August 13, 2012

Infanticide in the Woodland Garden

Warning: Do not continue reading if you are either Lucy Darling or have a tendency to be profoundly disturbed by the effects of the laws of nature.

Principal Players:

The Victim's Mother

The Heartless Villain


Our woodland garden is a haven for robins. I am convinced that the same robins come back year after year. And this year, for the first time, they appeared in early February (this is Nova Scotia, remember!) and have been happily bouncing about the place ever since.They are almost tame, and continue to go about their business even when I am working close by.

The Day of the Crime:

On Thursday, I was outside reading on the deck and thinking how nice it was to have the robins happily hopping around on the grass and along the pathways. About two hours later, working at the computer in an upstairs bedroom, I heard the most God Awful Racket - not the usual clamor when squirrels annoy the songbirds or blue jays swoop in to make mischief. These were the loud, alarming sounds of panic, distress, pain, and horror.

I went to a back window and scanned the view plane. It didn't take more than a few seconds to zero in on the source of the disturbance. Two robins were frantically flapping and flying around the upper  branches of a huge birch tree directly opposite the bedroom window. There, on the crook of a large branch, was what I had previously dismissed as a mass of lichen, but now realized was a nest. I am surprised the robins used the more open location for construction as I usually find vacated robins' nests tucked into the dense growth of spruce or fir trees. They paid dearly for that error in judgement.

The Nest

The nest appeared capped with a large mound of mottled brown. I called out loudly through the window and that brown mound spread its wings and took flight. I raced downstairs and outdoors to join the melee and saw, perched on an open branch, fairly low to the ground and further up the garden, The Villain, with his  lunch - a baby robin -  hanging from his mouth. As I rapidly approached him, I clapped loudly and shouted, hoping to startle him into dropping his prey. He looked down with disdain before flying some distance away to a neighbours' yard. I ran back inside to grab the binoculars while the parents continued to scream and flap haplessly around the yard. I returned and scanned the area and there he was, with the baby, entrails dangling, hanging from his mouth. I wanted to call out to the swooping, distressed Mom and Dad that their attempts to resolve the situation and get their baby back were to no avail. A soft little body held that long in those sharp talons was long deprived of life.

The Hawk - Probably A Broad Winged

He flew back from the neighbouring property to high up on our wooded hillside, where, turning his back to both me and the parents, he proceeded to eat his lunch at leisure. I took many shots with a camera that is not really designed for long range photography, in an attempt to identify the villain and learn more about him.

Early in the evening, I heard those ominous sounds yet again and went outside to find The Villain perched close by on what had obviously become his favourite branch, where I had first seen him with the baby. I approached him boldly and he boldly held his place and returned my stare. I was under the branch, not eight feet below from him, when I blinked first and retreated, deciding my hands were no good defence against his murderous talons. I simply can't fight the robins' battles for them.

Oh, yes, I know it is the law of nature. It is the natural order of things. Why, just the week before, Lucy Darling and Little Sister were with us at the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park. Lucy, who has been dwelling on the concept of death lately, was persistent in her request that I read aloud, from the information signs, the diet of each and every animal, and listened with both horror and fascination when the menu included little songbirds and other small, sweet living things.

But still, my heart went out to those parents, who worked so hard for so many weeks to build that home, care for those little turquoise eggs, and feed those babies. What did they do for the rest of that day? And the next? And the next? Did they continue to search for food and fly up to the empty nest to deliver it? Does Nature allow them to instinctively and immediately shut down those activities and prepare for the next phase of their lives?  Or, like me, do they wander around listlessly and aimlessly, wanting to care for babies who are no longer there...

1 comment:

movita beaucoup said...

And you wonder why I hate going outside.

Stupid nature.