I could only see her shadow, and at a glance I took her for some passive thrush or dove. But the roar of the hens made me turn my head and squint down into the sunshine from my office chair; a female goshawk slammed into the small gathering of bantams at the bottom of the garden, sending young chicks somersaulting into the brambles.
Tumbling together into the ferns, the most appalling screams began to ring around the garden and up into the oak trees. One of the smaller black bantams was engulfed inside barred wings like gulping jaws that swallowed her up in a deep, all-encompassing bear hug. Inside this cage, well-knuckled talons worked quickly to get a proper grip on the meat.
The exchange was still not decided in the time it took me to run outside, and the hawk’s wings hissed with grand, frustrated beats as I ran in to break them up and salvage the shreds of chicken which still remained. With clumsy good-humour, the dog wandered over and for a second we were almost too close. I had a vision of streaky breast feathers and a savage, fearless white eyebrow over yellow eyes, then she was gone into the swaying birch-tops, leaving a mess of black feathers in her wake.
To her credit, the little bantam had survived the assault and buried herself in the tangled mesh of brambles and hawthorn. The chicks had vanished, and only after twenty minutes did they start to creep out into the sunshine again.