Monday, November 30, 2009

Ethics and a Hawk

Our annual ethical dilemma has begun.  The Cooper's hawk is back.

He has emigrated from his home in mountain forests somewhere north of us to hunt prey in our warmer clime.  He especially likes to hunt from a perch on our back gate, for our premises attract other birds the year round.  We ply them with fruit, bread crumbs and seeds and nectar feeders for the hummingbirds. They nest  on our roof and in niches and corners of our house.  They hatch their young, feed them, teach them to fly.

They are beautiful and welcome guests.  But they are also prey for the Cooper's hawk. He is a princely bird, noble in features and stature.  One of the smaller accipiters,  he is a swift flier who can dart through trees in pursuit of smaller birds. His speed in flight, his aerial agility are forms of beauty, too.

He visits us every winter precisely because our feeders attract other birds.  Are we thus complicit in the murder of the birds he kills for food?   Last year I watched a harsh episode of nature next to the little pond beside the desert willow tree: a white winged dove -- probably accustomed to easy meals from the nearby feeder -- fell prey to the hawk and provided it with two days worth of nourishment.

That was an exception.  We seldom find evidence of his bird-kills.  I tell myself that he feeds far more often on rodents and other small mammals on the desert floor around us. In this part of the country, certain rodents can transmit a terrible, fatal disease to humans.  Since the hawk helps control the rodent population, he is, in a sense, like the rattlesnake, a friend of man.

My wife Lois frets over the hawk's annual threat to the birds she so fondly feeds.  But we need not feel guilty, say I; we are not abettors in murder.  The hawk does what it must, and has a place in the natural order of things.  We should be acting badly if we interfered in that order. Let hawks be hawks, sparrows be sparrows, wolves be wolves and fawns be fawns and may all, as species, survive.

I say that's just being pro-life.

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