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It came at breakfast time – a ferocious squawk from a starling in the garden. Just beyond the glass door, barely a metre from the house, we could see two birds sitting opposite one another. The starling was pressed down with its legs and wings wide apart, yet head bolt upright, and around its suffering breast was the wire cage of sparrowhawk claws. Their owner sat adjacent, its own barred wings and tail silently spread, and at the centre of this awkward drama were the hawk’s glaring eyes.

What struck me most, as the predator went about its suffocating business, painstakingly kneading its prey out of this world, was the total lack of eye contact between the two. Even with the starling’s wide-open beak screaming in its face, the hawk’s head rotated quietly and those yellow irises made a repeat orbit, but never once did the beam touch on its live victim. It was as if the action of the hawk’s own lethal feet were self-willed, or the intimacy of death demanded a degree of privacy or separation.

Next came the feeding, which was as fiercely focused as the killing had been detached. But what connected the two was the precision of the bird of prey. Every feather, down to tiny plumules, was plucked separately; each fid of flesh was incised and swallowed in t …

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The Gaurdian

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