KAMLOOPS — One of nature’s dramas unfolded at our house last weekend.
We woke up to discover that during the night the coyotes had brought down a deer on the frozen river outside our back door. From the balcony we watched as the ravens and eagles got in on the feast.
Once in awhile, a coyote would return to scare them off and reclaim the prize for the pack. At least half a dozen eagles and 50 ravens circled or perched in the trees along the river, waiting till the coast was clear to swoop back to the kill.
Sometimes, even if a coyote was there, they’d brazenly land beside it and grab some venison while making sure to keep out of reach of the predator.
It was late in the afternoon, with darkness starting to set in, when Syd glanced out at the river to see if there was anything new going on at party central out on the river. She called me to come and see five coyotes having a feeding frenzy at the carcass.
We were enjoying watching them when suddenly a big bald eagle came down from the sky — it was either very cocky or very foolish, landing on top of the deer in the midst of the coyotes as if it was entitled. This totally pissed off the coyotes, who turned on the big bird. Clearly outmatched, it tried to flee, but eagles are awkward on land and need a good length of runway to take off. Before it could get more than a few feet, the coyotes were on it.
Momentarily, it got away and made a run for it in the opposite direction but coyotes are very quick, and two of them caught the eagle.
What would you do in such a situation? Who would you side with?
I’ve described this battle to quite a few people and discovered it’s not a slam dunk. One would think we humans would be on the side of the gallant and noble eagle over the cunning coyote, but not necessarily. Coyotes have their fans, too.
Eagles are beautiful, majestic birds, while coyotes roam around looking for opportunity. But both are hunters and scavengers.
Free enterprisers and naturalists would likely say we should let the market prevail, allow nature to take its course. Who are we to interfere?
A socialist would lecture on the good of the whole, and on how the bounty produced by the kill belonged to all.
An environmentalist might ponder the future of species: the eagle has barely gotten off the endangered list while there is no more resilient creature than the coyote. For at least a century, humans have tried to exterminate them but they have an amazing ability to simply increase their production of pups whenever there’s a downturn in their population. When the lights are turned out on this old world, cockroaches and coyotes will be the last to leave.
A lawyer? The coyotes had a right to use reasonable force in defending their property (in this case, the deer) against theft.
A sportsman, of course, would look at it from the perspective of fair play. Five-to-one isn’t what you’d call a sporting chance. The eagle could use a little help evening up the odds.
And then, there are those who take sides based on nothing else but personal preference. We like some animals more than others. We bring dogs and cats into our homes but we eat cows and chickens. We ride horses and shoot grizzly bears, both for fun.
We admire lions and elephants and wear crocodile boots and fur coats made from beaver, fox and mink.
We spend millions trying to save gorillas and pandas while we wage all-out war on wolves.
Yep, we take sides.
Syd told me later that it fleetingly crossed her mind not to get involved in nature’s business. Then she threw open the door and started yelling. “Leave that eagle alone!” accompanied by some decidedly less-than-parliamentary language. I joined in and all five coyotes (among other things, they’re notorious cowards) took off in different directions.
Now what? In for a penny, in for a pound — as the eagle sat there dazed, I had a vision of crawling out onto the ice, dragging a blanket, a rope tied around my waist and Syd holding onto it fromshore, tossing a blanket over a badly wounded eagle and wrestling it into the truck for a trip to the nearest vet.
But then the eagle flapped its big wings, skipped along the ice and snow and lifted into the air. We breathed a sigh of relief.
We had interfered with Mother Nature. And it felt damn good.