In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, strident calls remind me that it’s the immature season — big ugly birds are fledging. A pair of merlins acquired a corvid nest one house down from mine and they’ve raised a squawky bunch.

Barely a week ago, the youngest merlins left the nest to perch on neighboring rooftops. The din brought me outside to witness falcon surround-sound fledging. Todd joined me, wielding a spotting scope for long-range shooting. I held my binoculars and breath, feeling awed at the moment. It was like watching a baby’s first steps.

Immature merlins have scraggly brown feathers so puffy, they look bigger than their parents. They hunch up, uncertain of their ability to fly. They lift their wings into imitations of caped vampires. And sometimes, they slide off a gable.

By the time the third wave of kin arrived, the merlin family encompassed the entire Roberts Street neighborhood.

The week caught its own moments with immature birds, while out kayaking. First, we encountered a winding slough off the Portage Canal where red-winged blackbirds had just fledged. It was a rare moment to see juveniles and females flying and perching along the wooded edge. Had we kayaked here any other day, we would have missed the fledging.

And at another lake on another day — we rose early, grabbed coffee and breakfast burritos at Krupps, and hit the water at Twin Lakes. By the time we meandered a waterway between Lake Gerald and Lake Roland, a baby eagle took flight, chasing down a parent. We arrived at the precise moment the eagle clumsily flew from one side of the lake to the other.

Yet, there are some juvenile birds I’ve never seen — swallows, road runners, cedar waxwings. We did see adult male cedar waxwings though and they behaved nobly except for when one landed on a branch too thin and he bobbed in a silly way. We saw Anne Goodwin’s kingfisher, but no princes. We saw numerous sandhill cranes, but no teens. One of our best sightings occurred along Misery Creek — the opposite of immature — an old age of a wood turtle.

Wherever you are, take time to notice who takes to the air where you live. Consider how the seasons change the bird-scape. Maybe the immature can teach us writers something about transformation.

Immatures make a lot of noise and fuss. Its an image easily transposed to characters under development. What does it mean to be immature? What do immature people look like, act like, and speak? It can be a character trait that informs or colors a story. Go ahead. Play, and have fun this challenge!

August 1, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about something or someone immature. Is it a wine not yet ready to uncork or an adult not ready to adult? You can follow the flight of immature fledglings or come up with something unexpected. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by August 7, 2023. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Thursday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.


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