December 14, 2006

What I'm really obsessing over these days: vicious birds!

Forget Malcolm Gladwell, because what I've actually been dwelling on is the prospect of carnage in my backyard. As Matt Drudge long ago discovered, nothing interests the modern mind more than ferocious beasts trying to eat you or your pets.

As I mentioned last week, about a half hour after dark I was stepping into my backyard when a giant bird of prey swooped down and just about caught my son's sprinting white bunny, who lives out back. I want to thank everybody who offered advice on what to do about it.

One reader pointed out that I might have been arrested on federal environmental charges for throwing lemons at the huge predator to scare it off when it returned for a second attack.

Many others suggested blasting the bird with a shotgun, which is excellent advice assuming I owned a shotgun, could aim it accurately, had a non-tiny backyard, and wouldn't soon afterwards have LAPD helicopters circling overhead, shining spotlights on me and announcing in the Voice of Doom from Above: "Put down the weapon, sir."


I thought about stringing fishing line over the backyard to snag the brute as it dives, but then I started to wonder what exactly I would then do with an extremely angry three foot tall raptor with a broken wing hopping around my backyard.

Falconry guru Steven Bodio and birdwatcher and statistics maven Audacious Epigone both suggested it was probably not a hawk, as I initially assumed, but a Great Horned Owl, in which case the rabbit is toast, since GOH's are smart and determined.

On further reflection, however, I now think it wasn't a hawk or an owl, but a golden eagle. A few days afterwards, I saw a huge golden-brown bird circling over the freeway (rodents live in the landscaping alongside LA freeways). Perhaps he was commuting back to his home in the hills after sunset and caught a glimpse of the white rabbit below. This would probably be good news compared to it being a GOH because golden eagles are rare this far south and no doubt have huge territories.

Then I started wondering whether this kind of thing might not happen all the time to Fred the Rabbit. It was purely a fluke that I saw it this time. Maybe he narrowly escapes a bloody death once a week.

You sure can't tell from the rabbit's demeanor. What I admire about Fred is that, unlike the teenagers in my house, he never sulks. If an eagle almost got your cat, his dignity would be offended for a week. If a mountain lion almost ate your horse, he'd be skittish for a month. But rabbits don't worry about the past. They don't take offense for long. If you pick Fred up and carry him outside, he might fight you desperately all the way, but within one to two seconds of being put down, he'll be contentedly munching on some greens.

So, all we've done to protect the rabbit so far is strew even more junk around the backyard than was already out there, so that he's never more than 6-8 feet from a chair or something else to sprint under. Give Fred a chance to turn around and face the bird so he could slash at him with his powerful back paws, and he'd stand a fighting chance. W

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not sure about birds of prey (ex-wives included) but rabbits really need to be on look out for those vicious interbreeding vermin known as the British:


BUGS THUGS
Bunnies at top of pet cruelty table
By Adrian Shaw
RABBITS are the most neglected pets in the country, with 35,000 cruelly abandoned each year.


That breaks down to nearly 100 a day, forty per cent of which were starved by owners. Half were kept in squalor while 70 per cent were never let out of their hutches, animal charity the RSPCA reveals.


The typical abandoned bunny is kicked out of its new home after just three months, with many left on streets or in the wild.


They are the third most popular domestic animals after cats and dogs.


But animal campaigners warned parents against buying them for youngsters, who often get fed up looking after them.


Anne Mitchell of the Rabbit Welfare Association said: "If you didn't have children, would you be keen to have the rabbit? If you wouldn't, don't do it.


"Ninety percent of children get bored. They're tired very quickly of the chores.


"You can't treat it like Barbie doll and Action Man and stuff it in the cupboard under the stairs - although, sadly some of these rabbits end up like that, totally neglected."


The average bunny costs £4,000 to care for over its eight-year lifespan.


The RSPCA pointed out they need food and water daily and room to exercise. Their teeth and claws must also be checked regularly by a vet.


Hutches should be cleaned every day and be large enough for them to stand up in. But domestic bunnies sometimes fight if kept together, the charity also warned.


The RSPCA unveils its report, covering England and Wales, next week.


a.shaw@mirror.co.uk

Robert VerBruggen said...

Who in the hell suggested you blast it with a shotgun?

I'm about as big a gun nut as anyone (in a blue state, anyway), but that's just stupid. The only way you'd do that is if (A) you live in a really rural area, with the bunny positioned far from the house, (B) it's legal to shoot a shotgun in your backyard and (C) you have a good enough knowledge of the surrounding area that you won't rain pellets on neighbors or hikers. Pellets can travel 500 yards.

Not to mention (D), that the bird you're shooting at isn't endangered or otherwise protected/out of season!

All this on top of the assumptions you mention -- that you own a shotgun and know how to use it.

Vol-in-Law said...

"those vicious interbreeding vermin known as the British..."

Hey, I resemble that remark!

crush41 said...

A Golden Eagle would be an anomaly, especially if he tenaciously hung around after you started hurling stuff at him. He must've been either sick or immature (in the natural sense of the word!). I'd have paid to get so close a glimpse, as it's hard to get within 500 feet of a Golden Eagle without it taking off. They don't live in urban/suburban areas (as opposed to Peregrines, red-tailed hawks, or great horned owls) and are skiddish around humans.

The good news is, if a Golden Eagle was the culprit, it's doubtful Fred is facing near-death experiences on a regular basis. I cannot imagine anything other than a Great-horned filling the role of routine antagonist.

Another thing you might try is laying out corn kernels or leftover fruit grinds along the fence or in a tree to attract crows and red-winged black birds. They won't eat Fred and the raptors will certainly disappear.

Also, a pellet or bb gun (as opposed to--good lord--a shotgun) might do the trick without collateral damage (and little chance of lasting damage to the raptor).

Robert VerBruggen said...

I have to agree on the pellet or BB gun. I'm a little hesitant to shoot at anything on an incline -- firing at a rabbit and missing, for example, will put the BB in the ground, whereas shooting into the air and missing can hit something.

That said, the odds of hitting a person are about zero, and it'll be going slow enough when it comes down that it won't do much property damage. BB guns are pretty harmless unless you shoot a person (or paint job) at close range.

SoCal said...

Re: golden eagle vs great horned owl - I take it you're just trying to reassure your bunny? After dark means it's hard to get a good look, not to mention it's hunting time for owls. GHOs look more like hawks than other owls, they are huge, and there are plenty of them in suburban LA. The "golden-brown bird circling over the freeway " - could that be a turkey vulture?

Without a clear view or clear photo, the default assumption should be that it is the more common creature, if you want to maintain some credibility with birders. Likewise, animal people assume that the majority of mountain lion sightings are actually bobcat, coyote, or dog.

http://www.newyorkwild.org/owl/owl.htm
"We left the cameras at the old nest site in the hope that the eagles would return to this picturesque nest site. This spring it appears that a Great Horned Owl pair took over this nest before the eagles started their nesting cycle. Great Horned Owls are formidable birds that even Eagles will avoid. Although not as heavy as their appearance and large eyes would suggest, Great Horned Owls have extremely powerful talons and a fierce temperament. The outcome of an altercation between an Eagle and a Great Horned Owl would not necessarily favor the much heavier Eagle"

Another site says "A Great Horned Owl may take prey 2 to 3 times heavier than itself." There are also stories of birders wearing hardhats and being attacked as they tried to approach a GHO nest.

Another recent LA big bird sighting, with a photo and (supposedly) expert eyes, was most likely a GHO or a hawk. If you google condor and Topanga, you'll find dozens of articles about this:

http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/la-me-condor2nov02,1,5220322,full.story
"Large bird, small boy, big news
... Wildlife experts who are hailing Gabriel's photo say it's conceivable that a condor was taking temporary refuge from the Day fire,..."

http://www.topangamessenger.com/Articles.asp?SectionID=1&ArticleID=2159
"Five-Year-Old Naturalist Captures Rare Bird on Film
... who is experienced in wildlife rescue and veterinary nursing, recognized the bird in the photo as a California condor. She in turn shared Gabriel’s photo with birders at the Resource Conservation District and wildlife experts in the Canyon, including an eminent UCLA ornithologist. All of them confirmed the condor sighting, said Clark. But for Gabriel, a student at Topanga Elementary School, confirmation enough came when his kindergarten teacher, Amy Weisberg, checked out his picture and told him, “That’s a condor." ... "

But you'll have a hard time finding this link:
http://www.topangamessenger.com/archives/Articles.asp?SectionID=1&ArticleID=2258
"Condor or Horned Owl? Thoughts from a 40-Year Birder"
which pretty persuasively shows that not only is it a GHO or a hawk, but the condor interpretation has the bird ass backwards.

Audacious Epigone said...

SoCal,

Turkey vultures are easy to spot even for an untrained eye. Wings stretched into a vertical 'V', they appear always inebriated in flight, constantly teetering to the left and then the right as if they've just learned to fly. And the distinctive hairless head, pulsating red, is visible from hundreds of feet off.

I do agree with you that the ubiquitous and aggressive Great-horned is by far the most likely culprit, but Steve was the one who saw it with his own eyes, after all.