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Ellen, The One-Eyed Scrapper

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. 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.


Corey undoubtedly won't photoshop you on Jane Goodall now, since you'd be expecting it. David Attenborough, however, is probably up for grabs.

The observer always affects the observed, if I have my quantum physics right. In this case, it is more obvious, but please don't beat yourself up about it. Who knows? Without that corn, she may not have survived, either from not finding enough food or from having to roam onto land with lots of hunters present. We must take comfort in the moments when we develop a synergy with a creature of another species, and enjoy their rare occurrence. What happens afterward is not entirely in our hands. We may move this creature along its timeline to another position, like a chess piece. Perhaps whatever happened to her would have happened sooner -- or later. But none of us goes through life unscathed. And we all leave it behind eventually. All the more reason to celebrate each moment that one is alive and well.

As is usual when giving someone "words of wisdom", this is something I needed to tell myself, as well.

Posted by Anonymous February 23, 2016 at 3:49 AM

Sigh. Sorry to see pretty Ellen lose sight in one eye. Have you considered distributing the corn in two or three places? Maybe fewer confrontations would result.

Posted by Gail Spratley February 23, 2016 at 9:13 AM

Gail has the right idea. When we used to feed the deer, I'd place at least 15 smaller piles all around the field to help stop the fighting. Everyone had a chance to eat peacefully.

Ditto what Gail and Diane said--spread out the corn even if you won't be able to see all the deer who come to feed. Time to put the four-leggeds' needs over our wants. And I want to end by saying I know you are so good for so much wildlife. This seems to be an unfortunate blip. Hang in there Ellen.

They're much like my favorite domestic ruminant, the goat. Goat A takes every single bit she wants before allowing Goat B to feed. Goat B takes every single bit she wants before allowing Goat C to eat. It's an awful lot like western water rights, if you're at all familiar with those. It ensures that there will always be a a few flourishing and healthy organisms to keep the system going. It does not ensure a healthy or happy general populace.
My mind just made another leap, but I won't go there.
So yes, I have four feeders for three goats. It's quite hilarious to watch them move from one to the next, always sure that someone else is getting a better deal than they are. I'd try that with "your" deer. Each bowl or pile or whatever needs to be outside lunging distance from the next. One doe can guard two bowls quite well if they're less than twelve feet apart.

The first thing I thought of was that awful conjunctivitis that the finches were afflicted with not long ago.

I umpire my bunch. When aggression starts I stomp my right arm(as if a front leg) & yell off offender Funny thing the others who were being kept away come running in - they know what I'm doing!!?

I have actually wondered if deer ever get poked in the eye by branches. They run crazily when startled and they run day and night, so....maybe it wasn't a corn war.
And not sure how well they see in front of them with the side mounted eyes....

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