Tuesday, December 28, 2010

There Is No Parable: Hawk and Dove

It's the kind of thing I should be used to already. After all, hawks kill birds in the yard quite often. We find the feather evidence at least once a week, sometimes twice. But I've never watched the whole thing happen until Tuesday morning. I was sitting at the table sipping my tea. The seed-eaters were all over the yard: in the platform feeder, on the tube feeder, under the feeders, in the garden where the seed is scattered. It was both an energetic and bucolic scene.
For some reason the doves never have a chance. The other birds always sense danger first and fly away like their lives depended on it. The doves almost always stop and listen; they take their time; they doubt the danger and go for one more tiny seed. It never fails. I watch them. Their minds always seem to be on something else. Their little heads bobble forward and back, forward and back, as they walk from under the feeder to the garden and back. It's like they are wearing earplugs and are listening to their favorite music as loud as they can. "World? What world? Hawks? What hawks? I'm grooving to my inner music and heading to get me some more seed over there."
Pow. A hawk flies in from the tall pines and slams a dove. Feathers swirl around like a brief snow flurry. Then nothing. Quiet. The hawk stands over the dove, its talons sunk into its body. It waits. It squeezes and waits.
It takes a while for a dove to die. Longer than I thought it would. It's a brutal few minutes of struggle. The hawk looks over its shoulder. It looks down at the dove. The dove tries to flee, its wings flap. The hawk shifts position. It squeezes and waits. Minutes pass, until it finally takes off with its prey, leaving nothing but a pile of feathers and blood on the driveway. Roger hooked up the hose and washed that away for me.

I'm a little surprised that I watched the whole thing, but I did. I even shot a 40 second video, which I won't post because I can't stand to look at it. I understand the nature of things, it's the suffering I find unbearable. I wish I had learned something I did not already know.

We always say we feed all the birds, and it's true. Both the hawk and the dove.

22 comments:

  1. Fascinating and a bit sad. But hey, that's nature. Man has lost sight of that, somewhere along the line. The fact that we too are animals, I mean.

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  2. I have a love-hate relationship with this particular post. Rich says Hannibal and the missus are back in their nest in front of the Florida house and we head down there on Thursday for the next three months so I'll get to witness the whole cycle again. I have a love-hate relationship with those Coopers, too.

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  3. When I was in Yellowstone in September, I felt more sympathy for the predators than I ever have before. I hate the whole idea of how the circle of life is sustained but their lives are in some ways harder than those that can find feed that isn't running away. They either find that bird to eat or they die. I watch the hawks a lot. One of the toughest things my husband watched was a hawk going after a baby turkey as the mother turkey tried to defend it. It's really a tough life

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  4. It is so hard to watch. I have a roadrunner that bludgeons my song birds to death. I know all creatures must eat, I just can't stand to watch it. You are right, bird feeders are also fast food stations for the preditor birds.
    Very apt description of the doves which are a favorite of mine. To me they are the children of the bird world, innocent, trusting and quite naive.

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  5. Powerful post. My dog found the remains--just the legs and the bit of underside to which the legs were attached--of a bird. Feathers down to its feet. White, some brown, dark on the underside. I wondered whether it was some exotic breed of chicken or a wild bird. I brought it to the local office of Fish and Game and the guy said it was either a screech owl or a short eared owl. So the owl was eaten, possibly by the great horned owl that I hear every night.

    I understand how you hate to see suffering. I've waited beside dying animals--a chipmunk savaged by the cat, a mallard duck hit by a car--to bear witness to the passing of their life, and to honor them.

    The conventional religions of our culture don't make a place for non-human life to be honored; but I've never been a "believer," not even in youngest childhood, so it feels so natural to witness, to acknowledge the sorrow and pain, and to honor the creature's next incarnation in the flowers, the rain, the cry of a hawk. It helps me cope with the suffering.

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  6. Pain is painful to watch. I agree.
    Still, everything that makes a hawk so spectacular is because of that moment you witnessed.

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  7. Very good description of the events in your driveway. It's a tough life for both. As you know, I work with raptors day in and day out. They have to hunt and eat to exist. But if you don't feel for its dinner, you don't have a heart.

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  8. Love your description of the doves' behavior...it is what makes them a favorite of the hawks. Easy pickin's!

    When we used to have homing pigeons, I was horrified to discover that sometimes the adults would attack the chicks (their own or others) quite brutally. If we found a chick in a bad state, we'd bring it inside and nurse it back to health before reintroducing it to the group, where it would do fine. But I could never look at the birds the same: now they were brutal baby killers.

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  9. What Vicki said. I couldn't watch a video of it either, but somehow the still shots are bearable. It is life, playing out how it is supposed to.

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  10. Nice photos, I haven't blog hored much lately but it's nice to see you all still here.
    Peace
    E

    I know you hate zoo's but this is worth a look.

    Cheetah births at Smithsonian research center grab biologists' attention http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/28/AR2010122803928.html?hpid=artslot

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  11. Agreed--both facinating and repellant. Like others have said, we love to watch the hawks, but do not like to see that essential part of their nature we only acknowledge in an intellectual way.
    My own way of dealing with the victims' suffering is that I hope they are living only in the moment so they don't have sense of ongoing pain. (hands over ears LA LA LA)

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  12. "I wish I had learned something I did not already know." Some of us were born with that knowledge I think.

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  13. Well, some humans still predate on the rest of us, one way or another.
    Often for reasons unneccesary to simple survival,unlike the hawk. I find it easier to acknowledge animals' need for food than some humans' drive for power and wealth.
    I found a pile of starling feathers out front the other day. That's predation I can support!

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  14. Yes, I understand completely. There was a big difference in knowing hawks eat small mammals and coming across a redtail disemboweling a squirrel outside the dining room window. As much as I'd really, really, like to believe that some day the lion and lamb will lie down together and both of them will get up again - oh, well.

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  15. Amazing, Robin. Amazing observation, reflection, and a powerful piece of writing to get it ll down. Your post is moving because it also offers a mirror to our own species. We, too, are the hawks and doves.

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  16. I always wish the hawk weren't quite so beautiful and efficent, so admirable. It would simplify things.
    Kay

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  17. Reminds me of a disturbing song by Tool called "disgustipated," in which the lyrics "life feeds on life, feeds on life, feeds on life..." go on and on, making me think of the countless cannibalisms life perpetuates. Life is as self-immolating as the Sun. Miraculous and incredibly dark.

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  18. That's why I don't believe in any of the gods. The suffering.

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  19. That was exactly what I felt and said the first time I saw a hawk capture a junco here..... "I guess now we can truly say we are bird feeders".....nicely written, and how true about those little cute doves.

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  20. The hawk calls you "Rancher".

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  21. That is about the most beautiful adult sharp-shinned hawk I have ever seen. Smoothest, deepest color. There are many doves, many fewer hawks. I was surprised to see that your visitor is a sharp-shin, probably a large female. A mourning dove is a huge dinner and prize for such a small one. And sharpies are declining, and nobody really knows why. They don't adapt to suburban environs nearly as well as do the Cooper's--they are truly deep forest creatures.

    The ID is a very tough call--I'm going on feel and eye-head-bill proportions since the sizes of the two species overlap. Would be glad to be corrected by someone more knowledgeable, but I believe you have a sharpie there.
    Lovely post.

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  22. These photos did my heart good. I've loved & studied these birds since I was a child. I've chosen names for the first two I get (Once, as in the Spanish word for eleven, and Morocco). I also have names picked out for the M. doves I want to acquire after that. Post more photos ANYTIME! Thank you so very much.

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