Andrew Fallan shares his expertise in Essex wildlife as well as his views on the conservation and environmental issues that we face
Kestrels are incredibly handsome birds, especially the males. But perhaps the most amazing thing about kestrels is that they are in possession of what can only be described as a supersense.
In last month’s Essex Life, I discussed one of our most familiar birds of prey, the sparrowhawk, whose targeting of garden birds has earned it the wrath of many a householder. For others, this mesmerising hunter provides a rare moment of suburban drama and excitement. With its incandescent scowl, jet-fighter daring and lightningquick ambush attack, the sparrowhawk is undoubtedly one of our most awesome predators, packing a punch that belies its rather modest size, with males only being about the size of a collared dove.
However, there is an equally diminutive raptor that, while lacking the jaw-dropping wowfactor of the sparrowhawk, is just as efficient a predator and every bit as charismatic, exhibiting a wonderfully compelling charm and a captivating, almost hypnotic beauty. What’s more, this spellbinding bird can be seen quite readily in the Essex countryside, over whose meadows, marshes and rough grassland it will often pause to hover, head into the wind with the pinpoint precision of a helicopter and the poise and grace of a hummingbird.
Yet despite these impressive credentials, it’s fair to say that this unassuming member of the falcon family is somewhat underappreciated, if not woefully overlooked.
Together with buzzards, whose once-depleted population has recovered significantly in recent decades, kestrels are undoubtedly our most familiar bird of prey, especially as they have long frequented the roadside verges of our motorways and major highways, expertly hovering over these grassy havens with a supreme aerial mastery that is second to none. Suspended in mid-air by a deft fluttering of their long, pointed wings, with a skilful elegance that almost seems to defy gravity, kestrels are able to keep their heads still and their gazes fixed, even in strong headwinds, while their keen eyes search for signs of small mammals far below. It is this iconic hunting strategy, whose aeronautic perfection is matched only by its exquisite, balletic beauty, that served as the inspiration for Gerard Manley Hopkins’ celebrated and aptly-titled poem, The Windhover. Kestrels are also
‘Kestrels are probably responsible for inspiring an interest in and passion for wildlife among many thousands of birdwatchers’
incredibly handsome birds, especially the males, whose rich rufous upperparts, contrasting with inky-black wingtips, are gloriously offset by the soft, sumptuous silver adoring their heads and ample, fan-like tails.
However, perhaps the most amazing thing about kestrels is that they are in possession of what can only be described as a supersense. As well as boasting razor-sharp eyesight, they are also able to perceive ultraviolet light, which lies beyond the visible spectrum of colours that