The Parable of Hawk and Squirrel

This looks like a good tree… (Image from mariuszopole via Pixabay)

A young squirrel, having come of age, needed to find a new territory to build his drey and after much travel, came across a massive oak dominating the landscape. ‘This will be my new home,’ he thought, and quickly started to collect twigs and leaves to build it.

Many hours into the process, a large hawk swooped into the upper branches of the oak. Squirrel froze instinctively, realizing suddenly why this tree had not been occupied by other squirrels.

After observing the motionless squirrel for a time, Hawk said, “Silly squirrel, do you think I do not see you?”

Fearing a trick, the squirrel did not reply.

Hawk continued, “I am a talented hunter. Do not be afraid as I do not need your meat. You may nest in my tree and I will leave you be.”

Squirrel, skittish as their kind are, did not trust Hawk, but having invested so much in his new home, decided to continue to build it, though keep his guard up. On his first night, he stayed awake, ready to flee at the slightest disturbance. But nothing happened. The second night, sleep overtook him. And still, he woke up unscathed.

“This isn’t the squirrel I’m looking for….” (Image from Kevinsphotos via Pixabay)

Soon, Hawk and Squirrel became cordial neighbors. Indeed, Squirrel prospered in this relationship as Hawk often left bones and grizzle, which supplemented Squirrel’s diet nicely. And with Hawk as sentinel, few other squirrels ventured under his oak to sample its excellent acorns (or disturb his many caches of nuts). ‘Yes,’ Squirrel reflected, ‘This is a good life.’ Though, now and again, he would wonder what Hawk gets from their association.

Then, one day, Hawk returned to the tree with an injured wing, and barely managed to get back to his nest.

Squirrel felt bad, but didn’t know how he could help. ‘Can I bring Hawk food? Water?’ Squirrel wondered, but quickly got distracted by the sound of falling acorns, reminding him of the many nuts he still needed to collect before winter arrived.

I might not be able to fly, but I can still hop! (Image from Kevinsphotos via Pixabay)

However, Squirrel did not wonder long.

In a few nights, Hawk fluttered down slowly, silently, branch by branch, and positioned himself outside the entrance to Squirrel’s drey. As Squirrel exited for his early morning gathering run, Hawk pounced, seizing Squirrel by his neck, and squeezed.

Choking, Squirrel squeaked out, “Wh-why? I thought we were neighbors.”

“We are,” replied Hawk. “And that is why I spared you. So that if ever the need arose when I couldn’t hunt, you’d be there for me.”

Hawk, without remorse, ate Squirrel. And over time, his wound healed and he hunted far across the wood again.

Now I am ready to hunt! (Image from Pixabay with modifications by Ayhan Assadourian)


This fable was inspired by two things. First, a red-tailed hawk recently graced me with a visit to my friend the River Birch, where he spent an evening and then a morning eating a squirrel (or what looked to be the remains of one). Second, Aesop’s fable about an eagle, pig, and cat, in which an eagle and swine die, manipulated by a cat to not trust each other. The cat convinces them that each is trying to eat the other’s young—so neither risk hunting or foraging, and thus starve, with the cat feasting on the bodies of both. That seemed silly to me (especially the part about the cat convincing the eagle that the pig is trying to uproot the tree), but reminded me of the Indigenous wisdom of not hunting and gathering near your camp. Why? Because if ever you are injured, that easy-to-get wood and food will be there for you—which could mean the difference between life and death. So keep that inner zone unharvested for times of need. That is a lesson worth remembering.

The Hawk rules his roost. Others are just his guests. (Image from Dall-E)

Hawk understood this and cultivated the squirrel, like a rancher (or even a Mafioso) offering protection for a time, but then when expedient, taking Squirrel’s life. This may feel wrong, though unless you eat no meat, use no wood or paper products, and eat no annual grains or vegetables, this is how all of us live. The difference is only that the dispatching of our livestock is out of sight (and thus we are spared of its inherent violence).

The fable is also a reminder that we are all interwoven into the tapestry of life—in a web of interdependent relationships, and that all choices we make come with consequences, whether building on the coast during times of sea level rise, in desert areas in times of increasing drought, or under the nest of a dangerous predator (particularly if you’re a squirrel). In other words, think through the possible outcomes before putting yourself into danger, when you have yet to invest in that decision.

And since I’m writing in clichés, the fable is also a reminder to always look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth. Squirrel should have suspected—considering the unidirectional nature of the relationship he so enjoyed—that Hawk might have his own reasons for being generous, that he may hold a different interest than Squirrel. If so, Squirrel might have realized that what Hawk got out of the relationship was insurance, in case a quick source of food was needed. So in other words, consider the motives behind actions of others—something the protagonists of Aesop’s tale also failed to do.

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  1. Erik Assadourian

    One reader asked:
    “So, are we to live always out of, and under, a cloud of suspicion? Is no one ever to be trusted?”

    My reply:
    No, this is not the Aesop fable I referred to (where all others’ motives are suspect). We are, as karate teaches, to be zanshin (constant awareness) of how the world works. And to not trust (especially in this day and age of pig butchering) things that are too good to be true. The squirrel can trust the oak to be a strong home and provider of food. And can trust the hawk to be a hawk–a predator who eats squirrels.

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