the same time…...
“But we don’t have any other flocks in our tribe, right? We only have Gui He’s falcon and Cha Cha. They definitely won’t fight with them. As for those ducks, they probably won’t leave the lake anytime soon, so I think it’s fine if we decide to tame these withered leaf birds.”
“Yes, indeed. We can give these a go. Right, how big can these birds get?” Shao Xuan asked.
“Not big, just this big.” Ta estimated the size of the birds and made an approximation with his hands. They could only get as large as the length of two palms so they were no match for the ducks.
However, they also heard that most withered leaf birds formed flocks. Ta brought back forty to fifty eggs. Even if only half of these successfully hatched, it would be enough for their needs.
These birds were not large so obviously they couldn’t carry people on their backs. This was a little unfortunate but if the withered leaf birds were indeed what the Feather tribe said they would be, then it would be enough to satisfy all of them. They wanted to use them for a meaningful purpose before the number of people here increased.
“I’ve discussed with the Feather tribesmen and they promised to let a few of their people stay behind to help hatch the eggs. They have the experience, after all. I even heard that after we cover the eggs with dirt, we have to watch over it every day. So it's better if we just leave it up to them.”
They found these eggs inside some dried twigs and dirt. They dug it up during their search, but these eggs didn’t all come from the same dirtpile. They only found five to ten eggs in each pile. Without the Feather tribe’s expertise, no one was sure if even one egg would hatch.
“They said that these eggs would hatch within ten days.”
The Feather tribesmen still needed to watch over the hatching process, and they also wanted to see if the birds they caught recently could adapt to their new situation so they decided to stay longer.
The Feather tribesmen would leave as soon as forty of the withered leaf birds hatched successfully from the eggs.
Withered leaf fledgelings mature at an early age. As soon as they break out from their shells, they are able to go hunt for food. This would save a lot of trouble for the Flaming Horns, so this was another reason why Ta chose this species.
He picked an experienced keeper from the animal pen to take care of these young withered leaf bird fledgelings. Since these birds saw this keeper as soon as they broke out of their shells and he was also the one who fed them, they felt reliant on him. Sometimes, when the keeper walked around, they would line up and follow behind him.
When Shao Xuan walked over, the forty-two grey-coloured puffy fledgelings were following the worker to the food tank. They just hatched not long ago, so even though they could already walk, they couldn’t fly well.
“How come they look so weak?” Shao Xuan asked. The fledgelings’ eyes were half open as they walked, and they were shuffling slowly as if they weren’t fully awake.
The keeper laughed and explained to him, “No, they’re like that all the time. They’ll become more energetic when they see food.”
Indeed, when they reached the food tank, those fledgelings that were initially sleepy started fighting over the food.
The keeper was quite proud of himself when he saw how these birds grew so energetic after the first few days. The Feather tribesmen taught him this bird food recipe, and it seemed like these birds were growing quite well.
But this keeper was only happy for the first two days. Very soon, these birds left him.
They left him because of the pterosaur. The pterosaur was too bored, so whenever it had nothing to do, it would throw half a fish into their pen. At first, the keeper thought that these birds wouldn’t get used to eating fish, but he never thought these birds would adapt so fast. This wasn’t the only case, though. Later the pterosaur even threw some smaller wild beast into their pen, and after it threw the meat there, it would just watch them from above.
Since then, the fledgelings developed a closer connection with the pterosaur and no longer followed the keeper.
No one in the tribe cared too much after they noticed that the withered leaf birds were still healthy after eating what the pterosaur fed them. They even got more active afterwards. Thus, some of the Flaming Horns thought that it would be nice if the withered leaf birds could learn to obey some of the pterosaur’s commands. After all, the Feather tribesmen wouldn’t teach them how to tame these birds so they had to think of a way themselves. Too bad these birds were not suitable for seals.
Thus, the Flaming Horns thought they should give them some time. Perhaps they would be able to obey some commands in the future.
However, Shao Xuan couldn’t help but think that the pterosaur had other intentions.
Recently, the pterosaur had been bold enough to push limits because Shao Xuan didn’t have the time to look after it. They were finishing up their project at the Flaming River Trading Point, and the man-made waterway project was almost done too. They already built the necessary bridges, and recently, Zheng Luo had been discussing with him about the construction of the sluices at the waterway.
They would construct two sluices at the locations their waterway connected with the Flaming river. The purpose of these sluices was mainly to prevent some dangerous fish or river beast from entering.
The completion of the human-made waterway meant that people who were travelling upstream or downstream wouldn’t be hindered by the giant bridge anymore. They could just go around through the human-made canal. However, they could no longer avoid the Flaming Horns. The Flaming Horns had full control of this waterway.