Hov­er­ing above dan­ger

Rochdale Observer - - WILDLIFE -

I WAS driv­ing along the motorway into Wi­gan the other day when I saw a kestrel hov­er­ing over the motorway.

My re­ac­tion was to rush back and dance be­tween the speed­ing cars and lor­ries, shout­ing: “Fly lit­tle kezzy. It’s a dan­ger­ous world down here.”

I didn’t ac­tu­ally do that but it did con­cern me for some time af­ter and I hope that what­ever the bird had seen had legged it, so the kestrel could hunt some­where safer.

Ac­tu­ally motorway and road­side verges are pop­u­lar hunt­ing ground for this pop­u­lar bird of prey. These ar­eas tend to stay un­touched by hu­man­ity for months on end, so small mam­mals and in­sects thrive here – so do wild flow­ers.

More of­ten than not, your own kestrel sight­ing will have been hov­er­ing over a road as you drove by. And how bril­liant that sight­ing will have been.

Kestrels killed by traf­fic is not among the top rea­sons why this beau­ti­ful bird has de­clined in num­ber over the years. Num­bers plum­meted by 32 per cent across the UK be­tween 1995 and 2010, and lo­cally things have got worse since then.

The de­cline is down to fall­ing num­bers of small birds and voles, nest­ing com­pe­ti­tion from larger birds and the fact that they are hunted by buz­zards and other birds of prey. Cli­mate change and chang­ing habi­tats have also added to their problems.

As smaller birds of prey kestrels are easy to spot as they hover with pointed wings held out. They are ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful crea­tures, males have a grey head and tail with an ob­vi­ous black band. They have a ginger back and a cream un­der­side which is speck­led with black.

Fe­males have a browner back and head with dark bands on their tail.

They are about the size of a small pi­geon but they are brave birds and su­perb killing ma­chines. They will drop down on their prey, and will hold their ground if you ap­proach them feed­ing.

Kestrels nest in holes in trees, old build­ings and aban­doned crows’ nests, lay­ing be­tween four and five eggs. When they hatch, both par­ents help to feed the young chicks. Most birds have names from the old coun­try­side and the kestrel’s is a lovely one, the ‘wind hover.’

This de­scribes its abil­ity to keep its head still while it hov­ers, even in strong winds to help it pin­point its prey.

I love to see them hunt­ing but it also won­der­ful to watch them watch­ing me from a fence post, just won­der­ing: “What is the hu­man go­ing to next? Is it go­ing to dis­turb me and the mouse I have been watch­ing for min­utes? Or is it go­ing to clear off and leave me to it?”

It is dif­fi­cult to leave a kestrel and be­come en­tranced by its beauty but let’s leave them alone and give them a chance to re­cover. »●The Wildlife Trust for Lan­cashire, Manch­ester and North Mersey­side is ded­i­cated to the pro­tec­tion and pro­mo­tion of the wildlife in Lan­cashire, seven bor­oughs of Greater Manch­ester and four of Mersey­side. It man­ages na­ture re­serves, wood­land, wet­land, up­land and meadow. The Trust has 29,000 mem­bers, and over 1,200 vol­un­teers. To be­come a mem­ber go to www.lanc­swt. org.uk or call 01772 324129.

Darin Smith

●●A kestrel

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