Monday, July 19, 2010

The Early Bird Gets the Bird

This it the part of summer when we sleep like campers. The wonderful thing about a travel trailer is that it's a travel trailer! With a large window to either side of the bedroom, a five-foot wide window at the head of the bed and an operable skylight vent in the ceiling it's almost like sleeping outside.

It always cools off here in the evening, even when it's been a blistering 40 C (104 F) during the day. The breeze is fantastic. Nighttime temperatures drop into the 50s and it's heaven for sleeping.

But I have exceptionally acute hearing, and with all the windows open I hear everything, from the toenails of a dog walking past on the road, to the mice that gnawed on my vegies (last year) to what woke me at 5:00 am today.

It was daylight, though the sun was still an hour or more from coming over the horizon. Above, in the tree adjacent to our bedroom, the birds were flapping and screaming in terror. My first thought was that the neighbour's cat was up there bugging them, but it soon became apparent that our resident red-tailed hawks had brought their newly fledged youngsters over for breakfast.

I've seen the hawks flush game, and seen them terrorize small birds in trees, so it takes no stretch of the imagination to believe they may have herded the great number of smaller birds into this one tree. It was a teaching moment.

The youngsters sat in the mock cherry - two of them by the sounds of it, and whistled that wild cry of theirs. The blackbirds, warblers, orioles, finches and sparrows shrieked and clattered and screamed. The tree was full of the fluttering of wings. The parents circled over head, their whistles coming from higher, moving in a constant circle.

All the hawks had to do was dive bomb the tree and pick off the smaller birds that panicked and flew. The hawks are teaching their young to kill, so they must have been catching the small birds with a soft hand, not the usual (merciful) killing blow of a talon. You heard the small snared birds panicked squealing above all the others.

The young hawks' whistles grew excited, the small birds screamed as they were torn apart, the young hawks called and gobbled, as young birds do everywhere, as parent stuffs food down the yawning beaks.

As my neighbour says, "Nature is nature." Hawks have to eat too, and there are hundreds of small birds, but I doubt that was much consolation to the small birds as they became the young hawks' breakfast, nor was it to me, hearing their fear and pain.

After a ten minute frenzy the hawks rose and flew away. The trees, and the morning itself, grew quiet. I went back to sleep and dreamed of flying. The sun rose over the eastern ridge and touched the ripples on the lake. At the edge of the garden the birds chattered as they picked up the seed we'd thrown out for them at sunset. They are better Buddhists than I, they have already forgotten 5:00 am.

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