We called it the Law of the Savannah. Mothers feed their babies the babies of other mothers. The mother cheetah and the baby wildebeest. The mother lion and the baby baboon. The hyenas and the baby elephant. The hyenas and the baby giraffe. We saw it everywhere.

One spring Dad and I were watching the new crop of birds try to fly. We were watching mockingbird nest in the last juniper and a barn swallow nest under the roof of the porch. We were betting which babies would fly first. The two barn swallows were close to winning. They fluttered around the porch, from perch to perch, practicing, while the four small mockingbirds were still growing their feathers and looking from the edge of the nest.

One afternoon I heard a clatter against that window and a screeching from that last juniper. I called Dad and ran to the window. The mother and father mockingbird were flying at a big owl and screeching for all they were worth. The owl paid them no attention and calmly gathered the baby mockingbirds in her claws. I ran out there but I was too late. The owl lifted off with three chicks in her claws and dropped the fourth in the dirt, broken and twisting. Dad and I were still outside when she came winging back three minutes later. She went to two huge trees behind the neighbor’s house and raided them. A cloud of smaller birds flew at her in frantic circles and cried bloody murder as she carried off their young for her young. I had no idea two trees could have so many kinds of bird nest. For half an hour she flew back and forth from her tree to us, with chicks in her claws and a cloud of wailing birds around her.

ME: Can’t we stop her?

HIM: How?

ME: Don’t we have a gun?

HIM: Where do you think she’s going with all these chicks?

ME: Her tree? Her nest?

HIM: And?

ME: Her chicks?

HIM: Right. They’re huge by now. It’s killing her, trying to feed them all. They eat everything she can carry and screech for more.
I looked for our barn swallows in the roof of the porch.

ME (wailing): Look, she got the barn swallows too.

He was looking the other way, towards our woods.

HIM: Did she?

He pointed.

HIM: What’s that?

Our barn swallows were flapping from branch to branch along the edge of the wood, amazed at themselves for flying.