Monday, November 5, 2012

Living with Predators on the Circle of Life

Last Saturday there was a big ruckus down at the chicken coop.  When I went to investigate, I soon saw why:  A Red-Tailed Hawk had killed one of my banty roosters and was feeding on the carcass in the middle of the chicken yard.  No wonder everybody was so upset!

Red Tailed Hawk
(Photo courtesy of
"Wayward" on Wikipedia)
Now, I had very mixed feelings about this sight.  On the one hand, I was sad to lose a good rooster.  But on the other hand, it was a rather exciting nature moment.  How often do you see a hawk feeding on a kill like that?  And of course I didn't have a camera  -- it was Shabbos (the Sabbath) so I wasn't taking pictures that day.  When the hawk saw me, it flew up into a tree, and just sat there, waiting for me to leave.

Over the years, I've lost a number of roosters to various predators.  Although I'm rarely there to see a wild animal go after the chickens (I did glimpse a fox once), I have seen the roosters stand up to cats and people.  In a free-range flock of chickens, the roosters are always on the alert for danger.  They are the sentries of the flock.  There is a distinctive "predator alert" call they give, which the other chickens recognize immediately and run for cover.  The rooster himself will often attack whatever is threatening them, and this is probably why so many lose their lives.  The banty that the hawk was eating must have put up a terrific fight; there were feathers all over the place.  But every other chicken made it safely into the shelter of the coop, where I found them all cackling and raising a huge racket.

Of course, if I kept the chickens penned up in cages all the time, this would not happen.  But part of the reason I have my own chickens is because I do not want my eggs to come from factory farms.  Giving the chickens freedom to scratch, peck, flock together and do all the things chickens do means a certain amount of risk.  But I believe the chickens, like most people, prefer some risk rather than be locked up.   Every living thing craves freedom.

There was a time when a farmer would shoot a chicken-stealing hawk as a matter of course.  Nowadays, these birds are protected, which I consider a good thing.  Although a hawk might take a chicken now and then, he is more likely to grab a mouse or a rat.  The number of rodents eaten by raptors is huge.  (I remember seeing a story about a family of Red-Tails that nested on a building near Central Park, New York.  I'll bet they found plenty of rats around there!)  So really, these beautiful birds are more beneficial than destructive.  Death is a part of the circle of life.  Although it is indeed sad to lose one of my roosters, I still prefer to try and live in peace with the hawks and other wildlife around here.


Anonymous said...

You could not take pictures on the Sabbath.

Yet I worked and only took a few pauses to reflect and still the Sabbath is so real.

Reading Heschel and pausing to reflect in no way entitles one to receive any blessings of the Sabbath. And yet it happened.

While it is absolutely wonderful, the implications are scary. It begins? All will know who is the one true G_d

Towards Peace

Yonassan Gershom said...

The Sabbath is real whether or not one observes it, so of course you can tune into the energy of it for a few minutes -- and the energy of millions of people who are observing it at the same time -- but observing the whole Sabbath is much better.

I do not consider it a bad thing not be able to take photos on Shabbat. In this 24/7 world where people expect to be able to intrusively call/email/twitter me anytime they feel like it, interrupting whatever I might be doing (one reason I DO NOT have a cell phone), it is a wonderful thing to be able to unplug and not create/work/answer the phone for a whole 25 hours each week.

When I do not take photos (or garden, harvest, collect things, etc.) I relate to nature just as it is.

Jeff Eyges said...

I remember seeing a story about a family of Red-Tails that nested on a building near Central Park, New York. I'll bet they found plenty of rats around there!

Those would be the hawks sired by Pale Male, who took up residence on a coop across from Central Park a little over twenty years ago. He's become quite a celebrity.

Wikipedia has an article about him and his numerous mates (sadly, they keep getting injured or dying from ingesting poisoned rats or pigeons):

Nature did an episode about him in 2004: Pale Male

And more recently, a documentary was produced: The Legend of Pale Male

He has a website with stills and video clips:

And there's even a blog for his regular watchers: Palemaleirregulars

Yonassan Gershom said...

Wow, cypher! You are really up on that guy! Thanks for all the links - I'll check them out:)

Jeff Eyges said...

I love all things having to do with NYC. I even occasionally go to shul when I'm there (but if you repeat that to anyone, I'll deny having said it!).

Yonassan Gershom said...

LOL! BTW, are you in NYC? If yes, were you hit by the storm?

Jeff Eyges said...

No, I'm in Boston. We barely got hit, although they had some damage and power outages along the southern coast of MA and, I think, Cape Cod. Nothing like New Jersey and New York.

I wish I were in NYC. I prefer it vastly to Boston, for many reasons - one of them being that there are many more options in terms of Jewish connection and affiliation. Boston is pretty much a Jewish no man's land.

I feel badly that I'm not there now, actually. I'm friendly with Ari Hart, who along with Shmuly founded Uri L'Tzedek, and he's been organizing relief efforts left and right. Every morning he posts an appeal for volunteers on Facebook, and it bothers me that I'm not involved.

Yonassan Gershom said...

The only way I could be involved way out here in MN was to send money -- which I'm sure was appreciated. I was glad to see Mayor Bloomberg make a direct connection between the storm and global warming. We have been told for years that if the planet keeps warming up, Manhattan would be under water. This time it receded, but if the poles keep melting, it could be permanent.

Richard Schwartz, with whom I co-authored Who Stole My Religion? lives on Staten Island. His house is on a hill and was not destroyed but he tells me the shore areas are simply devastated. He also says this is a teachable moment regarding climate change. I agree. Unfortunately, members of his shul still have their heads in the sand on this issue.

Jeff Eyges said...

Oh, I'm sure. Well, the Republicans, along with their new best friends, the evangelicals, keep telling them it's all nonsense - which is precisely what they want to hear.

Yonassan Gershom said...

Indeed. It is a tragedy that so many religious Jews put Israel ahead of the planet -- and feel that the most conservative, hawkish stances are "best" for her. So they team up with weird political bedfellows such as Tea party folks who are often antisemitic and/or evangelicals who support Israel only because they believe Jesus will come back there and convert us. Neither of which are really good for Jews, Israel, or the planet.

One reason I do this blog is to try and make the point that one can be BOTH Orthodox AND environmentally responsible. But there are times when I feel like the proverbial "voice in the wilderness."

Jeff Eyges said...

connect But there are times when I feel like the proverbial "voice in the wilderness."

Well, you know - you are! Literally and figuratively!