- "American Kestral." Mountains Group. Sierra Club. Accessed April 14, 2014.
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.
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.
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!