Fierce, Fierce Little Creatures

Ah look, what a pretty, compact, little brown and yellow butterfly–*snatched up!* I goggle at the adorable little songbird snatching the butterfly in midair, flying to alight on the branch of a shrub where it gobbles the Umber Skipper down. Oh you think songbirds are cute little budgies, adorable plump songbirds out of Snow White–but they’re FIERCE, I tell you! Fierce! On two occasions I watched as small songbirds behaved like tiny hawks–in one instance a towhee; the other, in a shopping mall, was a sparrow of some kind. They dived like a raptor, snatched the Umber Skipper butterfly, a white moth in the other case, right in midair, scarfed it down. Perhaps the little bird deposited its prey in its crop, to regurgitate for nestlings.

Admirable, really. I usually think of hawks, with their keen predatory eyes, spotting a prey, diving with (in my mind) dive-bomber sound effects: grabbing the squealing mouse up in its needle sharp claws, flying smugly away on its big majestic wings. But day by day these little songbirds cock their keen predatory eyes, spot a moth, or some diaphanous flying insect, and flutter down toward it; adjusting for the prey’s crooked flight path they *nab* it in mid air, in a *small beak*, the bird casually returning to its perch with its still-living meal; all accomplished in one fluttering flight. The little songbird must have capabilities of sight, of calculation, we don’t usually think about in such a creature…

Meanwhile, on our back porch, sit my wife’s hiking boots–rather too long. A spider has woven a web in one of them, covering the opening meant for her foot; a very prosperous spider, its web festooned with gutted, hollow corpses: crickets, flies, earwigs. The web is the sort with a tunnel in its midst and the tunnel dips very neatly, looking like water going down a drain, into the depth of the boot. I shine a light from my cell phone into the hole and see a cluster of bright eyes reflecting redly back at me from deep, deep inside where the spider hunkers.

It’s probably a non-toxic Agelenidae funnel-web spider, I assure my wife, so she can certainly put the boot on without fear, but she declines to. She claims she does not wish to uncharitably deprive it of its home.

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