Feathers

Feathers

A Chapter by Saurian Guardian
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I like this one, yet another of my Dinosaurian love stories featuring Microraptor.

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Some dinosaurs definitely were capable of complex behaviors. Dromaeosaurids, being one of the most bird-like of all dinosaur families, would be as interesting a subject for a birdwatcher as any magpie or eagle. They built nests to raise their young, they traveled in groups, and they had feathers.

They are birds.

….

If you were to walk through the Early Cretaceous forests of Liaoning China, you might confuse  it for modern day New Zealand. They both share a primitive flora; conifers, tree ferns, ferns, horsetails, and some flowers. In almost every Dinosaur film, the setting of a lush Mesozoic forest is shot in the steamy forests of New Zealand. But, the fauna of these two locations couldn’t be more different.  

Look up, there! In the canopy! A bird, no. even though birds do live in these Cretaceous forests this isn’t one of those.   

Whhump! Two clawed feet strike at the bark of an ancient conifer. They belong to a Microraptor gui, one of the smallest of all Dromaeosaur species.

It has an ebony crown, flecked with white, and an orange throat wattle; both distinguishing features of a male.   

This is his first year looking for a mate and he is anxious. Our male, (whom we shall call Pepper) is at a point in his life where his awkwardness shows. In raptor years he is a teenager, the time in his life where he leaves the comfort of the nest to start a family of his own. He has yet to master the smooth movements that are crucial during courtship, and being an inexperienced male, his chances at scoring a mate are low.

But he has one thing on his side: smarts.

Pepper has a high IQ compared to other dinosaurs, and he is smart even by Microraptor standards. Female Microraptor choose males by both fitness and intelligence; a smart male can change hunting strategies to fit certain circumstances.  

To attract a female he must build a bower.    

One component of Microraptor courtship is building a nest and decorating it with colorful objects: feathers, shells, and parts of insects are especially sought after. Flowers exist in this part of the Mesozoic, but Microraptor gui has learned that their vibrant hues fade soon after they are collected. 

Pepper is good at bower building, he was the smartest and most inquisitive of his brood; always collecting strange, shiny or colorful objects to play with. Unknown to him this skill would service him well in the future.  

In these Chinese forests, feathers are overabundant, shiny insect carapaces are everywhere and shells can be found anywhere near water.

But getting them is a different matter entirely.

The most colorful and exquisitely patterned feathers come from the primitive Oviraptorosaurs; Incisivosaurus, Caudipteryx and Protarchaeopteryx, feathers from these dinosaurs are highly sought after.

Pepper scans the forest floor. He soon picks out the vague shape of ebony, white, brown and orange feathers scattered under a tree fern. He spreads his arms and leaps from his perch. He contracts the skin muscles connecting the roots of the flight feathers in his legs. They fan out to the side as he tucks his legs underneath him. 

Microraptor are Dromaeosaur gliders par-excellence, they have fully developed flight feathers on both arms and legs. They cannot sustain powered flight, but, they crudely flap their arms once or twice to stay in the air longer.

Pepper lands on the trunk of another tree, forty feet lower. He jumps again. Another forty feet go by. He finally reaches the ground, tucks his leg-feathers up and trots over to the shimmering feathers. They belonged to a Troodontid, Mei long. He flips the feather over with his snout, he c***s his head; it isn’t colorful anymore. He remembers now that only the underside of feathers are brightly colored. 

He likes it.

He gingerly picks it up in his mouth, he has to bring it back to his bower.

The rest of the day is spent feather finding and feather collecting. Each one of interest is brought back to the bower and carefully placed in a certain position.     

He has been lucky, he has come across some hard-to-find feathers. He has two feathers from a male  Beipiaosaurus; a small Therizinosaur. These are quite hard to come across, making them the most impressive to females.     

He puts the finishing touches on his bower, placing his prized possession in the middle, a feather from a Sinocalliopteryx gigas, a giant Compsognathid. These two and-a-half meter carnivores are some of the largest predators in the forests, even larger than the Tyrannosaur Dilong. It is beautiful, indigo, black, white, orange and amber. It is only three inches long, and it’s quite thin, but the colors shimmer when the sun hits the surface in a certain way.

This feather will serve as a present to potential mates. The value of feathers is programmed into the brains of all Microraptor, and Sinocalliopteryx is at the top. 

With the dance floor set up, Pepper now needs to attract a mate.

….

It has been two days, and Pepper’s spirits are at an all-time low.  

Not one female has visited his bower, he hasn’t even seen any in the general area. He knows instinctively that he isn’t the most desirable male, when he is older maybe his luck will be better.

He jerks his head up, he smells something. It seems very familiar, like his own scent but different. His spirits are lifted.

It’s a female.

He hops up onto an overhead branch, here he can see everything going on around him. 

He can see a Changchengornis displaying to a female, a Dilong running after a Sinosauropteryx and a female Microraptor twenty feet away.

Pepper nearly falls backwards, he leaps from his perch and lands on his back. A quick push off with his thighs and he rights himself. He erects his crown, the undersides reflecting iridescent green, puffs up the feathers of his breast and arches his tail so it sticks straight up in the air. The feathers along the sides of his tail are fanned out, and then snapped back. 

The female lands on a branch above the bower, jumping down; extended arms slow her decent.

Pepper can’t help but stare. Female Microraptor are bigger than the males, but this one is larger than the norm. He feels intimidated by the older and larger female, but starts the courtship dance anyways.

The first part of the dance involves Pepper doing a crabwalk in front of the female with his head and tail raised straight up in the air. While doing this he fans out his tail feathers, an eye shimmers blue on the tip of each. But he is having trouble with the routine. He was never the most graceful male, but, maybe he can modify it to suit him better.

He lowers his neck until it touches the ground and arches his tail as far as it will go. He continues the fanning of his tail feathers, but he begins fanning the feathers of his arms and legs. This makes him look twice his size for an instant, and normal the next. There are many Microraptor mating rituals, more than any Dromaeosaur, but Pepper has invented an entirely new routine; his intelligence has paid off.   

The female is surprised, she has never been courted with this routine, but she likes it. She has never had much luck with males, her size makes males naturally intimidated of her. Pepper is the only male that has made an honest attempt to secure her as a mate.

Now Pepper modifies his routine even more. He bounces up and down, alternating the fanning of feathers from side-to-side. He finds that he is quite good at this, despite his awkwardness. 

Now the final step in the dance is quite tricky. The Sinocalliopteryx feather that has been laying in the middle of the nest will now come into play.

Pepper snaps his feathers back into place, and then relaxes them. He bows down, but stumbles. The female c***s her head, it’s not that she is not impressed, she just is teasing Pepper.  He recovers, now picking up the Sinocalliopteryx feather in his mouth.

He stands erect, tucking his hand claws out of view. He takes long smooth strides towards the female. He bends down, sets the feather at the female’s feet, and then freezes.

The female looks at the feather, she paws at it. The colors shimmer like a tiny rainbow. 

Pepper hasn’t moved, his thighs are trembling. In Microraptor courtship dances, the male cannot move a muscle after he presents his gift. It shows how fit he is, any male can jump twice his height straight up. Any male can glide over fifty yards. But only a male at peak physical condition can execute a successful courtship ritual.

He has to wait for the female to engage in the dance before he can move. Pepper doesn’t think he can hold it any longer. His legs are cramping, his back is hurting, but instinct tells him to grin and bear it. If he moves, all chances of scoring a female are gone.  

The female stares at him, she can tell the he is in pain. Because of her size males are reluctant to court her. If she doesn’t start her part in the dance, he chances of scoring a mate are pitifully low.

The female picks up the feather in her mouth and shoves it in Peppers face.

He relaxes, this is the signal that the duet has begun.

They both start to dance.

….

A Sapeornis lands in the crown of a giant conifer tree. This is a female, she has picked up the scent of potential food. 

Sapeornis is the largest flying bird in Liaoning, this female needs food to feed her young and about anything in the canopy is fair game.

She spots what she has been looking for, a nest of baby Microraptor gui, unguarded.

She takes off, she is the size of a hawk, her giant talons and teeth can easily take care of a fluffy baby.

She nears the nest, there is no sign of the parents. This will be quick she thinks.

The Sapeornis lands at the edge of the nest, the babies look up at her and squeak. If she had facial muscles she would smile. Stupid chicks.

CHHHHAhhhhaAAAwwwwwkkK!

The Sapeornis looks up. A female Microraptor is in mid-leap, screeching like a maniac. She tries to get away, but behind her is another Microraptor flailing his arms. She has no way of escape. These two tiny raptors are intent on making sure that she can no longer be a threat to their brood. 

Fhhummph!       

The bird feels two blade-like claws thrust into her breast. 

Whhummp!

Two more claws penetrate deep into her back, severing her spine. She is dead in an instant.

Pepper stabs at the Sapeornis, he wants to be sure she is dead. He and his mate were lucky to return just as the bird landed at their nest.

A year has passed since we left Pepper and the female. They are now a fully mated pair. This is their first brood, and the babies have been growing bigger every day. 

Pepper and his mate stay around the nest, the Sapeornis will feed the family for days. The chicks aren’t old enough to eat solid food, their mother feeds them partly digested meat that is regurgitated as an oily paste. This is all the chicks will need to eat for the first two weeks of life.      

Pepper looks at his brood, he has noticed that they are very inquisitive, like he was as a chick. He doesn’t know this, but his genes will shape the behavior of his species in the years to come. Females will seek out not the largest males, but the most intelligent. Male Microraptor will have no set courtship dance, they will make up their own. His intelligence is what will make future Microraptor species, and other Dromaeosaurs, some of the most interesting dinosaurs ever to walk this earth.

A feather floats down from the canopy. A small fluffy head peeps over the rim of the nest. The chick’s eyes follow the movement carefully. The feather floats towards him.

Snpp!

The chick snaps at the feather, and once his prize is secured in his jaws, sits down in the nest. He drops it and it floats to the floor. The chick bats at it with his hand, he has just found his first play-thing.

A feather: the very reason for his existence.

 

 

Raptor Profile:

Microraptor gui is a small Dromaeosaur, the smallest known at only 77 centimeters long. It was found in the famous Liaoning region of china, known for spectacularly preserved fossils, especially feathered dinosaurs. Microraptor gui was found to have not only body covering of feathers, but flight feathers on both arms and legs. It is thought that Microraptor was arboreal, gliding form tree-to-tree, eating insects and small vertebrates. 

Microraptor lived in Liaoning China in the Early Cretaceous period. 



© 2012 Saurian Guardian


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This was a spectacular story! I've always thought about dinosaurs building those bower nests like the birds of Paradise but I could have never implemented it as beautifully as it was here. This is really a gem. The wonderful use of imagery made me feel like I was in prehistoric China with these animals. I can't wait to read more from you!

Posted 5 Years Ago


Wow this is absolutely fantastic! I am at a loss of words to describe the amazing workmanship of this. You are an amazing writer, no doubt. There are no words to describe your excellent technique and unique writing style. Beautiful flow. You truly know how to transport the reader into your stories world(s). The character displayed in these dinosaurs has truly given them a personality, You have not only created a educational piece but given personality that surpasses the skeletal figures we visit at the museum or the pictures/drawings/sketches online. you have truly displayed the beauty, and wonder of these amazing creatures. I thank you, you are truly talented. I am so in love with this piece! Thank you so much for creating this!!!!

Posted 6 Years Ago



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Added on August 27, 2012
Last Updated on September 18, 2012


Author

Saurian Guardian
Saurian Guardian

Canada



About
Hi, Im Damien. Im currently a student from Ontario with a passion for art and poetry. Ive also written a few short stories and plan on continuing my writing as the year progresses. I love designing .. more..

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