A flicker of movement caught my eye as I sat at my desk. Perched on a fence-post – no, not a thrush, not quite right. I raised the bins to perform one of the routine miracles of the birding life and turned the not-quite thrush into a wholly perfect sparrowhawk.
A male, compact, barred belly, rusty below the chin, bars on the tail. And that face: fierce yellow eye, barbed butcher’s hook of a bill. Hard to look at a raptor and think about anything except perfection.
There was a sense of insolent self-certainty about him. I read into that perched form – facing directly into the big wind and holding tight with those lethal paws — all kinds of messages of swaggering confidence. He looked like a bird that had it made.
How can we humans understand the doubts and uncertainties that surround the life of a top predator? The truth of the matter is that the predator has the hardest way of life of all. This buffeting weather made it a doubly difficult day for a flying hunter.
Most of the little, edible birds were hunkered down, out of sight. Those that took to the air were ten times harder to catch in these testing conditions. Even on good days most attacks end in failure. Here was a day on which starvation beckoned to all sparrowhawks apart from the very lucky and the very skilled.
We love to look at a bird and see a symbol: and so a sparrowhawk is a thing of terrible ferocity: brilliant, implacable, remorseless, certain. But this wild killer before me was perhaps eaten up with hunger, fear, worry, doubt, insecurity.
In my sportswriting career I have heard tales of self-doubt from some of the greatest athletes that ever drew breath. Today I got the same message from this hawk of truth.