Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Baby bird

That's what I saw when I got off my bike on Friday. Scampering back and forth, getting freaked out by the flash, nervous whenever I got too close, but successfully hiding from danger. I believe it's a starling, because there are craploads (literally) of starlings living under the eaves of the apartment building I live in. This fella must have fallen out of a nest. He had the beginnings of permanent feathers, so it may have been a failed attempt at flight.

The next day, I heard all sorts of noise, and there were lots of starlings flying all over, very excited. It turns out, a big crow had managed to catch one of these little characters and was flying around with it. They finally settled on the roof opposite me, so I watched the process for a while. The starlings all kept their distance, very flustered, but unwilling to tangle with the crow. The crow didn't seem too worried as it pecked and poked at the fledgling.

The fledgling was either dead or almost dead as the crow shook it around and pecked at it. When it stopped moving, the crow just swallowed the little bird and moved on.

I don't know what to think about that. It was fairly gruesome, which is bad. Starlings are evil, so a dead starling is good. Baby birds are cute, so killing them is bad. This is not the cutest baby bird ever, so I'm willing to let it go.

Why are starlings evil, you ask? First, they wake me up. Every morning there's the thumping and squawking as they wake up and start the process of feeding a nest of fledglings. Then there's the flapping and scraping as they squeeze into the hole they use. That's all bad, and I resent them.

What's really bad about starlings is that they are an invasive species. Eugene Scheiffelin introduced 100 starlings in Central Park, and they've spread ever since. They take over nesting sites for native species, they compete for food, plus they're a nuisance. If a crow makes a meal out of one little starling, should I feel bad?

How about this: One cute baby starling has no marginal impact on a population of that runs to the hundreds of millions, and stretches to the Arctic Circle. So I'll feel bad about a cute little ball of fuzz dying, but I can still hope that the entire species will be wiped out of North America.

The bird in this picture was still around after the attack, but I haven't seen him since. It's possible a feral cat (also an introduced species) ate it. Feral cats and domestic cats allowed to wander outside decimate populations of small mammals and birds.

Now there's a moral conundrum. Should I regret the fact that a member of an introduced species got fed more than I'm glad that a member of an invasive species got killed?