Predator-prey: Standard procedure in nature

COOPER’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) are fast fliers. When flying through thick stands of timber in pursuit of prey, it has the ability to dodge tree branches skillfully. Medium sized birds, look out. Very small birds seem to be less concerned with this hawk. Maybe it is because the very smallest of birds can out maneuver the hawk. As hawks go, the Cooper’s is a medium sized raptor with broad rounded wings and a very long tail. Adults have a steely blue-gray upper body. Its chest is dominated by reddish-brown bars. The eye is red. The business end of a Cooper’s hawk are its talons. It captures its prey with a tight grip and then does not let go. In fact, squeezing hard is what happens until the prey suffocates from lack of ability to breathe. Drowning a victim has also been observed by biologists.

Common throughout the entire United States, a Cooper’s may be found in any forest including the forests of our landscaped urban dwellings. Park lands are ideal habitat. For a nest site, the male does all the nest building over a period of two weeks time. The female may assist a little but not much. A big pile of sticks is made that will be over 24 inches in diameter and 6 to 17 inches deep. A depression in the middle will be four inches deep and about eight inches across. Pine trees, oaks, spruces will work where the nest can be constructed anywhere from 25 to 50 feet above the ground. Nest clutch size is 2 to 6 eggs that will be incubated for 30 to 36 days. In about three months, the young will be able to fledge. The adults will feed the young for the balance of the summer until the young learn what it takes to feed themselves. During egg incubation, almost all of the hunting is done by the male who brings food items to his mate and the young. That will be an extensive workout for this avian predator of other birds.

It is wrong for humans to think of any predator-prey relationship as a case of winners and losers. Life must go on. The energy obtained to nourish the life of one must come from the life of another. Not all attempts to catch food are successful. However, the success rate in the long run proves to be adequate enough. So it is and so it works in Mother Nature’s grand plan.

I am a hunter. I enjoy the quiet solitude of the fall season when cool air, beautiful tree colors and songs of birds little and large permeating the air. I’m submerged in the life of the natural world. The urge to hunt is deep rooted, an intimate connection to the natural world that may be hard to communicate, maybe hard to explain, but still is very real and personal. To so do legally and with the highest of ethical applications leaves me with nothing to be ashamed of.

I also shop at local grocery stores where foods of all types have been cut and wrapped, boxed or canned, and conveniently advertised to catch my attention. Those foods may be cheaper by comparison to the dollars I spend to hunt wild critters. Certainly my survival does not depend solely on my hunting abilities. However, wild meats from deer, elk, pheasants or geese are more satisfying because I have first hand understanding of the effort it took to bring that animal into my possession. And when properly cooked for a family meal with all the trimmings, a personal banquet is set whereby once again I relive the hunt that brought precious foods to the table.

Do I hunt for trophies? Yes and no. A truly big buck deer in the right place at the right time is a rare opportunity. Will I draw my arrow on him? I never know. It depends. Will a nice doe deer provide meat for the freezer? Most definitely yes. Do I consider that deer a trophy? Indeed I do. Overall I cherish the memories of all my hunts more than any one taking. For me, the only competition is within myself, not by trying to outdo what others may expect.

As a photographer, I’m constantly aware of possible situations where the combination of light, animal and setting all come together to create an image possibility. From a duck blind, a turkey tent, tree stand or quiet wait against a big oak tree, having a camera and long lens is far from any guarantee that an award winning photo will result. Even in this pursuit, just like hunting, nature rules. I’m just part of the mix that places me in the outdoors where anything can happen. Whatever does happen, or not, still makes for a great day.

As a person with a strong background in biological studies, I understand the importance of retaining adequate habitat in the form of wetlands, forests, prairie grasslands, and clean water in streams and rivers. Properly managed, habitat can support a wide variety of plant life, game and non-game animals. Biological surpluses taken by hunters one year are offset by the ability of surviving populations to fill the void by next fall. What everyone needs to understand, hunter or non-hunter, is that permanent loss of habitat means a permanent loss of part of our natural heritage base. This is especially apparent in Iowa, where our pre-settlement landscape has been so drastically altered by all of the modern conveniences of life. Saving the remnants of wild places becomes a major effort by private and public conservation organizations. Long term protection of wild lands lets me the hunter, with bow or gun or camera, know that there is still room for modern day predator-prey relationships to take place.

WINTER is not giving up easily. Snow and wind make Iowans anxious for spring, even though it is by calendar days only 18 days away. One day in March, the 20th, will not necessarily be the transition day from winter to spring. Of course we know that the Earth just keeps going on its orbit around the sun. Its relative angle of axis is steadily providing more length to each day and less dark to each night.

So what do sportsmen and women do during the off season? One choice is happening this weekend at the IOWA DEER CLASSIC. Convention hallways at Hy-Vee Hall and Veterans Auditorium will be packed to the brim with vendors of all kinds with their particular products about deer and deer hunting. Informative seminars, guest speakers, kids participating in Archery in the Schools competition, big buck contest, shed antler contest, turkey calling championship and as always, the Iowa Whitetail Hall of Fame Display. Hours for the event at today, Saturday, from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. Sunday hours are 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Admission is $12 per adult, youth ages 1015 are $5, and kids ages 9 or less are free.

Next Saturday, the Iowa River Chapter of DUCKS UNLIMITED will hold its membership appreciation banquet and fundraiser event at the Impala Ballroom in Marshalltown. Contact Rich Naughton at 641-752-7197 for ticket information. There will be plenty of room for any DU member and any guests they would like to bring along. This is a great group of folks to associate with. Have fun, play some games of chance, buy raffle tickets and enjoy a great meal with fellow wetland and waterfowl enthusiasts. DU’s reputation is that of being involved for the long haul in conservation efforts on the land that help wetland wildlife. Be a part of DU. See you there.

A BALD EAGLE sitting on her nest was a privilege this scribe got to see earlier this week. She was nestled snuggly into her huge stick nest high in a cottonwood tree adjacent to the Iowa River not too far from Le Grand. The eagle pair raised at least one young eaglet last year. Let us hope for at least two or three this year. The site is remote, just what eagles like. Human activity may be a canoe or two or three gliding silently downstream this summer. Look for additional bald eagles gathering and migrating north next month when warm temperatures return to thaw the ice and snow we currently have. Waterfowl moving north bring with them a host of avian predators, eagles being just one species looking to make a living. It is that predator-prey thing again, a Mother Nature standard method of operation.

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love: we will love only what we understand; we will understand only what we are taught.” Aldo Leopold

Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.