Pint-sized Killer - American Kestrel

Pint-sized Killer - American Kestrel

Nov. 11, 2016 ~ My sources say American Kestrels are in our area year round, but we see more starting in November as the northern residents come south for the winter. The last time we went to Surfside, there seemed to be a Kestrel perched on wires between every other utility pole.

range map.JPG

They are the smallest falcon, about the same size as the Mourning Doves or Blue Jays you see in your neighborhood. Length is between 8 - 12 inches, with a wing span of 20-24 inches. The males have slate-blue wings while the females are mostly brown. A really pretty little bird belying the fact it is a stone cold killer!

Coastal Texas is flat and marshy; utility poles may be the highest perch for miles. Seeing a Kestrel on the wires calls up the following mental gymnastics:

Dove? no ....Starling? no

OMG it is a Kestrel!

You can usually stop the vehicle and maybe raise the camera to the window before the bird flies. If you try to move closer, the bird flies. If you turn off the engine, the bird flies. If you get out of the vehicle, the bird flies. More opportunities are lost with Kestrels than any other bird, IMO. They seem to notice when the engine slows down and then bolt.

Female Kestrel with a scratch.  Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4 TC; 1/1250 sec f/7.1 ISO 400; braced on truck

Female Kestrel with a scratch. 
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4 TC; 1/1250 sec f/7.1 ISO 400; braced on truck

This female Kestrel was snug up against a short utility pole in Surfside last week. We had hiked down some mud flats in pursuit of a Reddish Egret and just returned to the truck when I happened to look up. I propped the big lens on a bean bag in the opening of the door and got off a few shots before she flew.

Female Kestrel giving me the eye Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC;   1/500 sec f/6.3 ISO 1250; braced in window

Female Kestrel giving me the eye
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC;   1/500 sec f/6.3 ISO 1250; braced in window

A rare shot of a Kestrel not on a wire. Another female on a spiky palm tree in Galveston off 8 1/2 Mile Rd taken in January. I was still pretty new at using the 500mm for this shot; it was taken from the passenger window.

Kestrel in flight Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC;   1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 640; tripod

Kestrel in flight
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC;   1/2000 sec f/6.3 ISO 640; tripod

Kestrels hunt for field mice and small rodents, grasshoppers, beetles , dragonflies and other insects. They will eat small snakes, lizards and frogs plus little songbirds. They are fast but sometimes you can catch a hover as they spy prey on the ground. I think this is one of the only series I have of a Kestrel in flight.

Male Kestrel with mouse Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC;  1/2000 sec f/8.0 ISO 640; braced on truck

Male Kestrel with mouse
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC;  1/2000 sec f/8.0 ISO 640; braced on truck

Last week we had hit all the usual places at Surfside and decided to make a run up Blue Water Highway to San Luis Pass in hopes the puddles next to the beach would have some interesting birds. Bill Maroldo spotted this male Kestrel with a mouse on the other side of the road. He crossed over and drove carefully along the shoulder (the wrong way). The Kestrel flew as we approached, but only a short distance.

We caught up with him and while he was busy eating I slipped out and got a lot of shots propped on the hood of the truck. I love the raised foot and flared tail feathers. And they are very dainty eaters. Some raptors just gulp down the prey whole, but Kestrels tear out the parts they want, discarding most of the fur.

Kestrel with mouse Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC;   1/2000 sec f/8.0 ISO 640; braced on truck

Kestrel with mouse
Sony A77II with Sony f/4 500 G + 1.4x TC;   1/2000 sec f/8.0 ISO 640; braced on truck

Doesn't he look majestic? And he is a pint-sized hawk that is sometimes a meal for a larger hawks, owls and even rat snakes.

I can't believe he stayed on the wire for so long; I got 72 shots. Wow.

Welcoming visitors to Surfside

Welcoming visitors to Surfside

Oh, before I go, did you hear about or attend the world famous Lone Star Rally in Galveston last weekend? I think there were 250K motorcycles and 500K riders in attendance. There were so many riders, RVs and trailers coming down Bolivar Peninsula that the ferry was seriously delayed. We spotted this leftover guy in Surfside on Monday after the event.

So, what is going on with you? Are you ready to get on with your life now that the election is over? And the weather is starting to feel like Fall, finally. What have you planted in your yard?

Belted Kingfisher Stays for Dinner

Belted Kingfisher Stays for Dinner

Curlew, Godwit or Whimbrel?

Curlew, Godwit or Whimbrel?