“Coopers Hawk and Starling”


“Live by the Sword …”

Bastardized blithely into proverb (i.e.“Live by the sword, die by the sword”), the Gospel of Matthew speaks with preternatural relevance to starlings, the beautiful scourge of birds highlighted in a recent essay of mine. I confess to anthropomorphizing birds too frequently, imputing human characteristics and making judgements as to their elegance as well as their moral failings. Observed closely, at least in the context of the Western aesthetic, starlings are beautiful creatures, not only for their subtle iridescent hues and physical form, but for their aerobatic formations known as murmurations. They are, however, notoriously predatory, feeding on other bird’s eggs and offspring and displacing resident birds in their domination of available food.

Today I filled our feeder and watched as starlings bullied sparrows and songbirds, consuming the easy seed, scattering only shells and husks for the meek below. Inexplicably, in an instant, all the birds exploded from the ground, the feeder, the surrounding trees and the bushes, but for one preoccupied starling, falling prey in a brief moment, impaled on talons, staring into the murderous maw of a Cooper’s hawk.

This photograph marked not more than three minutes from time of death. In those awful moments, the starling’s breast plucked clean, her body warm and eviscerated, commemorated only by entrails cast upon the snow. The sublime well may lie at the intersection of awe inspiring beauty and nature’s savage terror.
Draw as you will the moral.