Kestrels, the Smallest Falcon

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Often mis­tak­en for a Hawk, the Kestrel is too small for a Hawk. This beau­ti­ful bird, a young adult male Kestrel, is the small­est in the fal­con fam­i­ly of rap­tors. You’ll see Kestrels perched on tele­phone or pow­er lines, where you are not like­ly to find Hawks. Hawks will sit on the cross bars, but rarely on the lines them­selves.

This hand­some young adult male still car­ries some of his juve­nile chest mark­ings. Here is an old­er male show­ing us his fine gray feath­ered wings.

Just to be fair, here are two pho­tos of female Kestrels.

Obvi­ous­ly she is on the hunt. Unlike some birds, male and female Kestrels don’t seem to hunt very close to each oth­er, at least I haven’t seen them do that.

And she brings her catch to a favorite perch for lunch.

Kestrels also perch on fence posts and tall poles where they look most­ly for large insects such as grasshop­pers, pota­to bugs, crick­ets. (A bit of green, a bit of brown, a bit of black sup­ply appro­pri­ate­ly var­ied anti-oxi­dants, you know.)  Here are three shots of a male, watch­ing, launch­ing and final­ly, snack­ing on his catch.

Male Kestrelmale Kestrel launchingmale Kestrel snacking on a cricket

I’ve noticed more Kestrels this year than in the last few, all across the North Bay from San Rafael to Lodi. Don’t know why, but the food sup­ply must be OK or they would have moved on. Grace­ful in flight, they are fun to watch. Kestrels are eas­i­er to watch than Hawks. Hawks will leave and fly a long way off as soon as you get out of your car. As often as not, they will cir­cle and climb until they are hard to see. But Kestrels are used to mov­ing up and down the length of the pow­er lines and then back again. So, if you think you have scared one away, just wait, he or she will like­ly be back soon.

Watch­ing their sud­den dives and cap­tures fol­lowed by the flight back to where they start­ed, with their prey in their tiny beaks, is well worth the short wait.

male Kestrel in flightmale Kestrel, making a sharp turnThese two shots are of a male Kestrel who snatched up a grass sprig along with the bee­tle which you can bare­ly see.

Kestrel with grass

male Kestrel dragging a sprig

Look­ing very much like a knight of old with his foot on the “Drag­on” this Kestrel sticks a clas­sic vic­to­ry pose.

Kestrel with a Green Dragon  GrasshopperKestrels most­ly eat small bugs and insects but will occa­sion­al­ly, when food is scarce, attack and cap­ture small birds. Usu­al­ly weak­er ones that can­not get away.

male American Kestrel with small birdKestrels are adapt­able. They live all over North Amer­i­ca and do not seem to migrate each year as much as oth­er birds. Kestrels will hov­er, like White-tail kites do, but much clos­er to the ground.

Kestrel in a climb

Kestrels are a chal­lenge to pho­to­graph. It took me sev­er­al years to be able to track and cap­ture them in flight. But it was great fun, even the missed shots.

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8 Responses to Kestrels, the Smallest Falcon

  1. David Colton says:

    Great­ly enjoyed the pho­tos and text. Thanks.

    Here in San Diego the num­bers of all birds, espe­cial­ly rap­tors, is way down I believe due to our mul­ti-year drought. San Diego is semi-desert/chap­per­al aver­ag­ing about 11″ of rain a year. We are very thank­ful for this past win­ter with an above nor­mal 12″ of rain but it will take more than one rainy year to heal the land.

    Five or six years ago Kestrels were com­mon here but we’ve not seen one this year, and we get out to wild or semi wild areas almost every day rain or shine for exer­cise and to pho­to­graph birds, insects, and any­thing else beau­ti­ful or inter­est­ing.

    • admin says:

      I agree, the hot weath­er has cut our bird pop­u­la­tion up her in the Bay Area great­ly, too.

  2. Fred Curchack says:

    I was delight­ed to meet you at Grace’s par­ty. Your pho­tos are superb and these kestrel shots and obser­va­tions are remark­able! Thank you.

  3. Corona says:

    You sure have mas­tered the chal­lenge! This is a great read and lift­ed me out of myself when I wasn’t feel­ing too good. Thanks.

  4. Sally Burr says:

    wow, these kestral shots are so fan­tas­tic! you get the shots. thank you Richard

  5. Penny says:

    Thanks, Richard. This beau­ti­ful kestrel sequence is a great way to start the new year. I’m so hap­py that you and tech­nol­o­gy allow us all to share your pas­sion. Hap­py New Year!!

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