Tiny kestrels preying on lizards and snakes? It does happen.
Kestrels usually prey on insects and small rodents but field studies indicate that approximately 1% of their diet consists of herptiles (amphibians and reptiles). In my personal experience with kestrels with prey most of the time I see them with voles but occasionally they have a small bird or grasshopper. But twice I’ve photographed a kestrel with a herptile (though the images are only of documentary quality because they’re very large crops).
The most recent was when I encountered this kestrel with a lizard a month ago in Box Elder County. It was using the updraft from the side of a large cliff as a hovering aid to enable it to more easily stay in flight with the extra weight it was carrying. The lizard was apparently meant for its offspring because eventually it was delivered into a nest cavity on the side of the cliff.
This is the nest cavity high on the side of the cliff. I decided to include the image even there’s no bird in it because though it is common knowledge that kestrels are cavity nesters many of us have only seen them nest in artificial nest boxes and haven’t experienced one of their natural nesting cavities. This kestrel disappeared in the cavity with the lizard and reappeared without it.
Several years ago I photographed this male kestrel in Montana’s Centennial Valley as it struggled with a relatively large snake in a dead sagebrush. This is large and awkward prey for a kestrel so when the little falcon took off with it…
the bird struggled to make any headway in flight with the snake flopping around behind. I couldn’t tell for sure if the snake was alive or dead but in the previous image blood can be seen on the beak of the kestrel so I suspect the serpent had already expired.
One of my photographic goals is to one day get quality, up-close images of a kestrel with a snake. It could happen…
PS – It’s interesting to note that kestrels have been documented with fingerling brook trout as prey. Now that would make an interesting image!