Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Hunters like us
I decided to scrap the essay I promised. It went all stupid on me. That happens. So instead I'm going to tell you about the drama in the woods this morning. I was in an area where I often see owls, and I was just thinking about how scarce they've been this spring when I heard a commotion up ahead. It was a red-bellied woodpecker in full freak-out, squawking madly. I couldn't see what the trouble was at first, but then I realized there was a great horned owl, a big female, behind the woodpecker. She spread her wings and took off through the trees. I think she was taking the woodpecker's mate with her. I couldn't see for sure but it's likely that she was, since woodpecker couples like to feed together in the early morning, and it would explain the red-bellied's distress. He carried on for quite a while after the owl was gone.
Between keeping feeders and doing a fair amount of birdwatching, I see a lot of bird-on-bird predation. Usually it doesn't bother me. It's a little gruesome, I guess, but the process of killing, plucking and eating is fascinating to watch. Seeing the attack on the woodpeckers made me sad, though. Stupidly, irrationally sad. It's not as if woodpeckers are endangered, or there's anything abnormal about an owl making breakfast out of one. This is how the world works, after all--and who should understand that better than me, a member of a predator species and citizen of a predator nation? But there's something about the woodpeckers that arouses my sympathy. Maybe it's their feisty attitude, or their weirdly engineered bodies, or their sweet attentiveness to their fledglings. Whatever it is, it destroys my natural admiration for the power and beauty of my sister, the killer.
La Nuit, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1883.