On a frosty late January morning, I caught the tail end of a predator-prey interaction, right from my office window!
A sudden thud revealed the predator’s success, as a sharp-shinned hawk nailed a starling mid-flight, forcing it to the ground, then stepping on its neck with strong, sharp talons until it died.
The predator extended his wings to conceal his kill, wary of crows, magpies and other scavengers seeking to usurp his efforts. The sharp-shinned hawk quickly ascended to our front yard arbor vitae trees with its prize as a few people walked by, then afterwards returned to the ground to resume eating. Some minutes later a larger group of pedestrians startled the hawk, and it flew off for good!
Sharp-shinned hawks tend to be opportunistic predators in urban, suburban and rural settings, especially when there are bird feeders and bird houses involved. We see them more often in winter in Missoula, often perched atop Douglas fir or Engelmann spruce trees on windy and inclement days, waiting for the moment to strike and hopefully eat again.
None of our immediate neighbors have active bird feeders or bird houses at this time of year, yet there are robust, resident flocks of pigeons and starlings, and ample aerial cover for the birds that hunt them in turn. Years ago Erik and I watched a kestrel kill an unsuspecting songbird and consume it on our backyard fence, but witnessing this encounter from a closer distance made me feel that I was in Yellowstone or another wilder place.
And that last thought keeps coming back to me, that we don’t have to physically be in a remote place to experience and reconnect with the wild.
The wild surrounds us no matter wherever we are, from the unpredictability and unforgiving nature of winter weather, to whether animals go hungry, eat or get eaten.
The wild also resides within us-our connection to the planet, to fellow humans and to other species has been hard-wired into our nature long before electricity, combustion engines, non-renewable energy sources and countless devices ushered us ever more deeply into the “real world.”
Yet the wild isn’t villainous in how it reacts to or treats its inhabitants and ecosystems. There are no favorites, no pre-determined winners and losers. In fact it doesn’t seem wild at all compared to how human beings and systems have savagely treated the planet and each other at times.
Like sharp-shinned hawks and starlings, we all have needs alongside opportunities every moment we’re alive. Let’s seize those moments. Let’s do all we can to create a sustainable, just world reflecting our collective humanity and potential, and provide for and protect the wild nature with whom we share this planet.
There’s always room for both.