Early Spring a New Beginning

10 04 2014

The days grow longer, the temperatures get warmer, and we all begin to feel a shift within us, a lightness. We can smell spring in the air and everywhere we look subtle and not-so-subtle things are happening to remind us that soon there will be an explosion of color as our landscape transforms and the lusciousness that is now hidden beneath the surface is revealed. Before the leaves push their way out of the buds in Central NY we are able to see the transformation in the birds. Birds, whether they have been here through the winter or are returning home from a southerly vacation, are looking for mates and building nests so they can raise young and continue their species. Last Sunday a unique opportunity to witness this presented itself while I was on my afternoon pilgrimage to explore and connect with nature.

Everywhere I look these days American kestrels are perched on wires, in trees, or flying overhead. These robin-sized falcons are master hunters and very agile fliers.


As I drove down the road a small hovering bird caught my eye. Based on the size and behavior I immediately thought it was probably a kestrel so I pulled over. Like a butterfly suspended in air the kestrel flutters it wings to remain stationary over the ground while searching for prey. In this case there was more to this aerial display than hunting.


After hovering this male kestrel flew to a nearby tree and perched. Within a minute another kestrel landed in the tree. I was amazed! What was the chance that I would get the opportunity to see two kestrels in the same tree and photograph them? Once the second bird flew in front of the male and bowed down a little I began to understand that it wasn’t chance that brought these two birds together, it was mating.



The male flew over and gently landed on her back.


She moved her tail aside and mating occurred as the two openings to their reproductive tracts briefly made contact to transfer sperm in what is called a cloacal kiss.




Then the two birds fluffed their feathers and took to the sky. This pair probably has a nest cavity picked out and soon she will lay 4-5 small eggs. After about a month the chicks will hatch and the parents will begin the very demanding task of feeding many hungry mouths.

After observing the kestrels I was no longer amazed that these birds had come together in the same tree because mating is a critical part of the cycle of life and it happens every spring. I was, however, amazed and quite honored that I got to witness it. Being a naturalist often feels like being an investigative reporter and the paparazzi. I am constantly on the lookout for the next big story. I observe, record my findings, try to take pictures of interesting and/or intimate moments, and research to back up what I see. I am always on a quest to deepen my understanding and deepen my connection with the natural world.

To learn more about American kestrels visit http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Kestrel/id. You can watch a kestrel nest cam at http://cams.allaboutbirds.org/channel/17/American_Kestrels/ once it is up and running for the season and on this page there are plans for building a kestrel nest box if you would like to encourage nesting in your area http://nestwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Am-Kestrel-Screech-Owl-N-Saw-whet-Owl.pdf







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