A couple years ago, I wrote a column for Michigan Outdoor News about paddling on the river and trying to rescue a brood of ducks from an enterprising mink. Both the mink and the brood hen wanted nothing to do with my interference, and it caused me to wonder about my desire to save ducklings just so I could maybe shoot them in the fall.
Recently, I found myself on the other side of the struggle for survival in my own backyard, when I tried to help a predator in its hunt. This time it was a hawk that had mortally wounded a mourning dove.
The hawk nearly hit me in the head while I was moving snow out of my driveway, then it wouldn’t leave a maple tree in my backyard while I approached slowly to try to get a photo. I couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t fly away. Then, when it did move off to another nearby tree, I turned around and was surprised to flush the mourning dove that had brought the hawk into the yard. The hawk took off in pursuit and I quickly noted feathers and blood spread across the snow and a kayak we had leaning against the garage.
Both birds disappeared into the neighbor’s cedar grove, and I followed. The hawk was perched on a bent cedar branch, and the dove was lying at the base of the tree. I approached to see if it was dead and, if so, perhaps I might move it into the open for the hawk to grab it and get started on dinner. But the dove still had some fight left and off they went, with more feathers and blood on the snow. I could smell the unmistakable scent of a bird’s open body cavity in the still evening air under the cedars. I’ve processed enough game birds over the years to recognize it.
I don’t know what happened after they flushed the second time. I figured I shouldn’t interfere further and felt badly that I had prolonged the inevitable. I should have left them alone.
Heading into the house in the fading light, I was struck by my reactions in these similar situations. On the river a few years earlier, I was trying to save birds from becoming a meal for a mink. This time, I was trying to help a hawk sink its talons into dove feathers and flesh. In both encounters, this bumbling two-legged predator of birds should have stayed out of Mother Nature’s plans for wild things that are out looking for dinner.