On a cloudy summer day down at the pond, I laid on my stomach on a concrete boat ramp and watched young sparrow hop around without a care in the world. On one side of the ramp is a deteriorating boardwalk and the other side is lined with trees. As the sparrow pecked away at the bread crumbs and seeds left from people feeding the ducks and geese, it hopped too close to my lens to focus. I took a moment to slightly shift my body positing to keep the little bird in focus. I set my eye back to the viewfinder and before I could recompose my shot, the sparrow was snatched away in a flash of feathers. I was able to quickly follow the culprit with my lens and capture the very blurred tail of a merlin falcon, flying off with a meal of its own.
I had to sit and contemplate what just happened ten feet in front of me. At first it was awe, as if this moment was something worthy of Sir David Attenborough’s narration. “The young sparrow feeds in the open where food is abundant. But it is unaware that it is under the watchful, calculating eye of the merlin falcon perched high above, who is also very hungry.” I had captured the last living moments of this little bird before it became food for a predator.
The awe gave way though to some thoughts on the consequences human interaction had on the sparrow. The hungry little sparrow had an abundant food source that was in an area with no cover. It was perhaps learning that it didn’t need to fear the larger creatures that dropped this food in the open. It began to feed in this open space, leaving itself vulnerable to predators like the merlin. Of course merlins need to eat to survive too and it is all part of nature, but placing food with a lack of cover also leaves birds vulnerable to cats. Outdoor cats cause up to 200 million bird deaths in Canada and billions worldwide every year and are recognized as a natural wildlife conservation threat.
I completely understand how amazing it feels to interact with wildlife. I’ve fed chickadees from my hand before. But I have begun to reconsider how those actions can affect behaviour and survival. That’s not to say, don’t feed the birds. Just have some consideration on how you feed the birds. When you are setting up your bird feeders and baths, think about putting them in a place where the birds have some cover to help protect them from becoming cat food.
We can both enjoy nature and keep it wild at the same time.