Upper West Siders are surrounded by nature, but really most of the nearby natural world is tightly controlled, sectioned off, paved and fenced in (aside from some nasty exceptions like sewer mosquitoes and rats).

Yet sometimes the animal kingdom announces its presence in a big way. And while we tend to associate summer with nature’s wild blooming, the really uncontrolled stuff seems to happen in winter. Unsanctioned coyotes, for instance, roam Central Park, tracked by enchanted photographers and annoyed police officers.

Red-tailed hawks, too, seem to thrive in winter. The rodents they hunt can no longer hide beneath the  leaves. So the hawks feast, with little regard for the humans watching. Upper West Sider Jodi Kendall sent us the above photo of a hawk devouring a rodent in the park last week. It ate for the better part of an hour. Hey what are you looking at? I’m eatin’ here!

We sent Jodi’s photo to our resident nature-expert Melissa Cooper who blogs at Out Walking the Dog, and a smile crept across her face (at least that’s what it felt like over email): “I’m telling you, I love winter for hawk watching – with trees bare of leaves, there’s nowhere for our wildlife to hide. We get to see amazing nature scenes like this one take place right in front of us…We live in the jungle here on the UWS.”

Indeed, Cooper has told quite a few hawk tales herself. She has taken up-close-and-personal pictures of the animals as they eat, she has chronicled the controversy over hawks and rodenticide, and she has recounted one of the great and awful New York hawk stories — in which a hawk grabs a chihuahua in Riverside Park, and simply flies off with the tiny canine in its talons. As Cooper’s hawk-watcher friend reports: “It’s a wild animal. It doesn’t share our morals. That’s the way it is.” She offers her own analysis of the idea of “morals” in the animal kingdom:

“He’s right, of course, except that we don’t share our morals, either.  We declare some animals all right to eat and others off limits.  There’s no natural law to this; it’s a cultural thing (some cultures eat horses and dogs; we don’t) and an individual choice.”

The scene inspired art — Cooper’s friend Charlotte Hildebrand retold the story with some artistic license in the painting below (reprinted with Melissa’s permission). The bird flies south in her telling, and it appears to have stolen the chihuahua from Central Park. With its pink leash dangling gently behind it, the dog appears to be on its way to a new and fascinating life. In reality, not so much.

Have you seen something unexpected — maybe a little shocking — out in nature? Tell us about it, and if you get a chance, take a picture.

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