There was a killing this morning in my placid suburban hometown, Chevy Chase, MD. The perpetrator was a hawk (a red-tailed hawk, I believe, but I am open to correction on my identification from more qualified ornithologists). The victim was a rabbit. The killer remains at large.
The crime occurred somewhere near the back of my driveway, as best I can judge from the feathers and bits of fur left at the scene. I did not see it happen. But my wife, Ann, spotted the hawk from an upstairs window. It was trying, unsuccessfully, to get airborne with the dead bunny clutched in its talons. I suppose it manages to do this with mice and squirrels. But this was a rabbit plumped up from a summer preying on Chevy Chase backyard gardens. The hawk had killed more than it could lift, much as it flapped its wings
I got my camera and went into the driveway. The hawk was silhouetted against our standard suburban white picket fence. It was trying to drag the carcass behind the garage, where it could presumably have its breakfast with a modicum of privacy. But even that was proving too difficult. The killer turned and stared at me with yellow-and-black eyes. I thought I detected a hint of embarrassment and confusion in its gaze, but maybe I was anthropomorphizing. When a few moments had passed, and I had come no closer than 20 feet or so, the bird seemed to decide that I was not a threat. Or its hunger overcame its fear. The hawk started to eat.
He or she straddled the carcass and used its bloodstained beak to tear it open. It picked away for ten or fifteen minutes as I shot pictures. Its beak, talons and leg feathers were stained red. Tufts of fur dangled from the beak.
I am sorry if the photos are too graphic for some tastes. Apologies as well to those who have loved bunnies since they first heard of Peter Cottontail. I suspect there will be others, though, their gardens denuded of carefully tended flowers and herbs, who will look at the pictures and figure the rabbit had it coming.
When it had eaten enough, the hawk hopped a few feet away and scanned the scene for a few minutes. I got some more pictures. Then it flew off to our neighbor's fence, where it perched for a while. I went back inside to get a garbage bag to help dispose of the bunny's remains; I didn't want crows or vultures to descend upon us. When I came back out, the hawk was gone. But I thought that I ought to warn our next-door neighbors to keep an eye on the sky. They have a dog not much bigger than a rabbit.
As I write this, our emergency generator has turned itself on, a test that it performs once a week. Its rumble normally seems to say that here in Chevy Chase, we're insulated from the vicissitudes of the natural world. Even if there's a hurricane and the power lines come down, we'll be okay. But the generator's rumble is not quite so reassuring this morning.
I know it's a jungle out there.