A few days ago I noticed something I hadn’t seen out back. Doves. A dove is not an unfamiliar species to anyone who grew up in the South, but this dove wasn’t your typical dove. First I saw one. Then there were two sitting on the utility line above the street behind our house. The birds are beautiful, but I have concerns about their new perching spot. Why? A snag and a hawk.
In the corner of our back yard there’s a snag. The tree isn’t really dead. It’s a holly tree and it competes with a number of other trees for nutrients. It’s covered in hanging moss, the kind people associate with Southern gothic scenes. My husband said we need to cut the tree down.
“We can’t do that,” I told him.
We can’t cut the tree because for one thing, there’s a hawk who loves to perch atop it on a daily basis. He’s a majestic creature like so many other raptors.
Snags aren’t just good for raptors, though. All manner of wildlife species make use of dead (or struggling) trees. In our community, development has been permitted beyond our wildest dreams. Old homesteads, holdovers from a time when this area was largely rural, are being sold. Developers usually come in, clearcut the land, and pack as many houses into them as they can.
The land is privately held, so there isn’t a lot we can do other than to hope one day communities wise up and realize green space isn’t just good for wildlife, it’s beneficial to us humans too.
When we moved to Mandarin in Jacksonville, Florida, there was a forest fragment right by our neighborhood. Lush with new and old growth, that small strip of green provided a home for incredibly beneficial creatures like possums and for numerous species of birds. No more. The tract was clearcut and expensive homes were built.
My husband and I decided to let the perimeter of our property go a little wild in order to provide cover for wildlife. We have been richly rewarded by our decision, and we never fail to be entertained by possums, racoons, occasional turtles, songbirds, and other creatures who just want a place to live. We don’t have to provide food—nature does that in abundance. I do keep water in the birdbath, changing it frequently so mosquitoes don’t multiply. My whole family has enjoyed watching the squirrels, birds, and lizards take a drink or bath. Our favorite is the blue jay. That bird takes a serious bath, throwing water all around as he dips and shakes.
As I gazed at the doves that morning, I realized our hawk is keenly aware, no doubt, there’s an opportunity for feathered sushi right beneath him. I think the doves are Eurasian Collared-Doves—they’re bigger than the mourning doves I’m familiar with. These doves, new to me, are very docile. I walked close to one as he sat on our fence recently, and he had no fear of me.
I hope the dove learns to fear the hawk. When I see the raptor balancing delicately atop that tree, I am amazed he can so easily balance that kind of weight on a flimsy perch. I know the day will come when the hawk makes a supper of one of those doves, but for now, I’m thrilled to be able to watch these beautiful creatures who want nothing more than shelter, food, and water.
If you have a snag in your yard, consider leaving it. Mother Nature will approve.
(Kay B. Day/January 8, 2021)