This website is dedicated to our habitat and its denizens, the creatures who live in it beside us (and over, under, and in). Its goal is to paint a picture of the patterns of life on our Earth: we all live, feed on other living beings, try to carve out a place for ourselves and our young, and are finally recycled for some other life form’s use. The process is the great dance of life and death, terrible and beautiful and over in a moment. Are other worlds like ours? Maybe. Maybe not. I think our great-grandchildren will begin to learn that.
Most, but not all of the articles and images on this site are about birds of prey. Eventually some will explore other creatures: earthworms, for example, or microbes. Or the most perfect life form of all: the tree. If you would like to join me in celebrating life on this planet, please do so – leave your thoughts in Comments.
Banner photograph by the author, of a captive Swainson’s Hawk’s wing. The whole bird is pictured below. Grasshopper, education ambassador at the California Raptor Center, much loved and admired by handlers and audiences throughout the state.
The following essay, written for the California Raptor Center, a rehabilitation and education organization, is about birds of prey because these creatures are at the center of my own love of life on Earth. The photos below, taken in 2011, were of the oldest bird at the Center, Aquila, a female Golden Eagle, whose wing was shot off in 1982. She was over 40 years old when she died (October 2014). This once powerful aerial hunter, who could, in her prime, kill a deer or an antelope, greeted her visitors with a gentle trill.
Why Do Raptors Matter?
First, they matter because they connect us with our planet: That surge of feeling we get as we watch a hawk, eagle, or (for the lucky) condor soaring high on the wind – is it admiration? Longing? A wordless tie to some life force? Whatever its name, that fleeting thread connects us to the world we live in.
For millions of years, these birds have sailed the skies. Our very first ancestors saw them and revered them. Yet over the millennia they have come to grief through human actions. Today they are mangled by cars, broken by wind turbines, smashed by windows, shot, poisoned, electrocuted. Sometimes the damage is deliberate. Often it is by accident. Grieving people bring them to us and ask us to save them.
Second, they show us the impact of today’s actions on the future. Raptors, like humans, are at the top of their food chain. What happens to them can, like the canary in the mines, warn of an approaching problem in our own lives. In 1970, for example, scientists saw that DDT, the “miracle” pesticide of the 1950s and 60s, was, to the Bald Eagle, the Osprey, the Peregrine Falcon, a “miracle of death.” This poison permeated our waters and contaminated their very flesh. They came within a breath of extinction. Their response to DDT let us act in time to save ourselves from a similar insidious deterioration in health. We stopped the use of this toxic substance just in time to spare our children.
Third, they remind us that each of us can indeed make a difference in another’s life: Rescuing one Red-tailed Hawk will not save a species, but it lets that one bird return to its life, its mate, its young. And we, by helping it, teach our children and ourselves to experience and value an act of compassion.
Finally: For their own sakes. Every one of them deserves a second chance.