Chronicles

PEOPLE AND THEIR PASSION FOR AND AGAINST PREDATOR
by: Mike Lushington  

        A strech of about 50 miles on the beautiful Restigouche River is now cleaner and safer for salmon and everyone who dares to "run the river".

        The Gyrfalcon had killed about an hour previously. The duck (probably a Barrow's Goldeneye) was almost certainly dead from the gyr's blow before it hit the ice. The falcon had fed and was now resting on its favorite high promontory on the Bon Ami Rocks, alternately preening, napping and surveying its domaine.

        Immediately below its perch more than a hundred goldeneyes and black ducks resumed the business of feeding themselves before nightfall and the rising tide shut off food sources until the next day. To an observer, such as myself, they seemed as oblivious to the gyr as the gyr was to them - while the corpse (or what was left of it) rested on the ice not more than thirty metres away.

        How cold and indifferent these birds were to their fallen comrade. How could they possibly resume such a mundane pursuit as eating so soon after tragedy had stricken one of them? And how could the gyr sit there so casually (or, one might almost say, so blatantly) after committing such a horrid crime?

        As supposedly civilized North Americans, we have come a long way from the laws of tooth and fang. We feed our birds (and we do think of them as our birds) in exchange for the privilege of their company and we are mildly offended when they fly off in some alarm, should we approach too closely to replenish the feeders.

        We sign petitions, write letters and join naturalists' clubs so that our voices can be added to those of like- minded souls in demanding protection for wildlife and wildlife habitat. Word of the presence of a Snowy Owl or of a Gyrfalcon in the area electrifies us and we count it a significant day afield should we be fortunate enough to spot such a magnificent creature.

        And yet we persist in being horrified when the creatures of nature, those creatures we are so rightly determined to help and protect, continue acting in accordance with their own nature. It is as though we expect to enter into some sort of pact with raptors -we will fight for their continued survival if they will agree to change their eating habits.

        It is in this vein I remember a conversation, a couple of years ago, with a newly converted devotee to bird feeding. For some weeks she had been thrilled with the flocks of sparrows, blackbirds, starlings, finches and other small birds which had been taking advantage of her largess, but on this morning she was distraught. A Sharp-shinned Hawk (surely the most villainous of them all ?) had discovered the attration and, it seemed, had decided that it had gone to heaven. As we spoke, it was happily devouring a starling right on her front porch. Her husband, in the meantime, was rumrnag- ing about in the attic to find his old shotgun to put an end to such dastardly happenings. Her question to me was a simple one- should they shoot the hawk or merely try to scare it off. I don't think that she was completely satisfied with my response, that hawks are protected {1 did not mention that starlings, on the otherhand, are considered in New Brunswick to be pests and, therefore, do not have any protected status at all), that there are over 400,000 starlings in the provcince and less than 8,000 sharpies, and that she really should try to marvel at the beauty of this remarkable little predator.

        That incident came back to me in the spate of conversation this winter on the nature line concerning the dietary habits of Sharp- shinned Hawks and of Northern Shrikes. Overwhelmingly, the tone was of dismay; how could nature persist in being so ... well, natural. ..when we are all trying so hard to be nice to one another and to all of the little creatures around us?

        The problem is our line of thinking which argues that nature has been created for our use and our benefit. This is the thinking which promotes clearcutting, endless roadbuilding and strip mining at one extreme, and then switches to the assumption that wild creatures should, somehow, be sensitive to our sensibilities and either change their nasty habits or, at the very least, hide them from our view. By all means, we seem to say, I want to see that shrike but, please, not while it is killing one of my finches.

        To my mind, nature is beautiful -in all of its manifesta- tions. But that is a judgement which I make. N ature simply IS. We may see it as raw or violent, as gentle and peaceful, or in any of the myriad human emotions, but it understands none of these. Nor should it. In the world that I love the hawk kills and the ducks accept that it must. There are no tears, there is no recrimination, there is only some sense that that is the way of life. Give me the wisdom to accept it -and the soul to marvel at it.

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