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Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw

Thursday, August 30, 2007

THIS POST IS NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH. Cover it with your hand if you must, but it gets gross. Well, on the Zick grossness scale, which goes to 15, it's about a 2, but I'm well aware that my grossness scale is not calibrated normally. In fact, I offend peoples' delicate sensibilities right and left lately.

Still with me?

This morning, while chasing a blue-winged warbler, I found a lone feather on the grass of the lawn. Funny. I hadn't heard from this species for quite awhile, and had just speculated the other day that perhaps they'd moved on. It was kind of nice to find a calling card on the grass, and in another way, not so nice.** Any guesses as to whose it is?

So I'm mowing this evening, having spent the entire weekend, dawn to dark, cleaning the inside of the house. And there in the grass on the other side of the house is a whole mess of feathers from the same bird. Woo! I notice immediately that they're tousled and messed up, not perfect as they would be had they been dropped in a molt (like the first feather I found) or a preening session. They're all beat up.
Not far from the feathers is a big gutpile. Oh, yeah. Since my attention span's too short to run a quiz, and I have my doubts as to whether anyone wants to guess while gagging, I'll tell you that that's the many-chambered stomach of a cottontail rabbit. (Since I wrote this I cut the close-up of the gutpile. It appears as a reddish-brown blob in the brownish bare area to the left side of the picture. Anybody could look at that. The close-up was nice, though.)

And the feathers are from a great horned owl. From its belly, to be precise.

Rabbits, as anyone who owns one can tell you, can be tough customers. Every carnivore finds them delicious, but that doesn't make them wussies. Before this owl ate, it got kicked, hard enough to rid it of a mess of feathers and some skin. The rabbit eventually lost, but I'm sure that owl was sore this morning. Perhaps it was a juvenile; someone who knows great horned owls might be able to tell from the feathers. Perhaps it just had a bad grip on a big animal. But it's not easy being a predator, having to kill your dinner with your feet.

I ran and got Liam to show him this drama in the grass. He emerged from the house with more than a little trepidation. Poor little guy--he actually gagged.
" Ucccccch! That's so horrible!"

"Well, it was horrible for the rabbit, but that's how great horned owls have to get their dinner, honey. And as you can see, it wasn't easy for the owl, either."

"I hate nature!"

"Sweetheart, this is only a little part of nature. Nature is also flowers and butterflies and hummingbirds and trees. But carnivores have to kill what they eat, and that's natural."

"You make me feel like the whole world is made of this!"

"Of what?"


He stomped back to the house, leaving me to ponder that accusation. It's not one that gets thrown at me every day.

He'll get over it. His little boy love of all things disgusting will kick in and soon I won't be able to gross him out. And now he knows how owls eat.

Lots of Liam and Phoebe's classmates around this area raise goats or rabbits for 4H. Some raise calves or lambs. All of them have to get used to the idea that this beloved charge of theirs is going to be sold for its meat at the county fair on Labor Day Weekend. This weekend, all those goats and bunnies go, and they don't come back from where they're going. Now, other than weathering their reactions, I have no trouble showing my kids rabbit guts on the lawn, or bones in coyote scat, or a roadkill. But I'd have a whole lot of trouble letting them raise a couple of goats for slaughter. Not least because I'd fall in love with them, too. We'd have the only goats at the fair with NFS spray-painted on their sides.

We all have our thresholds, I guess.

**On why it's not so nice to have great horned owls around: The screech owls are singing like crazy on these late summer nights. The barred owls hoot and cackle, starting a little later in the fall. And great horneds eat them both, darn them. We've only had great horneds for about the last five years, and as thrilling as that basso profundo hoot can be on a January night, I do worry about the smaller owls who were here first. Ah well. Nothing to be done about that. They'll have to sort it out among themselves.


Posted by goldsrunescape February 20, 2008 at 11:49 PM
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