Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Frozen Junco

Walking the trail at Pheasant Branch one recent morning, I came across a Dark-eyed Junco apparently frozen out of fear. It was hunkered on a branch, holding its plumage very tightly to its body. The junco's gaze was fixed and unblinking - it didn't move a muscle. At first I thought how unusual for a junco to be so frightened of a human, but then I began to suspect it must be from some nearby predator. I wasn't more than two feet away from the junco. I spoke aloud, "What has you so terrified, little bird?" Scanning the trees, I soon found the answer. A Sharp-shinned Hawk was perched through a clearing in the branches about 30 feet away from where I was standing with the junco.

I immediately sensed a birding ethical dilemma. Thoughts raced through my mind. Has the sharpie been on this bird for a while? Am I interfering with its ability to catch prey? Should I spare the junco's life? Should I flush the sharpie or the junco? What if I flush the junco and the sharpie goes after it and nails it? I paused for a few moments. There the three of us were, human, hawk, and songbird. I wasn't sure what to do, but obviously there was an outcome.

My question for my blog readers is what would you do in this situation? Would you flush the sharpie? The junco? Would you stand there next to the junco until the sharpie flew off, or would you just quietly and quickly back away from the scene and allow nature take its course? Directly or indirectly, I was involved due to my presence between predator and prey.

Once there are a few comments to this birding ethical dilemma, I'll share the actual outcome.

© 2009 Mike McDowell

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