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‘Bird Wars’ or The Politics of Intervention

My friend has a pet1 magpie named Charles. Charles has a partner called Gisella. For quite some time the three of them shared an amiable relationship exchanging food for entertainment: their presence transforming a mundane bedroom facing a brickwall into a constant live broadcast of Planet Earth. Oh it was a simple time, a care free time, oh how I long for those carefree days of folly!

But then the crows came. And the fragile balance of peace was no more.

Thus commenced the:


We heard it first, the jeering taunts of a single crow perched upon the roof: a blood curdling battle cry which pierced the calm. Throughout the first day of battle the crow repeatedly dive bombed the nest, Charles and Gisella put up a diligent fight, and all attacks were thwarted. With the crow outnumbered 2 to 1, my friend and I were confident in the success and safety of Charles and Gisella, and so after this initial terror we resumed our lives as normal.

But then more crows came.

The next day the enemy (now named Shit Raven) brought back up, more troops to the front lines. We watched anxiously, as a whirlwind battle of dive bombs and counter swoops took place outside our window. We watched helplessly, as feathers were ruffled and morale wore down.

And even when our eyes could bear to look no more, we could never escape those harrowing screeches, which echoed all around. Unable to withstand it a moment longer, we asked ourselves a question. A difficult question, one that raises a thousand more and several ethical dilemmas.

Was it time to intervene?

Should we let nature run its course? Crows have harassed magpies since time immemorial, us humans have no place in the Bird Wars.

But we are nature, we should not view ourselves as somehow outside, removed from this situation. Before the crows came we lived within a fragile eco-system alongside Charles and Gisella. It was by no means a utopia, but a balance of peace had been established, we were living in relative harmony. And besides, we are in a highly privileged position, with us humans being at the top of the food chain, did Charles build his nest here assured in the knowledge that we could and would protect him when needed? Perhaps he foresaw the Bird Wars, and his nest building was a strategic manoeuvre.

By providing food did we pledge allegiance, strike a bargain with Charles, which, by idly standing by we fail to uphold?

We took our pleasures from his existence, and now that it is not so easy to observe how can we just draw the blinds and turn our backs? After much debate, we agreed that it was indeed, time for an intervention. And so for days we vigilantly kept guard, armed with a slingshot, marbles, rotten fruit and other household missiles. But often it seemed like our fumbling attempts to distract and deter the crows were counter productive, jeopardising the safety of Charles and making his counter attacks fail. Perhaps we were in fact, doing more harm than good. And then we had to ask ourselves:

Who are we, us humans, to assume that we can come to the rescue, like white shining knights, that we even know best when fighting in Bird Wars?

Why should we assume that our attempted intervention would help rather than hinder Charles’ cause, that we can do good in this war? And then the terrible thought occurred to us:

Are we even backing the right side?

Who knows how this war began, and by whom. Perhaps Charles had stolen something valuable from the crows, perhaps their attack is a retaliation. We only jumped in to help when the violence became to much for us to witness, and we were only the spectators. But all wars are long in the making before the first blood is shed, and it is often never a clear battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ Perhaps, even, we unwittingly started the war ourself, were the crows jealous of all that we offered Charles?

However, after some online research we discovered that the insatiable hunger of crows for baby birds is well documented, and they have long been associated with omens of death and destruction. Although confident that we had been supporting the right side we retreated from the front lines, deciding instead to only provide the troops with supplies and moral support.

But how can we know that is the intention of the crows if they are unable to represent themselves? And how do the crows feel about such negative stereotypes and the social stigma created by them? Are they even accurate representations, or have we been reading Pro-Magpie propaganda, can we trust our sources of information?

We found ourselves slowly going mad. I started to feel hatred against all crows. But there were only two in this war! I should not make false accusations and persecute. At this point, horrified by my thoughts, I decided it was high time I returned to the world of humans…only to find that it is no different! Confronted with endless wars and ethical dilemmas, desperately trying to do the right thing if only one could work out what that is.

These ethical dilemmas posed by the Bird Wars are particularly apt when considering the current conflict in The Middle East , and one can only wish that it was as simple as crows versus magpies. It is, on the one hand, a human imperative to assist those who face terror and ask for help. We cannot watch idly from the window, especially when we consider The West’s long historical involvement and destabilisation of the region that has already contributed to the conflict. But picking a particular side to support, and arming different factions is not the answer, particularly when it seems who is considered ‘the enemy’ is a constantly shifting terrain. Nor is dropping bombs a more suitable solution. And I do not wish to resign myself to the idea that this thirst for bloodshed is something natural to humans, something that we cannot overcome.

Despite these difficult questions, we must continue to ask them without allowing ourselves to be brought to a state of inertia, paralysed or silenced by the atrocities we observe. And regardless of our answers, we must provide refuge and humanitarian assistance indiscriminately to the victims of this war, as well as bearing witness, letting the stories of those who face terror be told.

1 I say pet but really it was an egalitarian relationship built upon the basis of mutual respect.

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