Saturday, November 21, 2015

Chasing the American Kestrel

By Becky Swearingen

I spent the summer chasing one of my favorite raptors, the American Kestrel. They lead me a merry chase for most of the summer until the last two weeks. I have found these birds to be very shy. When perched on a fence post or on a power line, about the time you get your camera ready to take a picture, they move to the next fence post or power line. About two weeks ago, though, I began to get lucky.

I first ran into a cooperative Kestrel at Providence Prairie after spending time with the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society wandering around prairies looking for sparrows. At the end of the day, I decided to swing by Providence Prairie in Dade County just to see what was around. I have seen Kestrels here before, but they usually lead me around the perimeter going from pole to pole. This day, I saw a Kestrel on a fence post and inched closer and closer to try to get a shot and it, as usual, took to the wing landing on another fence post. This time, however, when I got to where it was, it stayed and I finally got a shot off.

Then the fun began as the Kestrel began hunting for insects in the prairie. It eventually came up with what I believe is a Katydid, landing on a nearby power line. Kestrels are the smallest raptors in the United States.  They often hunt by surveying their surroundings from a pole or fence post, which is what this one was doing.

Northern Mockingbird and Kestrel sharing a wire
To give a nice idea of size, a Northern Mockingbird lighted next to it for a few minutes and I got a shot of the two of them side-by-side.  This Kestrel was in the same location the next day and seemed to have decided the crazy lady with the camera was not a threat. In fact, it found me rather interesting.

I was very happy with my encounter with the Kestrel and with the opportunity to watch it hunt and to photograph this beautiful bird. The next weekend I decided to head to Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie in St. Clair County to see what was happening and what I did I find, but another very cooperative Kestrel. This one did something the previous Kestrel did not do, though. It hunted by hovering and striking its prey. This is a common way for Kestrels to hunt, but I had not gotten to see the behavior up close before. Lighting was not great, so getting this action in a picture was a bit challenging.

Kestrel hovering on the hunt
`My patience paid off, though, when the Kestrel caught a mouse.

Airborne mouse - the seating is like American Airlines out of Springfield, tight and painful.
And in the flash of an eye (or a camera shutter), transferred it to its mouth. You can just see the tail hanging down below its wing.

Dinner on the fly
My final shot before leaving this lovely bird to its dinner was a second catch it made after hovering over the prairie, catching its prey and landing on an old stump. Not sure what it has, but it is possibly a ground squirrel.

Kestrel with ground squirrel?
It was a pleasure to get to observe these raptors up close and personal. I know where both of these two hunt and I’ll be back to spend more time visiting them and, hopefully, getting more shots of them in their environment. I have found that no matter where I go in Missouri or what time of year it is, something interesting is always happening.

I was speechless to get this great set of pictures from our new Master Naturalist, Becky Swearingen.  OK, for those who know me, speechless is unlikely, more like blown away.  There will be more from our great new class over the next year.

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