Riding a thermal ever higher
With its clutched prize, the lammergeier

Forgets the blood sports of the plain
And banks to swoop again, again

Towards one chosen spot. Released,
The femur of a wildebeest,

Bare bone, no flesh or sinew, plummets
Some thirty feet to a cliff summit’s

Rock ledge, whacks it and bounces back
And somersaults but does not crack,

Turns cartwheels threatening to kiss
The sheer brink of the precipice,

And gradually comes to rest,
Unshatterable. Too possessed

By purpose to grow bored or tire,
Time after time the lammergeier

Retrieves the hunk of limb and flies
Aloft to repeat the exercise.

At last the perfect placement strikes
The thigh-bone into shards and spikes,

Sharp delicacies to excite
That strange and perilous appetite.

With the sickening precision seen
In a sword-swallower’s routine,

It juggles and contrives to get
A gizzard-skewering bayonet

Of bone into its gaping beak
And gulp, with aeons of technique,

The full length, inch by gruesome inch,
Down its gullet, and does not flinch.

There hardly seems the room to slide
That stomach-puncturing blade inside

Its body. It does not slump or stagger.
Then picks out one more jagged dagger.

Photograph: Noel Reynolds, Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus), 2008.