Sunday, November 10, 2013

Where Did Raptors Perch Before There Were Power Poles?

For you and me, 150 years seems like a long time. However, from the beginning of our planet until now, that span is probably equivalent to less than a tick of a second hand on an old-fashioned wristwatch. While that century and a half is a tiny interval in the big picture of our world’s existence, it’s been busy in regard to change.

 In the nearly 5 billion seconds since permanent settlement vs. nomadic occupation began in earnest, plows have turned over a goodly portion of approximately 52 million Kansas acres. Railroads, Interstates, highways, and country roads crisscross our state. Cities and towns with their accompanying concrete and pavement exist where only grass grew 15 decades ago. Fence posts and wire mark off sections and quarters while scores of tall telephone and power poles guide eyes far into the shrinking distance like an artist’s perspective lines direct the eye in a sketch.

It’s hard to imagine a world without these improvements. It’s equally difficult to envision what birds of prey did before man provided handy watchtowers for these sharp-eyed stealth machines.
Every time I spy an owl or hawk hurtling toward a mouse running across the road, I’m startled. Where’d that come from, I wonder. A glance toward lofty shafts running parallel to the highway reminds me these creatures have front row seats for the dinner show occurring in front of my vehicle.

While driving at dusk a few nights ago, I spied three electric poles in a row topped by great horned owl silhouettes. An interior decorator couldn’t have selected better finials as accessories. At the same time, a submarine shape trailed by a long tail raced into the brightly lit pavement before my car. In less time than it takes lightning to flash and dissipate, one of those former black shapes transformed into a swift torpedo heading for that gray target spotlighted in my high beams.

A tap on the brake prevented me from hitting either mouse or raptor. Mulling this almost collision between machine and feathers, I realized this near miss explained the frequent broken owl and hawk carcasses I see littering Kansas byways.

What it didn’t explain was the next question that popped into my mind. In the ages before settlement and development, where did such creatures perch to scan the grasses for furry morsels? Was all their reconnoitering on the fly?

Did the same species of feathered predators live on the prairie as do today? Did they eat as well as they do now? How has modern life altered the existence of native inhabitants? I’ve been led to believe that human encroachment is bad, but in certain scenarios, do some animals and birds benefit from humankind’s additions to the landscape—such as power pole watch towers?

I’ll keep posing these questions until I get some fact-based answers. Instead of bats in my belfry, I have owls and hawks flitting about inside my head, telling me to learn more about changes settlement has wrought on our landscape. Someone surely has answers that will get these birds back where they belong—watching for their next entrĂ©e from atop a power pole.

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