Two Views Of The Beautiful Backside Of A Male American Kestrel In Flight

It’s rare for me to post photos of birds where neither their eye or their face can be seen. But sometimes it’s the plumage that steals the show and for me male kestrels rule the raptor roost when it comes to spectacular colors and patterns.


1/5000, 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

Last November I spent some time with this beautiful male as he hunted grasshoppers from an elevated perch near Farmington’s Goose Egg Island (these days it’s really a hill not an island). He repeatedly swooped down to the side of the hill after prey and then returned to the same perch whether successful or not. These two shots are successive images as he made an attempt.

I love this look at his entire dorsal surface in good light. This view includes so many of the classic field marks of the male including the blue-gray wings contrasting with the rufous body and tail, the black sub terminal band on the tail and the striking white markings on the wings. And the alulae (bastard wings) are fully extended and obvious as he uses them for additional control and braking power just before impact.



1/5000, 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

Here the curved shape of his right wing reveals his right foot ready to pounce on the assumed grasshopper. This time he came up empty but he returned to the perch and succeeded in capturing grasshoppers in succeeding attempts.

For me there’s a small mystery in the first image – there’s a narrow band of white in front of each wing where they meet the body that I can’t explain. The ventral surface of their wings is largely creamy white but it doesn’t look to me like we’re seeing the edge of it and that white doesn’t exist on the left wing in the second shot. At first I thought we might be seeing the edges of a white rock in front of the bird but the second image reveals that no such rock is there. The white isn’t a processing artifact because it exists in the RAW file.

I’m sure there’s a simple and probably obvious explanation but at 5 am it escapes me. I probably just need more coffee…


49 comments to Two Views Of The Beautiful Backside Of A Male American Kestrel In Flight

  • Debbie Trainer

    Simply Gorgeous!

  • Judy

    A view that we seldom have. Beautiful. Thanks Ron.

  • Sharon Constant


  • Chris Sanborn

    That is a simply gorgeous rear view — yet another aspect where raptors beat out humans every time, they always look great coming and going! 😁 He is a spectacular specimen. I just spent the day (volunteering) at the Ojai Raotor Center’s semi-annual open house, and our two education ambassador kestrels (M/F) are always very popular with visitors. They can’t hunt for grasshoppers, unfortunately, but they foster lots of eggs & babies this time of year!

  • Dick Harlow

    Beautiful shots, outstanding color and sharpness of the Kestrels back. Just great!!
    Sorry I’m late today!
    First absolutely beautiful day we have had for awhile, plus we had a ton of bird activity from early AM on and it was warm out!!!!! I was preoccupied!

  • Jean Haley

    Real nice Ron. It amazes me all of the colors this bird has for being so small. Thanks!

  • Skip Prange

    Beautiful bird and photo! I photographed a Kestrel many years ago but it certainly never resulted in such a great shot like this!

  • Spectacular. Oh too look that good from the rear…

  • April Olson

    Kestrels have a white fringe just under the wing it might be flared out due to the landing position of the wing. I found a photo on the internet of an example. I can’t post it here so I will send it in an email.

  • April Olson

    Beautiful photos even without the eye. Hope you are off exploring and not dealing with a large branch falling off your tree onto your roof again. We had 3 inches of very wet snow, huge branches off all over the neighborhood from big old trees.

    • I was on the island this morning, April. No branches on my roof this time but they’re all over my neighborhood too. We only had about an inch of snow, I think it was the wind that broke most of our branches.

  • Marty K

    Oh, Ron, wow! That first shot is absolutely gorgeous! I like the second even more because it really captures physics in action. You’ve definitely put a smile on my face this morning. 😀

  • Victoria Ridenour

    Hi Ron, always enjoy your kestrel shots, one of my favorite birds. I love a mystery and went searching for an answer regarding the white on your subject’s wings. I looked at other images of male kestrels at rest or in flight and saw white edging on the wings of some males, but not all of them. Maybe this is one of those examples. Thank you for the Sunday treats!

    • I considered that possibility, Victoria, but if that’s what it is I’d expect it to be sharp like the rest of the wing. Instead it’s quite soft indicating to me that it’s further away in the background.

  • Alice Beckcom

    Absolutely beautiful photos. The colors are magnificent. Thanks for the posting.

  • Patty Chadwick

    For me, the white thing is grass and the real mystery is the perch…what was the perch this hunter returned to?

  • Linda Berkemeier

    Thanks, Ron. These are beautiful. I love kestrels…so easy to identify. However, I must say, I have never seen one so fully from the back. Without your comments, I might have been bewildered by these photos. Of course, in the field, size would probably inform me.

  • Kris Eberhard

    That first shot seems to me to have captured the essence of “birdness”—I think it’s one of my very favorite bird photographs EVER—-and to accent its beauty, even has a touch of white “mystery” !

    • I agree, Kris – there’s something pretty special about a dorsal view of a male kestrel in good light. The females aren’t too shabby either…

  • nikonsteve

    I so agree with you Ron as far as birds plumage and kestrels go. These shots really emphasize that. Great photos of a most beautiful bird! Thank you.

  • Beautiful Ron! Kestrels are so photogenic. I have been thinking about them lately as sometimes I see colorful females and then other times more pale colored females. They have commandeered a couple of Barn Owl nesting boxes again this year, so I look forward to seeing them raise more young. Not sure about white thing in front of the wing in your first image, perhaps a piece of grass?

  • Patty Chadwick

    As someone who paints wildlife, these shots are priceless!!!…it’s rare to find a good dorsal view of any bird and the birds themselves refuse to cooperate. I had a heck of a time trying to find reference material for the back of a GHO when painting an owl named “Winston”. In my watercolor, the bird was back to me, just the head turned toward me. I needed shots of his back, especially the tail feathers. Winston sure as heck wasn’t going to cooperate!!! He was willing to “talk”, we had quite an extended conversation, but he certainly wasn’t going to turn around!!! Thanks for posting these…

  • Looks to me like the mystery item is a bent over reed that is in front of the Kestrel. Obscured in the second image. Beautiful detail view we don’t often get to see in it’s entirety. Thanks for sharing.

  • Charlotte Norton

    Gorgeous shots Ron!


  • Two SUPER tack sharp and most beautiful action shots Ron. Thanks for sharing.

  • Judy Gusick

    Gorgeous shots, Ron! 🙂 Such a beautiful bird! To me the white in the first photo doesn’t appear to be part of the bird to me, BUT, I have no idea what it is only noting that the wing in the 2nd photo appears to be tilted slightly more forward to me……………??? 🙂

  • Zaphir Shamma

    Crispy and beautiful Ron…glad you decided to post this even if there is no eye visible. That’s one beautiful bird!!