The neighborhood hawk was very busy last summer. With raising a family and decimating the local bird population, this feathered miscreant barely had time to sit on the oak tree by the porch and glare at me with her contempt filled eyes. More than once I chased this hateful, bird snatcher away from my feeder, but I couldn’t keep a constant vigil, so all throughout the summer, the hawk and later, her offspring soared above the community murdering and eating whatever small animal they chose. The titmice, the cardinals, the squirrels, and even the neighbor’s chickens fell prey to this villain’s blood lust, but out of all the creatures that frequented my feeder, the hawk’s preferred meal was the dove.
Doves have always been one of my favorite birds. Watching their slow, sedate movements and the silly bob of their heads as they walk always seems to lighten my spirits and bring a smile to my lips. Coupled with their gentle eyes and soft downy feathers, these traits make them a joy to photograph. Aside from being beautiful, doves have one other distinguishing characteristic. This bird’s intent, but vacant stares tell tales of an empty head. Forgive me for what appears to be condemnation, but when I look out into the yard on a clear day and see a dove sleeping in the sunshine in an open patch of short grass, I can’t help but think that these beautiful birds are as dumb as dirt. When the other birds scream “Cat! Cat!” and fly to the trees, the dove’s delayed reaction is: “Huh?” Rather than land in the feeder, or near the feeder, a dove will choose to land ten to fifteen feet away and walk in across open ground, a move that makes them an easy target for even the laziest hawk.
Last summer began with a flock of 10 to 12 doves visiting my feeder to feast on the cracked corn that I purchased just for them. It ended with a circle of gray feathers scattered about the hawks’ favorite tree. The hawk and her young had annihilated the dove population.
Nature, however, can be merciful as well as cruel. Although spring has always been considered the time of renewal, for small animals living in an area heavily hunted by hawks, winter is the time of peace and of lazy sleeps and freedom. Many of the birds of prey have wandered south in favor of warmer climates. Perhaps the winter air holds a frigid chill, but it is better to shiver while you whistle your morning song than have your song silenced by the unmerciful talons of a hungry hawk.
The traffic to my window feeder has increased three fold as goldfinches, dressed in the olive drab of winter, rummage through the pile of seeds in search of millet. The cardinals, feeling more secure in their bright red cloaks, rest upon the bare branches of the lilac bush. The Carolina Wren, that winters on the back porch, hangs casually from the suet feeder driving her long curved beak into the bacon grease and seed that were blended just for her. The woodpecker announces his arrival with his odd “Quirrrrr,” then peeks over the side of the feeder to see what’s for lunch. The war zone outside my window is enjoying a moment of peace, but the beautiful creature that symbolized peace was no longer present.
I was seated at my desk contemplating my next article when she landed this morning. Her soft gray features and gentle eyes brought an immediate smile to my lips. Before me stood a lone survivor of summer’s tragedy, and in her bright peaceful eyes, I saw the promise of the spring to come.