Spurred on by Slade’s piece and Richard’s comment I cry Havoc! and let slip this one. I’d like to claim I knocked it off today but that would be a lie. I wrote it a couple of years ago.
I’m sitting in my workroom on a snowy day in the country, looking out the window at the woods, the creek, the dark-colored bank on the other side of the creek, where once I saw a weasel moving along dangerously.
Closer to me is the birdfeeder, which doesn’t have a tray underneath it. I bought one when I bought the feeder but when I went to assemble it I couldn’t find any machine screws and little hex nuts to attach it to the feeder and it seemed too much trouble to look through the jars of rusty hardware I’d brought to the country. So the seeds fell on the deck, where the cardinals and the dark-eyed juncos ate them. And the chipmunks did, too.
One year the chipmunks got to be a real problem. I didn’t care if they ate the dropped seeds. But then they started eating the cherry tomatoes, digging up pots of flowers and generally having their way with my deck. And of course with a good food supply they multiplied. Seemed as though every time I looked at the deck there were chipmunks scurrying around. Some of them jumped or fell off one side, into a large vat of water, and drowned. I didn’t find their bodies for a few days and then I threw them in the bushes. Too rotten for anybody to eat.
A hawk moved in and solved the chipmunk problem. Then she moved on and the chipmunks returned, but this time living in the crawl space and messing with my insulation. So, Havahart. Then what? Havahart plus pellet gun plus shovel.
I have no compunction about killing animals, even cute ones. You have to understand I grew up in a family where we killed things. We always ate them but I’m not going to eat chipmunk, so there’s a bit of a disjunction there.
No Disney hangups here. I shot a little red squirrel last year with my pellet gun, which is the only functional weaponry around here, except for my machete. Fucker was busting into the plastic tub of birdfood, the food I stored outside so I could fill the feeder more easily. Chewed right into the plastic. When I capped him he (well, maybe she) did a nice somersault.
I waved the body around to catch a crow’s attention. Pitched it out into the open, crow lunch. Effective recycling. The next one I offed because he attacked my wren house, climbed up in the cherry tree and into the wren house, mother and father wren doing their best to keep their eggs, or maybe there were little wrens by then. How could I not help them? Bang, see you later red motherfucker.
Red squirrels, according to Wikipedia, are aggressive, omnivorous, the scourge of nesting birds. I became the scourge of red squirrels, or at least those who came over to my place and caused trouble. Pretty soon word got around the red squirrel community and now they stay out in the woods or in the neighbor’s tree where I can see them from my bedroom window. Stay in your tree, Nutsy Squirrel, or die.
Then we have the raccoon, who dined at the bird feeder and the hummingbird feeder too. Rocky was a larger target but more stealthy. I threw my machete at one of them (there were a bunch of Rockies) but mostly what I did was move the feeders so they couldn’t climb on the railing and reach them.
There must be some size-personality calculus in operation. I was prepared to think of my Rockies as individuals with personalities in ways that I wasn’t prepared to for quick-moving jerky little creatures like the chipmunks and mean red squirrels.
The woodchucks, yes, mostly OK, happy to have them eat the clover and dandelions but then they zeroed in on my phlox. I was OK with their having the phlox that grew wild even though I could see it from the house, and it was very pretty in June before the woodchuck population grew, but then they started in on the ones I busted my ass planting.
I was OK with their digging dens out in the woods, not even any of my business, but when they dug one under the barn I was not OK with that especially since that put them in easy striking distance of my flowerbeds. Then they dug one under into my cellar, very uncool. Internet, UPS, Havahart (large size), fewer woodchucks.
So anyway, I think about this a lot. Am I one of those guys I don’t like? Kill everything, humans rule? I don’t think so.
What I think, and I’ve laid out my place accordingly, is that close to where I live is my territory and I share it with terrestrial creatures as I please, not as they please. In the house, we won’t even talk about the mice. They die. Just outside, or underneath, well, that’s mine too. No trespassers.
Farther out – and we’re talking 200 feet or a hundred yards – I don’t feel that way, and once we get out into my woods and down to the creek, hey, it’s all theirs. If I cut a path, it’s no problem for them. If I fell the occasional tree, OK, the same.
Sounds pretty good, no? Graded series, graduated responses. You might not agree but it’s a logical and defensible position.
The thing is, what about those birds? Can we come back to the birds? I invited the birds. The chipmunks died because of the birds, didn’t they? No seeds dropped, not many chipmunks, and not any on the deck eating tomatoes and messing with the pots. Or if the chickadees, nuthatches, and dark-eyed juncos were neater eaters, the chipmunk population wouldn’t have boomed. And the wrens were in a wren house I hung in the tree. Maybe Nutsy Squirrel would have gotten them somewhere else, but he went after them in the house I made for them.
Maybe I’m responsible for disrupting the predator-prey balance, not only inserting myself into the equation as top predator, but trying to control the others. When my hawk flew down from the barn to take a look at who was feeding at the birdfeeder I yelled at her – “No! Take the chipmunks, not the chickadees.” I believe I actually yelled “my little chickadees.”
So, Dear Reader, if you’re sensing some ambivalence on my part you’re onto something. Human interference with natural systems throw them out of whack and the human interferes even more. Or maybe it’s just bipeds versus quadrupeds. Back in the days before bird intelligence was well understood I was told something like “birds are stupid because they can fly.” But now we know that’s a gross overstatement. Birds are smart, although my pair of doves have always seemed like dimwits to me.
Back about that long ago there was no good evidence that birds were what’s left of the dinosaurs. Sure, it was an interesting idea, but didn’t have a lot to support it. Now it does, so OK, as a kid I liked dinosaurs and now I like birds.
Also I like Leda and the Swan (wait, how did that get in here?). My hawk’s beak is indifferent.
It’s a thin and spotty trail from bird-lover to Havaharts and pellet guns, but I guess it’s there. And I’ve been walking it.