Prettiest Raptor

Photographer James Kusz had a great walk in the park. He caught a mature Spotted Sandpiper, a pair of Willets, and then a rare sight here, an American Kestrel (Falco sparverius). The Kestrel is the smallest and without question the prettiest of the North American raptors. It’s said to be the most common falcon in North America, but they’ve been in long term decline on the California coast. The eBird site shows three sightings here, probably the same bird, in the third week of March this year, and then two sightings on one day last September, none in 2018, and only one in 2017. Kusz photographed another one in 2016, posted here. I’ve never seen one.

According to Wikipedia, DNA analysis shows that these birds are not really kestrels but falcons. The name has stuck nevertheless and there is no big momentum to change it. Practitioners of falconry consider this a “beginner’s bird,” valued for its ease of taming and training. It’s a fierce hunter with powerful talons that can quickly subdue sparrows and starlings; occasionally it will attack and kill a bird twice its own size. However, it also frequently falls victim to bigger raptors. More commonly, the American kestrel hunts moths, grasshoppers, and similar insects, but can also take voles, mice, lizards, and the like. They nest in cavities and form long-term pair bonds.

More about the American Kestrel: Wikipedia Audubon Cornell

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