Insignificant, Yet So Significant
In my office I have a small plastic bag of feathers that I have picked up over the years. Most of the feathers were found in our backyard near the feeders where we presume a Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned hawk captured and fed on a bird. It is possible that cats may have taken the birds, but the kill sites all were similar to sites we observed where the hawk(s) were actually still feeding. None of the feathers are large or outstanding. In fact, a couple are quite small and could have been easily overlooked if I had not been looking carefully at what I was seeing. One feather in the bag jumps out at me each time I see it. That is this yellow and black feather shed by a northern flicker.
Usually I do not have too many feelings either way when I see the site of a sparrow capture and kill. Just as I like the birds at the feeders, I am also fascinated by the predator birds that must consume feeder birds to survive. Kill or be killed…that is nature’s way. Their system is designed to produce enough each species to keep the process working in a delicate balance.
While I don’t often think much about the “victim” birds (when they are sparrows), seeing a death site for a northern flicker did cause me to pause. I studied the feathers strewn on the ground with hardly a morsel of nourishment left. The kill, I am hopeful, was quick. (I once watched a hawk carrying a northern flicker it grabbed off the ground. The flicker eventually escaped.) Clearly the devouring was efficient. The northern flicker died so the hawk could live another day. Out of appreciation for the sacrifice made by a beautiful bird, I saved a single feather from the flicker. Whether I like that a flicker was taken or not, nature’s predator/prey relationship was carried out again – in our backyard.
I pulled the bright yellow and rich black feather out again to study it today. The colors are still so vivid, yet the feather is lifeless and useless (unless provoking thoughts has value). The feather seems out of place, yet it serves a purpose as I remember the flicker with respect.
As I looked at the feather I thought about what each feather on a bird does during cold winter days. It amazes me that something assumed to be so ordinary is really a complex system that provides lift for flight, shields a bird from rain, and even provides insulating warmth to the tiny creature underneath. What a beautiful and interesting creation. Brown, red, yellow, or black – feathers are so significant, yet we seldom give them much thought.
Now that our landscape is covered by white snow, I will be watching for more feathers. Perhaps some will have been dropped as a dog sheds hair. Or, maybe our yard will at one time be offering needed nourishment while also serving as a danger zone. Regardless, I am keeping my eyes open for feathers.
Northern Flicker Feather in Snow:.