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When Survival Seems Unfair

The Intelligence At Work

Young CardinalSometimes, we birders have to witness things that break our hearts. Nestlings getting killed by birds competing for the space. Seeing the odd bird dead on the side of the road while walking our dogs. Seeing squirrels who’ve been hit in the road. The list goes on. What keeps us going is we know that these things are all part of the beauty we see and enjoy every day. We know the Universe has different plans than we can ever hope to know for the creatures we love and watch every day. We understand that there is give and take that we just won’t ever understand.

That is not to say that it still doesn’t make us sad!

A Familiar Sound

It was about ten o’clock in the morning this past Thursday. I was downstairs going about some daily activity I can’t recall. Then, I heard it. The familiar squawk of the blue jays in nearly perfect unison. And it wasn’t just one or two either. It sounded like the blue jay choral director was tuning them up for a performance. This went on for more than a couple minutes and then it stopped. From my experience, I knew this is generally NOT a good sign because I’ve heard blue jays go on like this until they’ve driven the offender out of their territory. A quick glance out the window showed there were not any birds to be seen on the feeders, in the bath or in the nearby tree branches.

Then, I saw him.

Standing Majestically

Standing not ten feet from the feeder station was a very large adult Cooper’s Hawk. Just standing there. At first, I thought he was just recovering from an unsuccessful attack near the feeder. However, he had something about him that seemed a little too proud and contented. Don’t ask me what it was. Maybe just his stance that gave it away. I tried not to let him see me and I think I was successful. I looked closer at him and I thought it looked like he was standing on something. I couldn’t tell for sure because leaves had fallen and our grass was a little overdue for mowing. He just stood there for a few minutes while I admired him.

If Wishes Were Horses

I wished very hard that I didn’t see anything under him but that was not to be.

Before another minute passed, he heaved his huge body up into flight and then I saw it. He was carrying an immature male cardinal in his talons. Lifeless it just hung from him as he flew into the woods behind our house to enjoy his mid morning snack. I felt a quick twinge of sorrow on seeing this because I had seen these guys kicking around in the grass beneath the feeder before this. I know it was because they don’t rank and are probably kept off the feeder by their elders. I remember thinking one time before as I watched on foraging a little distance from the feeder that it wasn’t a good idea. I’m so sorry to be right at times, you know?

Reframing The Incident

Times like these it is very easy to just feel bad for the little one who just hadn’t learned THAT lesson yet. The more I thought about it, the more my mind was put at ease. Here are a few of my immediate takeaways:

  • We’ve had a bumper crop of cardinals this year and this was an unavoidable consequence that wasn’t anybody’s fault. If I had twenty more feeders up, he would still not have ranked to be up on it most likely.
  • He probably served as the example for cardinal parents to tell their children “Be careful where you feed. Remember what happened to little Billy.”
  • He was killed and eaten by a predator who had a real need for survival. He didn’t give his life to entertain some poor feral cat who had no intention of eating him.

I’m not saying that it makes easy for us. I’m just hopeful that I have any understanding of the grand scheme of life on this planet. I do believe everything happens for a reason whether we know that reason or not. It’s all about trust for me. I trust in a higher power and the Universe to keep all these forces working in a way that makes sense for them if not us. That we’ll be ok with how it all plays out.

Are you ok with this? Let me know if this story has struck a chord in you by leaving a comment below.


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