American Kestrels As Reptile Hunters

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).

 

american kestrel 5360 ron dudley

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.

 

 

american kestrel nest cavity 5363 ron dudley

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.

 

 

american kestrel 3543 ron dudley

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…

 

 

american kestrel 3547 ron dudley

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…

Ron

PS – It’s interesting to note that kestrels have been documented with fingerling brook trout as prey. Now that would make an interesting image! 

 

 

 

Facebook

Red-tailed Hawk – A “Rousing” Take-off

This was a take-off like I’ve never seen from a raptor.

But before we go further a brief discussion of rousing is in order. Rousing is the action of a bird that raises its feathers before vigorously shaking them. The process helps to rearrange the birds plumage and is often a sign of a relaxed and content bird. It’s usually done while the bird is at rest and often after preening.

 

 

red-tailed hawk 1382 ron dudley

 1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 400, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

Yesterday morning in Box Elder County I had my lens trained on this juvenile Red-tailed Hawk as I waited for it to take off. The bird had just finished off a vole for breakfast and you can still see blood and debris on its beak. It did some minor preening…

 

 

red-tailed hawk 1401 ron dudley

  1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 400, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

before it turned on its perch into the direction of the breeze and at this point my shutter finger was ready.

 

 

rred-tailed hawk 1411 ron dudley

  1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 400, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

When the hawk began to rouse I fired off a burst because I sometimes get interesting poses that way. But this bird surprised the dickens out of me. In mid-rouse it…

 

 

red-tailed hawk 1412 ron dudley

  1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 400, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

leaped from its power pole perch with its wings still at its side…

 

 

red-tailed hawk 1413 ron dudley

  1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 400, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

and continued to rouse in mid-air.

 

 

red-tailed hawk 1414 ron dudley

  1/2000, f/7.1, ISO 400, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

In the next frame it was still shaking its feathers as partly evidenced by its tail twisted to the birds left and the wings still unextended. This action was very quick – the last four frames presented here only took .4 second and since I wasn’t prepared for the take-off during the rouse I clipped body parts after this shot.

I don’t recall having ever seen a combined rouse and take-off from a raptor before. If I have I’ve never photographed it. Maybe this young bird is still learning the raptor-ropes…

Ron

PS – All of us have seen birds rouse. Even so, there’s an interesting clip here of a hawk rousing (scroll down to “rouse” and click the link). The rousing of the hawk in my images was just as vigorous as it is in the clip but my bird did it in flight.

A personal note: The posture of the bird (with its wings held to the sides of its body as it jumps from the perch) in the 4th image reminds me of myself. When I was 10 years old we stayed at a motel in Las Vegas with a swimming pool. I dived off the board with my arms held tightly to my sides and entered the water head first.  I scraped the rough bottom of the pool with my nose and deeply split my upper lip below my nose. I carried that curved scar for many years. When I smiled it looked like I had two of them… 

Facebook