Male American Kestrel – An Aborted Takeoff With Prey

This may end up on my short list of favorite kestrel photos.

Yesterday morning I spent eleven minutes with a male American Kestrel with a vole in his talons at Farmington Bay WMA. He only ate part of the vole before eventually flying off and most likely caching the remains in a “secret” location. All in all I took many photos of him on three different perches (some with the vole, others without) and he was calm and accepting of my presence for the entire time which is quite unusual for a kestrel. I attribute his calm demeanor to both the bitter cold of very early morning and the fact that he had prey.

However, due to a combination of factors related to a power outage in the middle of the winter night, my resulting lack of sleep and attempted recovery yesterday and the amount of time required to cull and process that many photos I’ll only be posting a single image today but it’s one of my favorites from my time with the kestrel.


1/5000, f/6.3, ISO 640, 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’d been enthusiastically feeding on the vole for some time when he suddenly stopped and just sat there and looked around for a while as if he was trying to make some kind of decision. Eventually he grasped the vole in his left foot, looked around some more, and than started to take off with it.

But before he actually lifted off he changed his mind and settled back down on his perch again. This shot was taken at the instant he aborted the takeoff which resulted in a pose that I adore.

Following are the reasons I like this image as much as I do:

  • Because my shutter fired as he was aborting the takeoff the pose is both unusual and, for me, appealing
  • There’s nice light on the entire scene including bird, prey, perch and background
  • There’s a gob of vole meat on the lower bill of the kestrel and another matching one on the post near the bottom frame edge
  • I have excellent eye contact including a catch light
  • The presence of the vole adds interest but there’s no gore or even blood (some viewers are disturbed by both)
  • I like the background bokeh
  • Bird, perch and prey are sharp including those incredibly fast-moving wings
  • I was close enough for good detail but not so close that my presence disturbed the bird

I’ll be posting more photos of this handsome fellow sometime in the near future so stay tuned for “the rest of the story” but in the meantime I have more chores and more sleep to catch up on.



36 comments to Male American Kestrel – An Aborted Takeoff With Prey

  • Susan Stone

    Gorgeous shot of one of my all time favorite birds. I like it for all the reasons you do. It is a wonderful going away present for me. We are back into travel mode and will see you again at the end of April. There will be plenty of good stuff going on but I will really miss your daily posts while we are gone.

  • Jean Haley

    Beautiful shot!

  • Charlotte W. Norton

    Fantastic shot Ron!


  • Alice Beckcom

    Ron, everything came together to make for a great photo of this kestrel. I keep coming back and looking at the photo and it seems to me that the kestrel is ‘thinking’ about its next move. The eyes tell it all.
    Thank you for always making my day!!

  • Robyn Kemp

    A belated Happy New Year to you and Mia. I love everything about this shot. Besides the reasons you mentioned, I find the shadows cast by the low morning sun to be particularly intriguing. For me, they add to the feeling of immediacy created by yhe pose. Can’t wait to see more images of this handsome fellow!

  • Splendid shot, makes me happy to see it.
    Any shot that brings an unbidden smile to my face is a winner.

  • That is one ‘plump’ vole.
    Love this photo. In its entirity. And feel for you on the sleep front.
    There is good reason that so many cultures use sleep deprivation as torture. Is is.

  • April Olson

    That is a huge vole! When walking the dikes this winter I have not noticed as many voles as past years. Do you think this is part of the reason we are seeing lower numbers of birds this winter? I anxiously await the Looooong hunting season to end to see if numbers of birds increase. It seems there are more hunters out there this winter than past season. Perhaps it is not cold or snowy enough to keep them off the water.

    • April, duck hunters actually relish the cold so I’m not sure it will cut their numbers down much.

      Yes, I’m suspicious that the naturally cyclic populations of voles has had some effect on raptor numbers. I’ve asked around a little but haven’t been able to find out if anyone has been doing any recent vole population studies. I know they used to do them at Red Rock Lakes NWR.

  • Marty K

    I’ll ditto all your reasons for liking the image and Laura’s full (very full!) crop comment and add one more: the little bit of frost on the back edge of the post. Such a neat shot!

    As someone who is well-acquainted with sleepless nights, I wish you an easy glide back into your natural sleeping pattern.

  • Betty Sturdevant

    Your skill is amazing. I love your posts so much and they are so enjoyable. I recently was offered some new desktop choices from Microsoft. I chose three different options, all bird photography. Your pictures that are not pleasing to you are 100 percent better than any I got in the downloads. I have deleted all those downloads and will be very happy seeing your work every morning. Keep up your great offerings.

  • Laura Culley

    Here’s another reason for joy–that Kestrel has a nice crop, so it makes sense that he would cache that dinner for later! You just never know where your next meal is coming from and those tasty voles can be difficult to catch.
    What a gorgeous image! And no nits to be picked. That’s good 😉
    As Mia says, “life is good!”

  • What a wonderful wing spread to capture! The detsil is amazing….love rhe old, weathered wooden post, too ….a beautiful capture!!!

  • LS Clemens

    I agree with the initial post by Diana. Such a long list of details that came together to produce this terrific shot (of one of my favorite birds). Thank You!

  • Delightful! It’s fun to share in your pleasure, and to see such a lovely sight first thing in the morning… 🙂

  • Diana

    Ron, I like the lateral tail feather going with the middle ones as he seemed to use them to balance. And the large vole. The “natural” wood post. The catch light you caught. Thanks for making a cold dreary morning bearable. Diana

    • Diana, that post is so old and weathered I expect it could fall down just about anytime. When that happens Farmington will be missing yet another favorite perch for many birds (including kingfishers I’ve posted multiple times in the past). Decent perches for raptors and other birds are at a premium at Farmington.

  • Diane Bricmont

    Oh my! What a spectacular shot! You must have been grinning ear to ear. Thanks again for a wonderful start to the day!

    • “You must have been grinning ear to ear”

      I was when I finally saw that image on my camera screen, Diane. But it happened so incredibly fast that I had no idea what the poses would actually look like when I fired off the burst. Then I was anxious about it until I got home and looked at it on my big screen and saw that it was actually sharp. Thank you.

  • Judy Gusick

    Beautiful! 🙂 The pose/light everything came together…….. Always amazing how large a food item they can haul around – guessing the vole weighs as much as the Kestrel! Power outages are no fun particularly this time of year.:( +29 this morning with just a breeze – YES!

    • Yes, that’s a relatively large and heavy vole for a kestrel and the bird seemed quite “thoughtful” about his eventual takeoff because of it.

      Sounds like you caught a break with “just a breeze” instead of that chinook you feared. Thanks, Judy.

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