Hovering above danger
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.