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BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Wild December -

ur­ing De­cem­ber rough grass­land, coastal marshes and verges are mag­nets for kestrels and barn owls. They can of­ten be seen out hunt­ing in the same places late on mid­win­ter af­ter­noons. But while kestrels hover, scan­ning the grass be­low for any move­ment, barn owls fly low, sys­tem­at­i­cally quar­ter­ing the habi­tat on broad, silent wings.

Both species are look­ing for small mam­mals, usu­ally short­tailed (field) voles, the abun­dance of which varies greatly from year to year. In a win­ter when voles are less plen­ti­ful, kestrels and owls com­pete for food – fre­quently lead­ing to the fal­cons at­tempt­ing to snatch a free meal from the owls. They take ad­van­tage of the lat­ter’s slower flight, dash­ing in to take the prey out of their talons. But the owls don’t give up eas­ily, us­ing their own sharp claws to ward off the at­tack­ers – though they of­ten lose the fight.

Kestrels also pick on short­eared owls, and this be­hav­iour is an ex­am­ple of klep­topar­a­sitism – par­a­sitism by theft. How­ever, it is more com­monly found in seabirds such as arc­tic and great skuas, which re­lent­lessly chase gan­nets, kit­ti­wakes and terns to make them give up their fish.

is a nat­u­ral­ist and broad­caster with a pas­sion for birds of prey:

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