Hunting (survival) vs. Killing (ego)

Homo sapiens love to claim a superiority over other species on the planet. We even have a loosely defined categorization method that generally places plants at the bottom followed closely by the “crawly” things (insects, spiders, snakes, etc.). High on the ladder just below our species we place the other primates. But it is not so simplistic since even within genetic families we differentiate (domestic dogs vs. wild canines, for example). And from what I can tell, this hierarchy is pretty much based upon our own species’ ego, likes and dislikes as individuals and societies, and/or religious convictions.

Coyote as bait

Trapped coyote being used as bait for the dogs of an employee of USDA’s Wildlife Services.

What this unilaterally defined hierarchy demonstrates to this writer, however, is a lack of intelligence on the part of H. sapiens because our knowledge and understanding of the roles individual species play within the complex network of Earth’s systems is quite limited. Consider there are thousands of species we’ve not even identified, much less perceive the significance of their niches. There are a few more open-minded scientists who have challenged the lower levels of this pecking order, such as John Marzluff and his research on Corvidae, which flies in the face (pun intended) of previous  “primates are the most intelligent animals” presumptions, but much more work along such lines should be done.

This self-named species’ superiority is the entire problem behind the current mass extinction event the Earth currently is facing. The causes are clearly understood (human over-population, habitat destruction, over-consumption, lack of education, profiteering, etc.) – these all speak of a species nearly entirely self-centered and, thus, woefully misguided.

The taking of a species’ life for a trophy is the epitome of self-centered egotism (one that is either too big, very fragile or potentially both). What other species causes such worthless death? What is wrong with H. sapiens? Is it a genetic mutation? Is our brain malfunctioning because it is more difficult for blood to reach it due to our “uprightedness?” Why do we as a species feel superior to all others? How has our existence improved the complex entity solely responsible for our survival – planet Earth? We seemingly have no beneficial niche unlike the other species with whom we share this blue marble.

Pursuing another species in a fair “sporting” manner for food or because one is under deadly attack can be called hunting. Taking an animal’s life in order to hang its head on the wall, put a rug on the floor, pin its remains in a book, etc. is killing – and ALL such intentional killing, regardless of species, should be illegal.

A few last notes in this highly controlled rant:

  • To recommend or inflict harm on those who collect animal trophies makes one no better than the trophy seeker. Pursue the higher ground and move for legislative and educational changes in our society.
  • For those in the U.S., if you are concerned about the wanton death of wildlife, then focus some of your abhorrence on your federal elected officials and mandate they dissolve Wildlife Services – an arm of the USDA responsible for the deaths of millions of wild animals every year and funded by YOUR tax dollars (see https://www.revealnews.org/article/theres-a-reason-youve-never-heard-of-this-wildlife-killing-agency/ for the gruesome facts, as well as the graphic below).
  • If you fear any wild animal or plant, educate yourself about the species. Learn what role it plays in the environment and understand how it benefits our own species. Knowledge can overcome fear and promotes tolerance.

Each semester, I provide my Environmental Science and Field Ecology students with numerous definitions. The most important one is as follows:

Homo sapiens (hoh-moh sey-pee-uh nz): n. – the only species on planet Earth knowingly engineering its own extinction.

May peace guide the planet…

WildlifeServiceStats_2013

Predation, Intelligence and the Neighbors

An ordinary day on “The Acre” with an extraordinary event last weekend. I was in about hour four of hand-tilling and weeding the vegetable garden. It was hot (~87F) and humid with the sun beating down between the fleeting clouds, and black flies becoming annoyingly prevalent as my body exuded more CO2. As one would expect, the air was filled with the calls of songbirds and field birds, a singing Chickadee still in search of a mate, the back and forth fluttering of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and the irritated calls of Baltimore Orioles who were not comfortable with my proximity to their jelly feeder. Also droning in the background were human machines – lawn mowers, roto-tillers, weed-eaters – why could they not work more quietly?

Suddenly from the back of the property near a pair of Eastern Bluebird nest boxes came a frantic shrieking, the kind one might hear from an American Kestrel or Sharp-shinned Hawk but more desperate. Within 2 or 3 seconds, the Red-winged Blackbirds swarmed the spot, both males and females, quickly followed by a few Grackles. They combined to form a chorus of alarm calls while the shrieking continued.

Given the aggressive gathering, I presumed a now panicked small raptor was in the Silky Dogwood that grows along side the nest boxes. So I got up from my tilling to see if I could spot anything in the shrubbery. “Why don’t I ever remember to bring the  binoculars when I work out here,” I grumbled. Not seeing anything through the thicket, I stepped out from the fencing that surrounds the garden and fox-walked slowly toward the site to get a better perspective. The shrieking was relentless but my cautious approach was too much for the blackbirds, who took flight. Still the desperate wails continued.

I tentatively walked further toward the back and my sight-line cleared the high grass that surrounds the narrow mowed path leading to the nest boxes. That is when I spotted something brown writhing on the low grass. I was still too far to make out exactly what it was, but suspected it might be a female Red-winged given the coloring and concerned collective that had just flown off but still called feverishly a short distance away.

This is when my paced quickened, surmising that some smaller bird of prey had wounded the Red-winged and it needed help. “What the…”, said I as a small brown Weasel spun off the pile and bolted into the high grass. Left behind was this now smaller weakly wriggling mass. The air was silent of wildlife now and quickly I went to check on who it was that remained. A young Eastern Cottontail, perhaps a month or two old, was rolling slowly in pain.

As I gently scooped it up, the shrieking started again but silenced once I covered the rabbit’s eyes. Immediately its injuries were obvious as the back of its neck was raw and bleeding from the Least Weasel’s attack. Dashing across the property and into the basement, I gingerly placed the small lagamorph into a box and closed it up. Having taken some wildlife rehabilitation classes, I knew that stress is the number one cause of death for injured wild animals and that keeping it in a dark quiet place was very important to reduce anxiety. I raced upstairs to get the list of local rehabilitators and selected one close by. Grabbing my phone, I popped back down to the rabbit so to give an accurate appraisal of the animal’s situation once the rehabber was on the line. But, alas, the little one already had expired so the call was never made.

This entire episode was completed in not more than 5 minutes. Most astounding was the incredibly fast response by the local birds. The Acre regularly hosts one or two pairs of nesting Red-winged Blackbirds each season and the surrounding property likely another 2 or 3 pairs. At least a dozen Red-wingeds were present and, as mentioned above, a few Grackles. It was if they all came out of the ether at the doomed rabbit’s first shriek. Talk about being in the moment! But more interesting is how they knew trouble was at hand.

There have been a number of studies of late reporting on communication among birds and the possibility that different species understand each others’ languages. But this event seems to clearly show that these birds understand, at least to some degree, the language of a mammal.

As humans, we have a tendency toward intellectual superiority, often attributed to the size of our brain and/or complexity of our nervous system. I’ve heard rabbits make soft, muted squeals but never a shrieking sound. I hypothesized a raptor based upon the sharpness of the call and the behavior of the birds, which I have witnessed before when hawks or crows are too close to nest sites. But instinctively I knew it was a call of distress, and so did the birds. And they were at the location so fast and reacted far more quickly than any human could do. So in this situation, my intelligence was off the mark, while my instincts were right in line with those of the birds.

As I buried the box and its tiny contents in a pile of leaf litter, it was the inability to assess the situation as quickly as the birds that bothered me the most. Had I immediately been able to discern, as they did, that the event was natural predation in process, I would have let it come to its inevitable conclusion – the inexperienced wayward rabbit would have provided a meal to a cunning weasel (and perhaps some others). But it would have been impossible to achieve the adeptness of the birds without a pair of binoculars at a minimum. They definitely have an advantage being able to achieve superior sight-lines and their reaction time cannot be matched by any human I know. We simply are too caught up with our mostly needless distractions, particularly those in our own brains, to ever attempt matching the “at one with nature” talent of wildlife, a skill we let go of generations before.

LeastWeasel_rabbit

Program: Creating Wildlife Habitat – April 23rd

Join us for this lunch-time lecture in celebration of Earth Day on Thursday, April 23 at Erie Community College South Campus. Habitat destruction due to human activity is the #1 cause of wildlife population declines and extinction. Learn how to stem this dangerous tide with tips for everyone, from landowners to apartment dwellers.

Lecture: Creating Wildlife Habitat

Tree-friendly Holiday Celebrations

HolidaySpruces

Former holiday trees continue on for future generations.

If you celebrate the holiday season with a conifer tree, consider using a live tree instead of a fresh-cut or artificial. While they should only remain indoors for a short period of time (no more than 10 days, watered sparingly), using a living tree is the most environmentally friendly method when employing them in holiday decor.

If you live in an area that experiences true Winter weather, after the celebrations are finished move the tree to a protected outdoor area that receives some Sun. A porch or near a building offering a wind block is perfect. Water lightly then insulate the root ball in straw, snow, blankets, or other suitable material. (Note – if the tree is kept on a porch, check the root ball for dryness during any thawing period. If completely dried out, water very lightly then re-insulate.)

Once the ground is workable in Spring, the tree should be planted in a suitable location for its future growth. No room to plant a tree on your property? Then donate it to a school, park, neighbor or friend.

We’ve planted many holiday trees over the years. One is now nearly 30 feet tall and a focal fixture in the landscape of a former home, providing much-needed shade in Summer and an energy-saving wind break in Winter. A real sense of accomplishment and joy surges through me whenever I drive past that house.

The photo above shows some of the holiday Spruces from the last dozen years that were all just a mere 3 feet tall when planted. These have provided nests for several generations of American Robins along with important weather and predation protection for many critters.

Go “live” this holiday season and consider employing such “seventh generation” concepts in your celebrations. The warm feeling it generates certainly will add to the festive nature of early Winter.

White_Pine_Sprig_Cone

White Pine – sacred tree of the Hodinöhšönih Confederacy

 

 

Our leaders were instructed to be men of vision
and to make every decision on behalf of
the seventh generation to come
;
to have compassion and love for
those generations yet unborn.”

Oren Lyons (Faithkeeper)
Onondaga – Hodinöhšönih

Happy Halloween – Hug a Spider!

Spiders are a common feature of Halloween decor spreading a very inaccurate reputation of being scary and dangerous.  Spiders offer far more benefits than threats to humans so today we will use Halloween to help right the wrongs of spider-fear.

Banded Garden Spider (Argiope trifasciata) - female

Banded Garden Spider (Argiope trifasciata) – female

  • All spiders are predators and, as such, are essential to control of insect populations, helping to protect food supplies from herbivory and related damage plus limiting the spread of insect-borne disease from ticks, mosquitoes, etc.
  • Some spiders act as pollinators, so are important in maintaining populations of wild and agricultural plant species.
  • Most spiders are too small to bite humans.  Of those large enough to break human skin, only a fraction of species are dangerous. In the Great Lakes Region, only two are cause for concern (Black Widow and Brown Recluse) and both of their populations this far north are rather small.
  • Many bird species depend upon spiders as a source of food and/or use spider silk for nest material. Many fish species also rely on spiders and/or their eggs as a food source, as do amphibians, lizards and some small mammals.
  • Spider silk is one of the Earth’s strongest materials and its characteristics have been studied by many scientists and engineers bringing numerous beneficial uses to human society.

So next time you see a spider, instead of stomping the poor fellow, perhaps you should say, “Thanks, Legs!”  But we don’t suggest giving the creature a “high-five”.

Yellowstone is News in Buffalo, NY

Dear friend, colleague and former college instructor Joe Allen is one of our local Western New York wildlife experts on the Rocky Mountains region. He spent his college years studying in the area and has led many course-based excursions to the Yellowstone region for the University at Buffalo (the photo below was taken during one of those UB trips).

A recent article in the Buffalo News focuses on Joe’s expeditions and the changes in and around Yellowstone as a result of Gray Wolf re-introduction. This Summer, Joe’s trip (sponsored by the University at Buffalo College of Arts & Sciences) will be for the general public offering those heading west the opportunity to learn in-depth and in person about the science of apex predators, their prey relationships and the resulting effects on the larger ecosystem. A few spots still remain so anyone interested in Megafauna and Predation in Yellowstone National Park should check out the details by clicking the link above and getting registered. You will NOT be disappointed!

Wolves of Yellowstone