AMERICAN KESTREL - Small Falcon on Power Lines

By Dave Hanks

As you drive around the county, you will see them overhead upon the power and telephone lines. Or you might notice one hovering over a field or patch of weeds, looking for a grasshopper or vole for a meal. The kestrel, also known as a Sparrow Hawk, is our area’s smallest bird of prey. Not all birds can hover. This species will employ this strategy, if suitable perches are unavailable to scan the area for prey. They will feed upon mice, other wee rodents, large insects, small snakes, lizards, frogs, or an occasional small bird.

This little (9 to 12 inches) hawk is the most colorful raptor in the world. It is widespread across our continent. Both sexes have two “aviator-flap-like” streaks on their face. The male has blue-gray wings and a lightly spotted chest. The female is larger, with rufous wings that are barred with black streaking and her chest is streaked. Open habitat is preferred, where their excellent vision can be an advantage in spotting prey. When excited, they emit a “klee-klee-klee” call.

The Fish and Game Department have nailed many nest boxes to light poles around southern Idaho. The box is a bit longer, wider, and with a larger opening than the familiar bluebird box. The bird not only nests in these boxes, but uses them for protection in cold or stormy weather. The bird has an unusual behavior toward the nesting cavity. It will back up, raise its tail, and squirt feces on the nesting cavity walls. Why this is done, I can only hypothesize. Perhaps the uric acid in the feces kills any invading micro-organisms. Needless to say, with feces on the walls and old rodent remains in the nest, the place can become quite smelly.

Never have I had a more difficult time trying to photograph something, than this sharp-eyed falcon. One must be well concealed to get within camera range.

(At ease on a usual vantage point – a power cable)