Monday, September 27, 2010


It can be brutal to be a bird, especially to be a nervous mourning dove in a backyard regularly visited by Cooper's hawks. Such was the case several weeks ago, when I looked out my patio doors and saw what appeared to be the remnants of another hawk hunt - a pile of feathers pressed into the grass. This is a relatively common occurence in my yard, and typically one or two birds fall prey to my hawks every week. Walking closer, however, I realized this time it wasn't simply remnants - the entire bird was still there, as still as death, or so I thought. Coming to within five feet of the bird proved it wasn't death after all, as the bird burst from the battered hollow and flew a few feet away.

Curious about the dove I followed, watching its behavior. It clearly didn't want to fly, but nor did it want to venture far. While it was wary of me it wasn't exhibiting the fear most of my mourning doves do when I step outside, but instead it wandered onto the concrete driveway and it wasn't until the dove paused by the garage door that I realized just how close to death this bird had come. Blood was flowing thickly down its leg, obviously draining from a chest wound where the hawk had begun its interrupted meal. Further examination showed just how many feathers the bird had lost around its neck and chest, giving it a mangled, battered appearance.

I had a choice of what to do; I could have traumatized the bird further by capturing it, keeping it confined until I was able to get it to a rehabilitator several hours later, or I could let it be. Given that it was still capable of flight, was breathing and walking well, and knew that the best thing to do was to keep still and slow, I let it be. I kept checking it throughout the day, and it moved locations, seeking shade and shelter which I was happy to give it. When it roosted under the lilac in the evening, I left a dish of water a few inches away and sprinkled some seed nearby for a meal.

Never having known a hawk to pull down its prey but abandon the meal when the bird was so gravely injured, I reexamined the scene of the attack. Sure enough, lightly tossed on the grass I found a clue - one tawny feather obviously from the chest of the hawk itself. This dove had fought back, forcing the hawk to abandon its meal if for nothing more than aggravation - dinner shouldn't bite.

Sad to say, the dove did not survive the night; I found it the next morning still beneath the lilac bush, though it had obviously fed and drank as best it could during the night. One might question, then, why I consider this mourning dove a survivor when it did not, in fact, survive. It may have died, but it was never prey. It might not have lived, but it didn't die under a hawk's talons. If that's not surviving when you're a bird in a world filled with predators, what is?

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

That's very sad. A kestral has been hunting the sparrows in my backyard for the past week. I haven't seen any of his victims yet.