Tuesday, February 23, 2016
And then on January 24, our little Ellen showed up with her right eye all red. Oh my gosh. What happened to you, dear one?
I knew right away she could have no vision in that eye. And she didn't respond to my waving from inside. She'd occasionally turn her head to scan with the good eye, but it's clear to me she's using her hearing and the cues from contentedly feeding birds to listen for danger. Not that much different from feeding at night; safer, maybe, because she's got the birds as watchdogs. As long as the cardinals are cracking seeds and the goldfinches are chatting she's good.
So...how did it happen? Well, I can only guess, and present a pretty obvious (illustrated) hypothesis.
Ellen is not a dominant doe, thanks to her very small size. In fact, the first time I saw her in 2009 I took her for a yearling. Look at the difference between her and Boss Doe here. She's movin' on up to the corn.
And Boss Doe says NO. Baboom!
And Ellen retreats, her trademark head tilt giving her away.
She withdraws and thinks a moment.
Comes right back. Here's the windup
And here's the pitch. Look at that pure nastiness on Boss Doe's face.
Ellen: Yeah yeah. Kick me.
My Ellen is a scrapper.
She comes back around.
And gives as good as she gets. Baboom! take that, Boss Doe!
Another altercation, this one quite telling. Boss Doe again, on another day. (You can tell Boss Doe by her cinnamon face markings).
Ellen, clearly telling her to honk off.
and Boss comes in with a face kick. Dirty dancing, Boss Doe.
Think I figured out how Ellen was blinded. She even seems to be flashing back as Boss finishes her lashing kick.
Lest you blame Boss Doe for being mean to Ellen, who is mean right back, know that this unfortunate incident could well have occurred because of the feeding setup I've created here. What food resource in nature would evoke such angry spats? I doubt they'd tussle over a dogwood branch or pine needles. Corn is a powerful attractant, perhaps constituting a supernormal stimulus. So good they have to kick for it. I'm reminded of when I learned as a Bio Anthro major that honey is the only resource peaceful hunter-gatherer Kalahari Bushmen would fight over.
I'm feeling a bit guilty about this. Without corn, though, I wouldn't know any of them. Jane Goodall had to start putting bananas out at Gombe Stream to see anything more of the chimpanzees than a black blur in the treetops. And what that simple action and her resulting study opportunities gave to the world, who could ever estimate? I don't in any way mean to compare myself to Jane, lest Corey Photoshop my head onto her lithe tan 30-something body (please do!)
But there are parallels. To know the deer well enough to be able to say anything about them, I must bring them out of the woods. And Ellen may have paid the ultimate price for my thirst to know more about deer.
In animal behavior, one must consider that what happens in our view might be happening because we're there.