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The Cycle of Life

Published on: Dec. 10, 2009

Female sharp-shinned hawkNature is red in tooth and claw. That paraphrase of the English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson came to mind when I saw the sharp-shinned hawk make a pass at the birds around my feeders. The hawk’s presence can usually be assumed when the smaller birds scatter wildly, some of them taking refuge in the dense, multi-stemmed deutzia shrub near the feeders. Occasionally a fleeing bird will thump into the glass pane of the nearby kitchen window, usually without hurting itself. The hawk came away empty-clawed this time. A circle of freshly plucked feathers in the grass of my lawn lets me know when it has been successful.

It’s a natural reaction, I suppose, to root for the songbirds in the deadly contest between predator and prey. But I appreciate the hawk at least as much as the songbirds and don’t begrudge its success in obtaining a meal, even though its protein diet is produced from the birdseed for which I paid $15 a bag. I do wish it would take the house sparrows and leave the rest alone, but I know that exotic species’ issues are not a part of its deadly calculation.

The predator/prey relationship is as old as nature itself, but I think too many people today are uncomfortable with it. Perhaps we’ve seen too many movies where animals are portrayed as humans in an animal’s body. Nemo is just like us, and the sharks and humans that might eat him are not such innocent creatures. There are no scenes showing the ocean life that Nemo consumes to keep himself alive. Are we to think that he lives on fish food composed of only vegetable products? And what of those poor vegetables that gave their lives for fish food?

Regardless of what we think, the cycle of life goes on much as it always has, sometimes as close as our own kitchen window. As one of my colleagues said, “Not many wild animals die a peaceful death in their sleep.” If we want to understand nature truly, we would do well to confront that fact head on and make our peace with it.

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