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burst cushions and breakfast assassins

November 26, 2009

Often, walking in woods and fields here, we come across little scatterings of grey and white feathers on the grass, as if someone has burst a small cushion. While I’ve always known that these are the remains of something’s meal, I’ve never known for certain what the something was. A buzzard seemed most likely, as we have a great many of them; but I am not sure if they catch birds on the wing. (Can anyone enlighten me?) A fox seems possible, but there is little other evidence of foxes around here. Last year we saw a hawk take out a blue tit from our bird table, which was dramatic (and which put the other little birds off their lunch for some time, understandably). Would the local hawks be capable of taking out something as big as a wood pigeon, though? I thought not.

A few mornings ago, however, I had opened the shutters in our bedroom and was looking out across the fields to gauge the level of the river, which was running very high after all the heavy rain. Our bedroom is on the top floor of the castle, which is itself built on a little escarpment on that side, so it is rather like standing at a window on a cliff face. Frequently one sees crows or swans beating past below the window, or bats flitting out from under the slates on summer evenings. This particular morning, as I stood at the high window, there was suddenly an explosion of movement about 20 feet in front of my eyes. A wood pigeon had been flying slowly past when suddenly a hawk, a peregrine falcon I think, slammed into it – bang! – from above. The tangled bodies fell fluttering towards the earth, leaving a small puff of feathers floating innocently on the morning air. The pigeon was bigger than the hawk and put up a desperate fight, but the hawk’s talons were locked fast into its back. The two birds tumbled over and over before landing in the field far below, with the hawk pinned upside-down under the pigeon’s flapping body. Unperturbed, the little predator began pecking (as far as I could make out) at the neck of its victim, plucking feathers out of the way  and scattering them over the grass while the pigeon’s flutterings grew progressively weaker. After several long, long minutes, the flutterings stopped, and the hawk – now disengaged from the body of the pigeon and sitting coolly on top of it – was able to enjoy its breakfast in peace.

I enjoyed my breakfast too: but I thought about the pigeon all morning.

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