It was like any other ringing session at the farm. The sky over head began clear and blue, welcoming a cold crisp morning with a rising sun that burnished the tops of the trees, gradually revealing more from the dark blue shadows. The trees and bushes stirred in the breeze and were bustling with birds, although by all accounts it was quieter than recent days. It was a reasonable session, with enough birds to keep our small team busy. Goldfinch, blue, great and coal tit. Nuthatch, blackbird, dunnock and a robin. All caught and processed.
I was sat scribing for the team, recording all the important details for each bird on to a paper sheet which will be entered into the online database at a later date. On my lap, scribbling on a blank piece of paper, sat my own little Robyn. Not one for passing up an offer of food, she dunks her chocolate, crunchy bar into a cup of milk before her. Feeling generous she proceeded to shove the milk covered bar into my mouth. Happening to glance to my left I could see through the green mesh that makes up the lower part of the polytunnel wall, and I gave muffled yell. ‘There’s a sparrowhawk in the net’!
I could see a large bird in the mist net. Notorious for easily getting out of small mesh nets, getting to such a bird quickly is key to actually catching them. Lee dashed off. I looked again and wondered whether it was indeed a sparrowhawk. ‘Could be a pigeon’ I backtracked, once my mouth was clear and no longer in danger of spraying milky chocolate everywhere.
He returns with a rather amused look on his face. It’s not a sparrowhawk. It’s not a pigeon. It is a kestrel. Whoop! For us it is the first time that a free flying kestrel has flown into our net and stayed long enough for us to get it. Last summer I was privileged enough to have ringed my first kestrel chicks (Little Wind Hoverer) but never had we caught a free flying bird. The garden environment is more usually the stomping ground of the sparrowhawk, as they specialise in hunting small garden birds. The kestrel is more commonly seen hovering perfectly in one spot, head still, eyes focused on the ground searching for small rodents and invertebrates. Unsurprisingly we more often catch sparrowhawks at our ringing sites. Although not quite as fast or maneuverable as a sparrowhawk, kestrels will take their chances given the opportunity. The proof that they will hunt in the garden environment and will hunt small birds is as they say ‘in the pudding’. Here in my hand is a splendid adult female kestrel.
She is a wonderful chestnut brown colour with dark stripes. Her mesmerizingly dark eyes are ringed in bright yellow. A dark streak runs from the eye down each cheek, like her mascara has run. Her beak is short and hooked, the lower mandible squared off so that the hooked upper mandible fits perfectly against it.
It is always a treat to have any bird in the hand (yes even bitey blue tits), there is something extra special about having a bird of prey in the hand.