I have just witnessed a brutal murder. It happened in the garden right in front of us. This is the perpetrator, but the guilt is mine
(Not my image. Sourced by permission from: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=629)
A blackbird was quietly turning over leaves in the flower bed by the conservatory when the sparrow hawk swooped down and pinned it to the ground. Its shriek of alarm - hard listening, which continued for some
time, sent all other birds scattering to the hedges while it struggled for its life.
The sparrow hawk, standing on the chest of blackbird, became aware of our presence, only a few feet away and shaded its victim with its wings as though to spare us the sight its grisly work. Then, still uneasy at our scrutiny, picked up the now (I desperately hoped) lifeless body of the blackbird and sought privacy further up the garden. We watched from a distance as it rapidly reduced the blackbird to a pile of feathers.
This incident is an example of the law of unintended consequences. Whatever one tries to do, even for the best of motives, there will always be ill effects that were not anticipated. By putting out food for our garden birds and, in bad weather, attracting a large and varied population we have provided an attractive target for the sparrow hawk. They have developed a flight path that uses a valley roof as cover from where they appear without warning and swoop into the fluttering flock around the bird feeders.
We have witnessed this spectacle many times and usually the hawk continues on its way without success. Then there is an intermission in the fluttering, squabbling, feathery entertainment the birds provide until, one by one, they resume their activity. On the other hand there are sufficient sad little piles of feathers found in the garden to suggest that our
raptor visitors are not totally incompetent.
So what are the rights and wrongs of this? Is it just an example of "nature red in tooth and claw" or does our involvement, in so much as we derive pleasure from watching the birds, alter the case? Does bird feeding become the avian equivalent of bear baiting? Long Suffering Wife feels that by feeding in bad weather we save more birds than the sparrow hawk takes and anyway, she points out, sparrow hawks have to live also. We are still, in her opinion, on the side of the angels.
It is too complicated for me so on this occasion LSW can think for me.