Accipiter post mortum
Last Monday morning, while returning to my office following a productive morning birding on the grounds of the museum at which I work, I can across a crime scene. A juvenile male Sharp-shinned Hawk, one no doubt filled with both the intensity of youth and of being a Sharp-shinned Hawk (one more intense than the other, and if you’re a birder you know exactly which one…) had collided with one of the glass doors leading into the main building was now lying still, and still warm, on the ground in front of them.
The doors are not the sort that would immediately strike one as dangerous for birds. But the holly bushes surrounding them, planted to hide dumpsters and a service entrance to the building, were in full fruit and had for the last couple weeks been attended to by all the Yellow-rumped Warblers, Kinglets, and various Sparrows you’d expect. The veritable buffet could certainly not have been more appealing for a Sharpie, and had undoubtedly drawn the recently arrived and inexperienced bird to it’s ultimate and untimely demise.
I usually pride myself on having a pragmatic view of the life of birds. I know that, with few exceptions, that that life is difficult, brutal, and short. Nature doesn’t play favorites and it doesn’t give handouts, and though we often love to anthopomorphize the birds we love, whatever feelings we attribute to that tenacious Chickadee or that gentle Thrush are only a projection of the joy we find in observing birds. Our world. The world birds inhabit, and then so so tenuously, is one predisposed with survival above all. It doesn’t have time for diversion and distraction, because more often than not that means death.
If we’re being honest, it’s the fate reserved for the vast majority of this year’s birds. It may not always be glass. It could just as easily be a car, or a bigger hawk, or a combination of an empty stomach and an ill-timed weather system. I know all of this, and yet I can’t help but feel that pang in my heart for this bird, this beautiful example of Sharpie-dom, who in such great abundance found only a heavy pane of glass in north Durham. It’s an end it didn’t deserve, none of them “deserve” it in any way we think about the word, but one it found nonetheless. It’s the way things go.
There’s a happy ending though, such that death can have one. This bird, by sheer luck that I was the one that came upon it and by the good graces of my loving wife’s lenient freezer rules, has a story that is still to be written. It’s off to the research collection at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to be made into a study skin. It’s reassuring that such a beautiful bird can be put to good use after death. A shelf in the basement of a museum can’t compare to a grove of pines near a bustling feeding station, but it’s the best possible outcome.
One I feel some honor in being able to give.