Saturday, March 12, 2011

When Laws Collide

Many of us first learned about the Law of Karma from The Beatles, back in the sixties -- "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." In more simple terms, we give seeds to the wild birds and they pay us back with their songs and their colorful appearance. Ironically I was on my way to fill our bird feeders when this recent real-life wild kingdom moment happened.

It was mid-February and I was going out through the garage in order to put on my muck boots before slogging through the snow to the seed containers. As the automatic door passed the halfway point a large white and gray blur of feathers appeared to my right and crashed into the snow bank along the left side of my driveway about six feet in front of me. The white was a large hyperactive hawk. The gray -- a smaller but equally frenzied pigeon.

The raptor smashed backwards into the crusty pile of white stuff with his wings splayed out and his talons parallel to the ground. He seemed to have a surprised look on his face. The pigeon meanwhile was twisting and turning within the larger bird's grip -- shedding feathers at an alarming rate.

Suddenly the captive broke free, and exited stage right. The hawk gathered himself and flew down the length of my driveway. As I walked out to the pile of feathers I saw the hawk sitting on a branch in one of the snow-shelf trees across the street. I turned back towards our house and noticed the fidgety escapee pacing on the peak of our colonial house.

After I excitedly recounted the action for Marsha I went about the mission that had brought me outside to begin with. As I replenished the various feeders I could see the hawk, sitting in place, staring in my direction -- breathing deeply in order to calm himself down and contemplate his next move.

The pigeon meanwhile flew down from the rooftop and began pecking ferociously at the sunflower seeds that had fallen to the ground as part of my process. Unlike his contemplative predator, the pigeon was clearly amped-up on adrenaline and mainlining bird food to keep his state of agitation going. In spite of the pile of gray feathers at the crash scene, the frenetic bird had no visible gaps in his plumage. Then again he was pretty fluffed up -- either to keep him warm or as another manifestation of his hyperactive behavior -- which may have hidden any newly acquired pattern baldness.

Before the attack there was the usual plethora of finches, juncos, sparrows, chickadees, cardinals, blue jays, titmice, nuthatches, and squirrels that feed en masse at our tree branch diners -- plus a few of the pigeons that occasionally crash the party. All are welcome.

Now the yard was totally bereft of fauna, other than the one hyperactive survivor of the near-death experience. Most of the birdbrains were smart enough to leave the scene. The pigeon, which Marsha and I consider to be more of a squirrel with feathers than a real bird, clearly did not fully comprehend the danger of the situation. Even I had some personal apprehension as I stood at the bull's-eye of raptor's target area. I had no idea how much, if at all, he blamed me for his failed dinner-grab - and for long, if at all, a hawk held a grudge.

Then I looked across the road, and the hawk was gone.

This was the second known raptor-on-pigeon attack in our yard this calendar year. Last year we had the same number all annum -- plus one murder-by-cat. I am guessing that the increase in our violent crime rate is at least partially due to the excessive snow accumulation that drives the birds from their inaccessible natural eating haunts to the backyard feeder circuit. Similarly the larger predators start dining in the more civilized parts of town as their normal woodland food supplies become more difficult for them to find.

In helping the first group I am also aiding the second. It's what happens when the Law of Karma, meets the Law of Supply and Demand, meets the Law of the Jungle.

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