Male American Kestrel – Ol’ Bloody Foot

Little quirks in bird behavior often pique my curiosity even though I know there’ll likely never be a definitive explanation for them.

 

1/3200, f/5.6, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I spotted this male American Kestrel perched on a rock very close to the road at Farmington yesterday morning. I fully expected him to fly off as I approached but to my surprise he didn’t seem the least bit nervous and he held his ground (rock). He gave me very little variety in poses as he stood there on one foot.

And the fact that it was his left foot (based on the position of bloody spots) has possible significance later in this story.

 

 

1/3200, f/5.6, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Eventually he turned to his left and stared intently at something in the grasses. Usually he was looking even further to his left than this so I never got good eye contact. He was obviously looking at potential prey in that direction so when he took off after it….

 

 

1/4000, f/5.6, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

of course I got only butt shots.

I only include this image to show you that his right foot was already heavily bloodied when he launched (and that there’s a spot of blood on the rock).

 

 

1/4000, f/5.6, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

To my surprise he returned to the same spot on the rock several seconds later, sans prey, but here’s when things became slightly strange. For some reason he didn’t want to put his right foot down on the rock.

 

 

1/4000, f/5.6, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

He held it suspended in the air in awkward-looking positions for several minutes. Here he’s been grooming his belly with his beak and he held that foot up during the process (occasionally he’d look up at me while he was preening and that’s when I snapped this photo).

 

 

1/3200, f/5.6, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

One time he tucked the bloody foot into his belly feathers in a resting pose but he still wouldn’t put it down on the rock.

 

 

1/3200, f/5.6, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Soon he pulled the foot out but once again he held it in a somewhat unusual position and didn’t put it down. When he eventually took off (I missed the takeoff shots because I was removing my teleconverter) he’d still never put that foot on the rock after landing the second time that I know of.

I can only guess as to why. Perhaps he injured that foot when he took off after prey but I doubt that because none of his other body language hinted at any discomfort or awkwardness. He always seemed very relaxed and at ease. Once or twice he picked briefly at that foot with his beak as if he was trying to clean it but it was obviously a half-hearted attempt. I’m also fairly confident that the blood wasn’t from any possible injury to his own foot because there was so much of it (even at the base of his tail and rump as we can see in the first photo) – birds have very little circulation to their lower legs and feet.

Much ado about nothing I suppose but one of my many personality disorders is my tendency to make mountains out of mole hills when it comes to bird behaviors. I can’t help myself and I doubt it will ever change.

Ron

PS – Sorry for publishing late this morning. I slept in until almost 5 AM. It felt decadent and wonderful!

 

 

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26 comments to Male American Kestrel – Ol’ Bloody Foot

  • Charlotte Norton

    The most spectacular Kestrel series I’ve ever seen Ro!!!
    Charlotte

  • Laura Culley

    I’m with Louise on this one. If I were in charge of this Kestrel, I’d most likely be off to see the vet (after thoroughly cleaning and investigating the reason for that posture within my knowledge base). That posture tells me there’s something wrong somewhere, and since I didn’t go to vet school, I’d most certainly take advantage of the stuff they know that I don’t.
    And as usual, what a wonderful series!
    Sorry to be late to this party, but yesterday wasn’t a good hand day.

  • Marty K

    5 a.m.? Slacker! 😉

    Great pictures of this little guy. I feel bad for it — foot injuries are the worst. I did a half marathon on Tuesday and putting real shoes on today was NOT fun. I can only imagine how bad it would have been if I had vole bites instead of blisters!

  • nikonsteve

    Great shots Ron…Kestrals have always been been one of my favorites. 5:00 AM? That is pretty decadent..(but I won’t tell anyone) Thank you again.

  • Susan Stone

    So it’s a personality disorder to think that strange behavior is strange??? That behavior with his foot certainly seems strange to me, especially given that the blood indicates that he had used that foot very recently in connection with a meal. I love American Kestrels, and seeing all these shots has made me smile. It’s a nice start to my day (you probably don’t want to know that I slept in until almost 8:30… I can’t imagine getting up at 5 to be luxurious and decadent!).

    • “So it’s a personality disorder to think that strange behavior is strange?”

      Well, I suspect some might think that I make too big a deal on this public forum out of some of the little things I wonder about. But maybe there’s more folks like me than I thought! 🙂

  • Patty Chadwick

    Great shots of an often skittish bird…my guess is that the worm turned and “Cute, Curvy Killer” got bitten. To me, his behavior certainly says that foot hurts! When I used to have to do barn chores before school, I had to get up at 5:00, and dreamed of sleeping in unfil 7:00…now I can!!! After some rain and a couple of light snows, we’re really getting dumped on…our reservoir really needs it, but it’s rough on wildlife, especially the little ground feeders.

    • I’m beginning to think it’s likely an injury too, Patty – probably a bite from a vole. I’ve seen voles bite coyotes on the tongue and they really grimace in pain when that happens so I can imagine how painful such a bite would be to such a small bird.

  • My guess is that the foot is injured. If it’s not weight bearing, the leg could be injured anywhere from the femur on down, but the blood to me speaks of a foot injury. We get birds in with obvious prey bites on their feet (that can lead to really bad infections), which is why one of the first things a young raptor needs to learn is where to grab hold of prey and how to administer the coup de grace to the back of the head. And foot injuries can bleed plenty, I promise you.

    • Louise, I was hoping that you or some other rehabber would weigh in on this. I’ve often read that birds have reduced circulation in their lower legs and feet (as an adaptation to cold) so I assumed they wouldn’t bleed very much from a foot injury. Another example of the dangers of making assumptions…

      Thanks for your input!

  • Perhaps his last victim got in a quick, sharp, painful bite on the foot that isn’t visible in the images. Those razor sharp incisors could leave a small hole in a toe pad etc. in a split second if not careful on the pounce.

    • I’m beginning to lean that way myself, Neil. I cropped in tightly on the right foot of the bird in that takeoff shot to see if I could see any obvious injury. I couldn’t but just because I couldn’t see an injury doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

  • Dick Harlow

    Kestrel shots are great Ron. Can’t help with the bloody foot other then he probably felt a difference between the two feet with blood and minute debris on the bloody one.
    When retired sleeping in not a problem!
    My better half decided to do that since we are in the midst of being on the edge of a semi-blizzard this AM.
    Yesterday it was 50 mostly bare ground, today it is 8 and white!

    • Dick, my typical sleeping regimen is to be in bed soon after 9 (I read for a while) and be up just after 4. Often during the summer I’m up an hour (or more) earlier than that so I can get to shooting locations right at dawn.

      When I was working I used to bemoan how early I had to get up (5:30) but now that I can sleep in if I want to I get up even earlier. Makes no sense…

      I’ve been reading about that huge storm in the northeast. Enjoy it if you can!

      • Dick Harlow

        LOL – I have always been an early riser, even if I stay up late, but I know exactly what you mean since retirement.
        I used to go out in storms to experience the storm, even hurricanes, “dumb”! Now in my old age I’ve become a woos and hunker down till its over.

        • Patty Chadwick

          I did the same thing…especially LOVED high winds…still do. I don’t think it’s dumb, rather a desire to experience life in the fullest,the wilder the better. When we lived in Florida, we used to walk the beaches (deserted by more cautious folks) diring storms…loved the wind, wildly churning water, and stinging salt spray…

      • Patty Chadwick

        The storm is BEAUTIFUL!!! Light and fluffy—trees and bushes look like they’ve been upholsterd with cotton boles…

  • Judy Gusick

    Beautiful little bird.:) Foot is interesting and one would be inclined to think it was injured. Guessing coated in blood it was VERY cold if nothing else.

  • Jeffrey Tufts

    Mole hills often turn out to be the most interesting places.

  • Dan Sedenquist

    Wonderful series of images. I enjoy watching the Kestrals, too.