Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Flap Flap Tweet Shriek Munch Munch Oh Noes

Sigh. I can’t deny it any longer. I’m a classist.

Most days over the past two weeks, I have caught, out of the corner of my eye, a larger-than-usual swoop of motion outside my office window. I look up and see a hawk arranging its wings and shaking out its feathers on the fencepost, sometimes two hawks in tandem, as the finches scatter and the lizards try to melt into the shadows.

Sometimes the hawks hop along the fence, craning their necks front and back to find the occasional bad-luck squirrel that is now trapped under the bottom rail, sprinting back and forth from post to post in a very existential game of hotbox, hoping that the hawk will be distracted by an easier-to-reach potential snack just long enough for the squirrel to make a final mad dash across the road, either to the sanctuary of the brushpile or into talon-ushered eternity.

When the hawk drops out of nowhere to explode a dove into a cloud of feathers and retreats to the fence or a tree with whatever scraps of meat might be left under all that fluff, I cheer for the hawk. When it alights with a drooping, bepawed slip of a ground squirrel, I am chagrined. When both hawks flap ever closer and finally take swipes at the terrified squirrel, I cringe and hope the birds go hungry.

I am fascinated by raptors. I love watching them, even when they’re not doing much of anything. But they force me to acknowledge a hole in my otherwise reliably rational perspective on the natural world. Rampant classism. Mammalian solidarity. It's not just because the little mammals are usually cute; if we're arguing aesthetics, the hawks are very handsome and elegant. It's simply that I don’t want to be eaten by a bird, or a komodo dragon, or--definitely not--by a flippin’ fish, not even during Shark Week, and so don't wish a similar Aves-Mammalia mashup on the rodents.

Coyotes noshing on squirrels? Aw, look at the puppy! Birds doing the same? Stop that!

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