Monday, April 4, 2011

We All Gotta Eat, But...

...sometimes a little anthropomorphic monkey-wrenching with the natural balance of things is OK in my book.

Such was the case this morning as I was sitting in front of our back window, drinking my last cup of coffee and watching the woods behind the house.

Just as I was getting ready to get up and take my coffee cup back to the kitchen, a female Harris sparrow came swooping and jinking on to the back porch with our resident assassin sharp-tailed hawk right on its tail. The sparrow slammed into the window, then turned and slipped into the space between our glass and screen door.

Smart move, but the sharpie swerved right with it, and just as it was about to pin the sparrow between the doors and have breakfast, Walt Disney here came to the rescue. I beat my hands against the glass, made my best bird-scaring warface and shouted, I don't know...something (shoo bird, shoo! or something equally stupid) which caused the sharpie to flare off and fly away.

Normally I don't mind at all the birds our resident accipiters (mostly sharpies and Cooper's, although I could swear I saw a flash of an immature goshawk last year...) take, and indeed, I enjoy having them around to make things interesting. I call them our "keepin'-it-real" birds. Because nothing reinforces the basic, unsentimental truth of nature more than watching that cute little junco being torn to pieces and eaten right there on the pole feeder.

And this particular sharpie ( I think it's the same one) is particularly bold. A few weeks ago it pinned a cardinal against out windowsill directly in front of my wife, and then calmly devoured it right there on the back porch. Now that's haughtiness...

So why interfere with this one incident? It's not like we've got a shortage of Harris sparrows or anything. And despite the fact that our bird-feeding certainly makes it easier, it's no easy thing catching a bird in flight, and the sharpie - like all wild birds of prey - lives on the ragged edge, expending much precious energy with each pass it makes at a bird.

No deep philosophical meanderings or explorations needed. I'm feeling plainspoken today. I saved the little bugger (who in all likelihood will end up getting eaten, anyway. Such is a bird's life...) because sometimes it just makes you feel good to see the little guys cheat death, if only for a little while.


  1. I know what you mean, Chad.

    If I could have interfered a couple years ago, the time a hawk came by and snatched baby robins from the nest near the house as my wife watched, I suppose I would have.

    Once, as a kid, I separated a garter snake and the bullfrog it was trying to swallow, starting with one leg. Given the size differential, that situation wasn't going to end well, even for the reptile.

  2. It does happen to myself upon occasion Chad, interfering with the flow of nature in support of the 'underdog', I guess sometimes it just touches a chord within. Good post my man, good post...

  3. Maybe it reminds us of our hopes for ourselves?

  4. I think that it is just instinct that we protect the smaller weaker creatures. Or at least the cute ones.

  5. Cool story. Way to help out the little guys!

  6. But, did you help the little guys cheat death? I'll be the mean one here today.

    When I was a park interpreter, a ranger told me about being rushed upon by a few visibly distressed park visitors. "You have to help that poor baby whale out there! It's being attacked by orcas!" Sure enough, there were orcas trying to get a baby Gray whale. Obviously unable to do anything to help, she watched, just hoping that it wouldn't end in a bloody surf... the baby got away, and everybody was happy.

    I asked the ranger, "did you use this as an interpretive opportunity and say, 'now the poor, emaciated baby killer whales will starve to death out in the canyon'?"

    I probably would have saved the bird, too, but I do imagine a nest with babies just waiting for mom or dad to get back with meat, so they can survive the cold night.

  7. True, Josh. I was thinking about the hungry hawk chicks when the robin chicks got carried away. Ted Kerasote does a nice job in his essay "A Killing at Dawn," reminding us of the hungry wolf pups after an elk calf is killed.

  8. I generally root for underdogs - pretty natural, I think. Occasionally I'll even save something from our great huntress-cat Harlequin, like when she was playing with a lizard that wasn't warm enough to defend himself. Had to intercede on that one.

    For the past few days I've been watching the Decorah eaglets hatching live on webstream, and today it's driving me crazy watching the stronger eaglet bully its weaker nest-mate - even though I know that's just how it works.

    Check 'em out - eaglets look like they're about ready to feed at this moment.

  9. Hmmm for some reason only half the post can be seen. I tried reloading but still same.