ThistleNovember 10, 2014
This weeks featured imageNovember 14, 2014
If you see a medium sized bird hovering about twenty five feet above the ground over a field in the countryside, or especially over the embankment of a motorway, it will probably be a Kestrel. These motorway embankments have become a common haunt for them and helped their numbers to increase. Kestrels are our most common falcon and are masters of the wind; they can hover almost motionless in even a strong gust. They do this by facing into the oncoming wind and adjusting their wings and tail instinctively to make adjustments in their attitude so they stay in exactly the same position. Whilst doing this they can keep a sharp eye on the ground looking for the slightest movement of any small creatures on which to drop. As well as being masters of the wind they have other capabilities to help them. Kestrels, like buzzards, Peregrines and other birds of prey have very sharp eyesite, far better than humans, to be more precise their eyes have far better ‘resolving power’ than ours. Another capability they have which we certainly don’t is the ability to see in the ultra violet, this makes the urine of small animals like voles appear to be bright green and allows the kestrel to spot them from high in the air.
Kestrels don’t just hover, they also circle from higher above. This is their first searching method, they circle like buzzards but not as high, perhaps about forty or fifty feet. Only when they spot a potential victim do they drop to a lower height and hover, this allows them to get a closer look.
They feed mainly on small animals like voles, mice and lizards but will sometimes catch small birds or even a day flying bat. They are also known to eat snakes and on a trip to Barnburgh Castle in Northumberland I was once lucky enough to get some pictures and video of one doing just that. The kestrel in the pictures below dropped down into the grass growing on the sand dunes just fifteen feet away from me as I was watching it hovering above. It looked at me, seemingly quite undeterred by my presence, then looked down into the grass below it’s feet. I could see through my long camera lens it was eating what looked like a snake. It must have landed right on it and pinned it to the ground as it made no effort to catch it after landing. I was lucky enough to get a close up of the snake in it’s bill.
Kestrels make their nests of twigs and often use an old nest of another bird. They will nest in trees or on cliff edges.