When you live in the woods, it grows easy to assume the wild animals are part of our extended family. Just take Al the pine marten for example. He (or she, for all I know) was nothing more than a nuisance who spent the winter days getting into the bird seed, garbage, and compost. Despite his mostly destructive nature, we gave him a name, imposed a personality on him, and acted like he was a friend. Although we never (intentionally) feed him, our relationship with him smacked of faux familiarity, pretending he was the wildest of pets.
When you live in a place where your path commonly crosses with that of bears, moose, foxes, and other critters it's easy to forget that we're the ones tangled in their webs of existence, not the other way around. We're the ones imposing on their world and we're meant to be casual observers.
The first week of May, a nesting platform for loons was set up in the bay outside of work. A week ago Thursday, a loon climbed up on nest and stayed. Within the first two days, it became clear a loon couple had laid two eggs in the nest. "Hot damn," we thought. "We're going to have a loon chick sometime during the last week of Jue."
But on Sunday, as I sat at my desk, I heard a terrible scream. At first I thought the loon was bothered by the moose I'd just seen swimming in the bay, but there was something about the heart-wrenching nature of the scream that made me think the loon was in true trouble. When I made it out on to the porch to get a view of the nest, I saw an eagle sitting in a gnarly jack pine about twenty feet from the nest. In the distance, another eagle soared in the sky. The loon, probably driven off the nest by the pesky black flies, was swimming near the nest, calling out in distress.
The eagle in the tree swooped down towards the nest and the loon raised up on its back quarters to protest until the eagle returned to his perch. But the second time the eagle swooped down, he seemed to catch something in his talon which fell in a spray into the lake.
I hoped I hadn't seen what I suspected I had, but yesterday morning when I arrived at work and saw no loon on the nest I knew it was true; the eagle had destroyed both of the loons' eggs.
Although the loons no longer had eggs to incubate, they visited the nest a couple times yesterday. They swam around the nest, climbing on top of the floating platform and softly cooing in some sort of heartbreaking loon conversation. It's early in the season and loons will likely use the nest to lay another egg. But it's still no fun to watch and it's easy to feel angry at the eagle who didn't even get a tasty snack out of his raid.
It all goes to show that we can't assume wild animals live some Disney-fied cartoon existence. Every animal is fighting hard for its survival. It's not all wildflowers and butterflies and happy little fawns with Bambi eyes. The critters of the forest play by a whole different rulebook than us humans, one that can horrify us and that can be difficult to justify. But, whether we like it or not, it's a dog-eat-dog (or eagle-eat-loon egg) world out there and nature is not always nice and we're in no position to interfere with the laws of Mother Nature.