Sunday, April 13, 2014

Kestrals: Beauty in the Sky

American Kestral (Falco Sparvius) at The Desert Museum in Tuscon, Arizona. Photo by government employee in public domain. 

Of all the birds of prey I see in the American Southwest I think my favorite is the little Kestral, a member of the falcon family that is often called a "Sparrowhawk." I have seen some with such intense colors they are stunning. I see them the most in Colorado, and it is said that their numbers are low, but I see them often, especially in Larimer County. In Fact, I had close to a hundred photographs of them when I accidentally dropped and smashed my computer and lost every last one. It was a great loss, too, because they photograph very well! 

A Small Bird With a lot of Power! 

The first time I saw a Kestral I thought I was looking at a parakeet with its blue wings and small beak, then I came closer in my truck and realized it was much too large for a parakeet. I pulled over to watch the bird, which was also watching me. Or so I thought. Seconds later it was off the telephone post and on the ground with a mouse in its talons. They are swift, effective hunters!

American Kestral at The Desert Museum in Tuscon, Arizona on the hand of a docent. Photo by government employee in public domain. 

Hunting Habits

As a devout vegetarian it sometimes feels odd to admire the hunting skills of animals, but this is the natural state of the predator--to hunt--and their unique styles and behaviors are admirable! 

"Run away! Run away!" My garden mouse that climbs the shrub and eats the bird seeds. 
Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I think its funny when Westerns show Turkey Vultures circling around a dying man, not that it's amusing to think of a man dying, but Turkey Vultures eat vegetarian animals and avoid human carcasses. It circles because it likes to play on the warm updrafts of air.

Turkey Vulture watching me from a tree in Utah. My neighbors in Texas used to call me "Vulture Food" because they thought it was amusing that I am a vegetarian (and for some odd reason, the vultures liked to hang out at my house!) This vulture is actually spreading its wings because it's taking a sun bath. It most likely just finished eating and is spreading its wings so the air dries the food particles on its feathers and the food drops off to the ground. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

The America Kestral's unique hunting behavior involves hovering with rapid wing beats that somehow remind me of hummingbirds. The Kestral will keep its head motionless, scanning the ground for its prey. It will also perch on places like telephone poles--which is where I generally see these birds--then pounce on its prey when it appears beneath it. Their favorite foods are mice and small mammals, birds, insects, earthworms, reptiles and amphibians. 

"Honey, dinner is here!" Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

When Kestrals are feeding a brood they will often store food in homes abandoned by woodpeckers, or in rock crevices, on river banks, and sometimes on top of buildings, in tree roots, tree limbs--pretty much any place they can find a crack or crevice.  

It was a two for one dinner special. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

How could an earthworm feed a bird of prey? Well, Kestrals are actually the smallest falcons in North America. They are 8 1/2 inches tall with a wingspan of 21 inches. 

A male American Kestral at the Canadian Raptor Conservancy, Canada. Photo by Vince Maidens.

American Kestrals are also unique in their nesting style. They do not create huge stick nests like hawks and eagles, they use cavities in trees like owls and because of their small size they do not require a large space. If you've ever seen an eagle's nest, you know what I mean!

American Kestral (Falco sparverius) at the Louisville Zoo. Photo by Ltshears.

So here's to the American Kestral, my favorite bird of prey, and thank you to all of the photographers who posted their photos online for the use of others. 

In the A to Z Bloggers Challenge K is for Kestral!


SA Larsenッ said...

Definitely a beautiful bird. I love it's name, too.

Sheri at Writer's Alley

Home of Rebel Writer CREED 2014
Mighty Minion Bureau Team #atozchallenge

Darla Sue Dollman said...

I agree--I think they're stunning!

Stephanie Faris said...

I think it's funny that you're a vegetarian and your house attracts vultures somehow. Why are they choosing your house? Kestrals are definitely beautiful. I know absolutely nothing about birds--just, "Hey, look, there's a bird." That's as far as I get with it!

Darla Sue Dollman said...

We don't see many vultures in New Mexico, that was our house in Texas. I am a big fan of the little creatures and I had food and water dishes all over our five acre property to help care for the animals during the drought. There was a thick forest behind us, so thick you could barely walk through it, and there were some dead trees due to the drought. The vultures like to land on dead trees because their wings are so huge--it's easier to take off. We also lived in the Hill Country, and in the Texas Hill Country there are so many animals it is mind-boggling. Therefore, there is also a lot of road kill. I think they lived in the forest behind our house so they could clean up the road nearby. They like to live in families, large groups, so it makes sense that there were many of them. I liked to watch them, too. It's hard to say why they chose one house over another. I know there was a business in the nearby town that had a flat roof and the black vultures liked to sit on their roof because it gave them a few feet to run before they took off. Then again, I have dozens of photographs of a tree in Utah where a family--a venue--of vultures lives (the neighbors have tried to cut down the tree, but the city council refuses because the birds and their habitat are protected by the migratory bird act) and the tree is ancient, but full of life and leaves and attracts dozens of vultures in spite of the difficulties with take off. To be honest...I don't know! Lol! As you can see, I've thought about it often, though!

Anonymous said...

Kestrells are indeed beautiful birds, and your photos are amazing! Back home we had red-tailed haws and infrequently bald eagles, but here in Kyoto we hate kites. They're about the size of the red-tails but they look more like miniature eagles.

They're also super bold. A kite swooped down between me and Alex during a picnic one day and took the sandwich right out of her hands! I could feel its feathers on my face!

Darla Sue Dollman said...

WOW! That is so bold it's scary! I thought Kites were the size of eagles. Hopefully they are smaller. I know the feeling of a bird's wings. It is wonderful and exciting when they are tiny hummingbirds, but I had a flock of Canadian Geese fly right over my head once this winter and felt the beat of the air beneath their wings and it was scary! Birds can be aggressive sometimes! Thanks for reading my blog, and thank you even more for telling me your story--I love sharing stories!