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The Pecking Order of Nature

Out in the Backyard

I was sitting in a lawn chair out back. Pretty evening, about seventy, no wind to speak of, me and Bev sitting in front of the aviary watching the quail move around doing their quail things. The chickens we keep at home were scratching at the ground in search of tiny morsels, a bedtime snack if you will.

We have seven chickens in the backyard roaming free, another twenty or twenty-five in a separate aviary, a safe place for those younger ones to grow up, and maybe seventy-five out at our son’s farm. The seven roaming around our legs that night are mostly our originals from three years ago . . . hmmm . . . four are originals, I think. Several died over the years and were replaced. Anyway, the “originals” were enjoying the quiet summer evening, close by the only humans there have ever known, everyone content.

It got me thinking, which may or may not be a good thing, but there’s no stoppin’ it. I remembered back when one of the original seven died and we introduced a new one to that flock. It did not go well at all, us being new at that sort of thing, not knowing the pecking order in nature. The “originals” picked on that newcomer, chased her away from food, literally pecked on her head until her feathers were missing and she was bleeding. We had to separate her from the flock and let her heal before we introduced her again. The second time went better. I won’t say she was immediately loved by the others, but she knew her place, which was basically bottom of the totem pole, so the others left her alone. Still to this day, a year-and-a-half later, she is the one who is last to grab treats when I throw them out. She stands off and waits while the others eat first, and then she will venture in and grab the leftovers.

The pecking order

The pecking order

Night Night Time

Same thing happens when they enter the coop at night. In the chicken world, the “top dog” grabs the highest rung of the roost, that being the safest place, higher off the ground, in case a predator should somehow get inside the coop. The others, according to pecking order, will fill in spaces below the leader of the pack, so it stands to reason that the newest chicken is always at the bottom of the “tower of power.”

And on a larger scale the same thing happens out at the farm with the seventy-five. There is always jostling going on as the chickens determine their rightful place in that world. A couple have died out there from being picked on. I suspect a couple didn’t make it because of malnutrition, they being constantly harassed at mealtime.

The pecking order of nature!


It’s Not Just Chickens

One time, while visiting Yellowstone National Park (my favorite place on this planet), I was lucky enough to see two bull elk battling it out for supremacy, charging at each other, heads down, butting into each other, their brilliant antlers reverberating with each collision, the echo of their struggle heard for, literally, miles in Hayden Valley. When the battle ended the vanquished limped off while the victor breathed loudly, the cold air pluming from his nostrils, and surveyed his winnings.

I also saw the carcass of a mule deer, by the road, torn to pieces, most likely by a grizzly, the strong getting stronger, the weak a pile of bones and fly-drenched raw meat.

And road-kill, of course, always road-kill, many a lump of flesh on the road, the obvious outcome when a manmade invention weighing several thousand pounds, propelled by three-hundred horses, meets a four-legged omnivore without body armor.

And leaving Yellowstone we heard, during a rest stop, the sound of gunfire in the distance, a hunter, no doubt, downing an antelope or black beer or deer, establishing the pecking order in brutal fashion, 21st Century weaponry meets Bambi in a battle as old as mankind.

On the African Plains

I used to love watching National Geographic specials about Africa, the thousands upon thousands of animals roaming the Serengeti, all in search of water, all in search of food, and the strong survived, the weak were eaten, the straggler nothing more than a moving meal for the next in line in that natural pecking order, absolutely stunning in its ferocity, God bless the meek, for they shall inherit, or something like that, no inheriting happening on the Serengeti, not with the harsh sun beating out a rhythm of pain on the baked earth.

But we expect all that as part of the natural order of things, the strong survive, the weak perish, that’s the way it’s always been in nature, that’s the way it will always be, what do they know, dumb animals, pure instincts, nothing more, can’t expect anything from an animal lacking reason and empathy and compassion, attributes all common and all abundant in the king of the animal hierarchy . . . MAN!

Now We’re Talking, Folks

Man! The Top Dog in the animal kingdom, the ruler of all before him, at the top of the ladder because of his ability to reason, to problem solve, to see all that is before him and make rational decisions for the common good.

Man! The most compassionate of all the animals . . . surely the barbaric system of pecking order does not apply within mankind . . . surely we have evolved beyond those primal roots . . .


If you truly believe that, I have some oceanfront property in Kansas I’d like to sell you.

If you truly believe that, you have not witnessed what I have witnessed in my lifetime.

I would submit to you that any species which blithely turns a blind eye on a billion dollar industry like sex trafficking has not evolved nearly as far as we would like to believe.

I would submit to you that any species which allows the weak and disadvantaged to starve to death, whether it be in Mali or Mississippi or the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation, has not evolved nearly as far as we would like to believe.

And I would submit to you that any species which takes advantage of those who cannot rise above that bottom rung on the roosting ladder has not evolved nearly as far as we would like to believe.

How far have we evolved?

How far have we evolved?

We Are Better Than This . . . or Are We?

I’ve seen it as a teacher, the bullying at an early age . . .

I’ve seen it countless times as an adult, the lynching tree in New Iberia Parish in Louisiana, the deplorable nursing homes in Tacoma, the Skid Rows in Los Angeles and Seattle and Chicago.

I’ve seen it far too many times for one lifetime, and every single time I see it I say to myself “surely this won’t happen again, surely we will rise above our animal origins, surely we will become the better angels we were intended to be . . .

But then I pick up the newspaper, or turn on the daily news channel, and proof of the opposite slams into my gut with the force of a thousand dying, with the force of a thousand crying, with the force of a hurricane of misery ignored, blithely pushed aside, discounted, reduced to column inches on Page Twelve, a two-minute sound bite before news of a tractor pull competition or the latest nonsense about the Hollywood elite filing for divorce, and we eat our Swanson TV Dinner, take a shot of Jack Daniels, and convince ourselves that it does not concern us, that it does not affect us, that it’s none of our business.

And up above, far beyond our capabilities of sight, the angels weep.

2018 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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