Another American Kestrel Being A Picky Eater

Kestrels are highly efficient and skillful at “de-hiding” their small mammal prey (and no, I don’t think this image is gory).


1/1600, f/8, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

This female American Kestrel, photographed on a beveled sign post on Antelope Island back in June of 2011, had captured a vole. She obviously wanted as little to do as possible with all that nasty hair covering the delectable goodies beneath so she got rid of as much of it as she could. When she shook her head with her beak full of hair the fur would fly in the soft breeze.

I never posted this image back then because I worried it might be too graphic for some readers but I’ve had second thoughts. I believe what we’re seeing is the exposed (scalped) top of the head which would be the pericranium. The pericranium is the part of the membranous periosteum (which covers almost all mammal bones) that covers only the skull. There really isn’t even any blood to be seen and there’s certainly no guts so I don’t see this photo as gory at all.

And besides it demonstrates the impressive surgical skills of many raptors that rival those of human surgeons and the only surgical tools these birds can use is their beak. That skull is incredibly well exposed (and I mean that from a surgical point of view, not a photographic one…).

Pretty impressive if you ask me.




29 comments to Another American Kestrel Being A Picky Eater

  • Kestrels are favorites of mine too. And I agree, this great image isn’t a bit gory. Thanks for sharing!

  • Susan Stone

    Very, very impressive! I just hope she was easily able to get rid of the rest of the fur in her beak. I love that you were able to capture this moment in getting prey to a consumable state.

  • Laura Culley

    I can vouch for the de-hiding skills of Kestrels!! It’s a challenge to keep my bathroom in some semblance of order since Skye (female Kestrel) lives there. Like Mariah (FRTHA) and Jack (MHAHA), Skye is skilled as a surgeon and regularly makes a mess of fur and/or feathers, depending. She’s also skilled at flinging anything she does not want to eat great distances, just FYI!
    And no, that’s not gory…but then again, I’m a falconer, mostly uncivilized now. 🙂

    • Ha, I have a vision of fresh, slimy mouse intestines sliding down your bathroom mirror, Laura! Bet it’s happened…

      • Laura Culley

        Oh yes it HAS happened and you gotta get to it before it dries! LOL! Now Mariah prefers to sling the intestines onto my glasses and her targeting skills are just as good as her surgical skills. Jack, on the other hand, prefers to squirt the yolk sac from DOCs onto my chest. He hasn’t yet perfected getting to my glasses, but then I don’t feed him DOCs in the field anymore, either. Raptor humor…sigh!

        • Laura Culley

          I forgot to add that the raptors give a whole new meaning to the song, “Great green gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts.” Sorry to share that ear worm, but it had to be done 🙂

  • Incredible precision. Surgeons and chefs could undoubtedly learn from them.
    I hope no luxury loving sybarites see this post or they will be employing kestrels to peel their grapes.

  • Great post and I agree with the points you make.

  • Patty Chadwick

    The birds’s skills are darned impressive, but I don’t think I’d like to eat a vole any better if was skinned…you try it and tell me what it was like….

    • “I’d like to eat a vole any better if was skinned”

      Patty, If you ever watch the movie “Never Cry Wolf” it will give you a variety of ways to prepare and cook your voles! 🙂

      • Laura Culley

        Of course, you know that cooking procedure renders the voles inedible!! Jeesh! HUMANS! Thus sayeth the Kestrel.

  • Mikal Deese

    I am blessed to see Kestrel surgery skills everyday, demonstrated by my pair of unreleasable education birds. Further instructions: ALWAYS start at the head. Open skin and consume. Once the edge of hunger is thus dulled, proceed to peel further, exposing all the munchable goodies. Continue until the rodent has been turned inside out, fur on the inside, discarded sock style. Tail is optional, depending upon appetite. (By the way, humans just love to see a tail hanging out of your beak, so give them a thrill. Go figure!)

    • Mikal, I have an entire series of shots of a kestrel with the tail hanging out of its mouth. My bird had a tough time swallowing it and had to start over a couple of times but success was the eventual result.

  • Marina schultz

    Love them kestrels!!!!! Nice picture !! My kestrel residents have been airbombing the starling swarms pretty fascinating to watch.

  • No gory at all in my opinion. Really fascinating to see how much work she has to do before eating!

    • That’s another thing about their “surgical” skills, Arwen. It’s a lot of work but they do it very quickly – just like ER surgeons often have to do… 🙂

  • Charlotte Norton

    Wonderful shot Ron!


  • LS Clemens

    For you to be able to capture the plucked feathers floating away is amazing!

  • Diana

    Ron. I was wondering what I saw. Convinced you are correct. And that AMKE showed more surgical finesse then I had in my operating days. Her fanned tail is perfect. She deserved your care in not disturbing her meal, as usual. Thank you.

    • “showed more surgical finesse then I had in my operating days”

      Diana, while I was researching this post I looked at many photos of the human pericranium that had been exposed by human surgeons. The “operating field” this kestrel has exposed looked cleaner than any of the ones I looked at that had been exposed by actual surgeons… 🙂

  • Judy Gusick

    Wow! She was precise in here skinning efforts even if she still ended up with feathers in her mouth – nice shot, Ron.:) Not point filling up on something indigestible! 🙂