Thursday, December 18, 2008

Death on My Doorstep

Writing in my studio with all of the comforts of modern heating, plumbing and groceries, it's hard to remember that for most of the history of humankind, winters in the snowy and cold regions of the globe were often life-and-death seasons of hardship and possible starvation. Watching birds reminds me of reality of life for all of the other creatures on our planet, and reinforces to me that as a human I have a responsibility to nurture healthy eco-systems.

This morning the thermometer was around 10 degrees Fahrenheit and it's been snowing most of the day. Between work sessions I've been sweeping snow off the walkways (easier than shoveling, but I have to do it more often) and stocking the bird feeders.

The seasonal birds have migrated south and only the stalwart local wild birds remain. I like watching the Chicadee's, Jays and Mountain Quail vie for their positions at the feeders. Even though I live in the town of Bend, Oregon, we have a 1/2 acre lot that we've mostly xeroscaped in the indigeneous flora mix of manzanita, red currant, ponderosa pine and bunch grass. The birds visit the feeders while the coyotes, mule deer and bunnies come to the mineral salt lick.

Wherever small birds group, a hungry raptor will eventually show up for a meal that is never vegetarian. I watched owls, hawks and eagles hunt the small birds at the feeder. They fail much more than they succeed, but despite that they always persevere with the hunt, though never from the same angle. I've long ago given up cheering for either "side" of the hunted/hunters of bird world. They each have their place.

Nonetheless, because I see so few raptors in relationship to the usual birds, I always stop and watch them. One day in November, I heard the bump of a bird hitting the glass windows while I was writing. That's not unusual as the occasional bird will zig rather than zag when they're flying around the garden.

Leaving my studio, I opened the door to find a beautiful raptor dead on my doorstep. The bird, a Sharp Shined Hawk, had broken it's neck when it hit the window and died instantly. It lay on it's back in the center of my doormat with it's wings perfectly outstretched, looking like a symbol on a flag. I reached to touch it and stopped when I heard a loud, rumbling growl. I looked up to see the neighbor's cat, Harry, in full wild-cat mode, ready to fight me for the bird's body.

I quickly picked up the hawk and brought it into my studio, letting my Rat Terrior out to chase Harry the cat. (The dog lives to chase that cat). I drew this graphite drawing of the dead hawk laying on my work table.

Yesterday a very much alive and hungry Sharp Shined Hawk flew by the window, finishing a failed swoop after a Quail. I wonder if it's related to the hawk in this drawing.


  1. Lovely drawing and I am glad your dog lives to chase Harry the cat. Cats are terribly hard on birds, especially young juvenile birds at that.

  2. Cristina, I always feel bad when we lose a bird to a window collision. A pair of bluebirds hit my window about 8 years ago, instantly dead, and I still feel bad about it to this day. I try to make up for the losses by planting bird friendly plants, bluebird houses, and providing water and a bird feeder to our winged friends.

  3. Wow, you are brave. Beautiful drawing!