Saturday, 19 November 2016

Bird of the week - Kestrel

This is a bird we normally see hovering beside the road as we drive past.  Seeing the colours close up makes it such a pity it is so difficult to get close to in the wild.  I love the colour co-ordination of the eyes, nostrils and feet.  Earlier in the year I went on a Birds of Prey photoshoot with Alan Hewitt and Andy Howey and met this male kestrel which is a hand-reared captive bird.  Unfortunately it has a damaged beak and it was harder for Andy to hide the bird's jesses - so it was a less perfect photographic model than the owls but it was still wonderful to be able to see such a beautiful creature.

Andy had a pocketful of (dead) mice to feed the birds with.  Because this is a captive bird it cannot hunt for itself but it certainly knows how to deal with a mouse (I have spared you the gory bits).

Like most of our birds of prey the kestrel is in decline.  It recovered from poisoning by organochlorine pesticides in the 1970s but has done less well in recent years.

The BTO BirdAtlas distribution maps show it is much less abundant in western Scotland, Wales and southwest England.

Thomas Bewick engraved the kestrel for his A History of British Birds (1797).  The name windhover is self-explanatory. Stonegall and stannel are probably corruptions of stand-gale, also describing the bird's ability to hover motionless in the wind.

In the Book of St Albans (1486) the kestrel was the lowest in the hierarchy of birds for falconry, suitable only for knaves and servants.

Our word for the kestrel comes from the French crécerelle (Faucon crécerelle). The kestrel's scientific name is Falco tinnunculus, meaning shrill falcon.  You can listen to the kestrel's call here.  Watch a BTO video on identification of kestrel and merlin here or hobby and kestrel here.  And listen to the BBC Radio 4 Tweet of the Day on kestrel here.

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