Musings on life and death in the natural world can become commentary on that much broader universal theme. Hopefully these thoughts will not inspire melancholy but rather introspection. Sometimes is can be especially difficult to entertain these ideas in the spring, when one is traditionally drawn to marking the apparent rebirth of the world after a long cold winter.

It is often striking how the melting of the snow can reveal the evidence of animals that did not survive the winter. The signs are most often nothing more than bones, as little is wasted in the struggle for survival. Even solid bones and antlers are often found to be gnawed upon by small animals looking for the contained nutrients.

Whitetailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) skull and lower jaw

There are various predators at work year-round to clean up the signs of those that did not survive the winter, or other misadventure. Turkey vultures, coyotes, eagles, even blue jays and chickadees, will feed on a carcass and ensure that every edible bit is consumed. Birds such as crows and ravens will attempt to steal an egg from another bird’s nest. Even motor vehicles take their toll on wildlife, much more than just the well-known deer-car collisions.

The primary catalyst behind these words is a small barn swallow, found sitting in the sun in the driveway. Upon approach, the only movement was of the head and eyes, seemingly watching for further threats. It was likely the bird had a broken wing but there was no other apparent evidence of injury. The bird was gently gathered and placed in a small box for observation and possible release back to the wild if the wing was not actually broken.

The barn swallow survived for another 2 hours but succumbed to his injuries. Upon closer examination post-mortem, the left wing was definitely broken and there were punctures from talons on the body. The swallow had clearly been struck by a raptor (falcon, hawk, osprey?) and had somehow escaped to live a short time longer. His iridescent blue head feathers were still glossy but his rust-colored chest no longer swelled with breath. Even in death, the beauty was evident.

It is sometimes emotionally difficult to observe the cycle of life and death up close. One follows the other and one sustains the other. The order of the natural world may not be tidy, but on reflection, becomes logical to our understanding.