Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mr. Kestrel Gets Lunch and Battles Wits with Crows

American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
Considered a true Falcon; It's about the size of a Blue Jay. And, thank goodness, a plucky country individual who could not have cared less that I was watching.
Temperature- 43 F.
Smoke from Autumn leaf burning
Wind-Irregular gusts
County Road M

12:05:01PM Hunting success depends to a great extent on surprise. Kestrel sits quietly on an electrical wire first scanning one area and then another. Suddenly he stoops into a ditch.

12 05 24 He reappears, no prey, and selects a new position on the wire.

12:06:11PM Another swoop, and he returns to a new wire position with something small in his talons perhaps an invertebrate and eats it before I get a look.

12 08 12 New perch on wire adjacent to field of corn stubble. He looks alert and tenses.

12:08:31PM He triangulates, then the tension is released. He scans.

12:10:33PM Suddenly his head whips around, he's off the wire, hovers in the air, and then dives.

12:11:34PM Another new perch, slightly more screened by trees. He lands with a vole in his talons.

12:11:45PM Kestrel scans the area at his level.

12:12:18PM Then begins to prepare prey.

12:13:01PM See the contraction of his muscles as he attempts to get the prey open. Also note spot on top of head.




12:16:40PM Wing flap. Gust of wind? Just loss of balance due to holding prey on wire?

12:17:18PM Head up from eating. Listening?

12:17:49PM He's very alert and turns to watch opposite direction. Note how he has "squatted" on the prey, obscuring it partially. A completely different stance than his previous perching with the vole. He's up and then heads down into the cornfield stubble. I can't spot him.

12:19:37PM Suddenly Kestrel smartly maneuvers back towards me through the more densely vegetated portion of the border of the cornfield and lands on the sign. I can't see if he still has the vole or not. He watches as three American Crows fly over the cornfield.
A threesome of crows is often the number in a group that harasses other creatures for food. At the Red-tail nest at St. John the Divine, three crows work together in attempts to molest the eyasses. It was three Crows who attempted to steal the freshly caught prey of a Red-tail I watched mantling her catch in a cornfield last Autumn. They circled her on the ground getting closer and closer until she took off for the woods carrying her dinner with the Crows pursuing her for all they were worth.
But in this case the Crows seem to have flown over Kestrel. Kestrel takes to the air, whips through the branches in the hedgerow as only a falcon can do, and out of sight. I then see him again apparently coming from the cornfield he'd disappeared into previously. This time I can see the prey in his small very sharp talons. He hot wings it across the road and into a tree that is still densely leafed. He intends to eat dinner in a more secluded spot.
Did he stash his vole in the cornfield and then retrieve it again? I lean towards that ploy. But perhaps he only pretended to hide it and then squatted on his prey behind the edge of the sign as the Crows flew over. Either way, he's a very clever Kestrel.
Donegal Browne

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