A pile of feathers on a rock

A juvenile Cooper’s hawk has been staking out our bird feeder in the Susquehanna Riverlands environmental preserve. We see him there almost every day, perched on his favorite branch, fascinated by the constant comings and goings of the chickadees, titmice and juncos. It’s the perfect place for a young, inexperienced hunter to hone his skills and wait for warmer weather.

Inevitably, I came out one morning to find a pile of soft, downy fluff on the cold, hard surface of a snow-covered rock. The hawk had made a kill.

Immediately, my sympathy went to the little bird that had lost its life, that had come simply looking for food and ended up becoming food. Countless cartoons, fairy tales, books and movies train us to think of the predator as the bad guy.

But watching the hawk later that day, feathers puffed out against the biting cold, a keen look of gnawing hunger in his eyes, I saw it for what it was: simply another creature trying to survive the frigid Pennsylvania winter the best it can.

Nature isn’t one or the other — the soft feathers or the hard rock — it’s both. It is both cruel and kind, at once aloof and nurturing. From each death, new life springs up somewhere else. Nutrients are passed up and down through the food chain, always moving and transforming, but never disappearing.

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