Hawks and Doves

December 7, 2007

A central metaphor from my teenage years was the conflict between hawks and doves. Hawks favoured the bombing of Cambodia. Doves resisted the draft. That the doves eventually won came as quite a surprise to me.

 

Several decades later retirement has led me to revisit the hawks vs doves question on a more literal level. A young red-tail hung around the farm this summer. Zeke is all a hawk should be. Physically beautiful, majestic in manner, aloof, fierce, predatory – Zeke is one cool bird. All he has to do is fly over his domain to make all lesser creatures acutely aware of his presence.

 

Then there’s Winny, the mourning dove who visits my mother’s feeder each day. She has lovely soft beige feathers, a graceful silhouette, and a charming voice. Winnie roosts under the deck and seems the most agreeable of birds…until it comes to food.

 

The local grackles are a pushy lot, but they’ve almost given up trying to boot Winny off the dish of sunflower seeds before she is ready. She sits right in the dish and ignores their efforts to intimidate her. An occasional grackle tries to drive her away from the food with sharp pecks. Winnie simply absorbs the punishment and keeps eating. Perhaps rattled by her markings, which look as though she has eyes in the back of her head, the grackle flies off without food.

 

It’s a much different situation with Zeke, who has learned to panic at the sight of these same grackles, flying well over the horizon just to rid his tail of the pest-of-the-day. Obviously if Zeke caught up with Winny he’d have a nice meal, but when a third player enters things turn around sharply. Grackles seem more intimidated by Winny’s passive-aggressive attitude than by Zeke’s hawkish one.

 

So what’s the point? Possession of talons and great strength have value only if your intended victim can’t out-manoevre you, but sitting down in the food dish can make everyone else go hungry. It’s dumb to mess with that kind of power.

Advantage: Doves.

 

 

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