Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Blakeman ponders the fate of the Red Squirrel, with a postscript from Marie

A letter from John Blakeman about the Red Squirrel:

I find it curious that Central Park has never had a red squirrel population. It's one of the most common wild rodent species in North America, occupying multiple habitats. There is no reason a population of these frenetic little balls of energy couldn't thrive in Central Park.
But as you can imagine, my on-the-edge mind couldn't help ponder Central Park's other new residents, the active population of our beloved red-tailed hawks, especially as they might encounter the new squirrel. Red squirrels are a bit smaller than the common gray squirrels in the park, and gray squirrels are apparently frequent fare for the big hawks. Pale Male or any of his relatives might elect to sample some more of the fine culinary offerings of New York City, in this case this new, un-tasted squirrel.
Red squirrels are common in all Ohio forests (and those of upstate New York, too). Anyone who has ever watched these energy packs has been impressed. They will challenge larger squirrels and other animals that intrude upon their territories. They commonly make quite a verbal racket when alarmed.
The chances of this single squirrel falling into the talons of a Central Park red-tailed hawk is not minor. It may not happen, but the reality of natural predator-prey relationships is now present in the Park. Should the squirrel be killed by one of the hawks, we shouldn't much lament the act? With the hawks hunting in the park, a full range of natural forces are at play. Before the red squirrel dies at the hands (well, talons) of one of the hawks (if at all), we all need to ponder how we might react. In earlier times, in other places, citizens commonly reacted with horror when red-tails killed barnyard chickens and other loved animals. The hawks for a century or more were commonly shot because of these natural depredations. How will local wildlife watchers react if a local hawk kills this new (and lovable) wild denizen of the Park?
Before it happens, readers and park wildlife watchers might want to privately contemplate their reactions.
Food for thought (bad phrase).

John A. Blakeman

PS from Marie:

I agree with John Blakeman -- [and Tennyson]: nature is red in tooth and claw. So be it. I've posted pictures of this "cute" little critter, but readers should be well aware that it has entered a habitat full of natural predators.

The hawks, too, are living in a dangerous habitat. But for them
homo sapiens poses the greatest danger. Therefore we, as members of that species, can try to interfere when humans make trouble for the hawks: humans who take down their nests, humans who poison their prey --rats and pigeons, etc. But we cannot interfere in the natural battle between the other species.