Fledging_Kestrels-3I consider this small falcon “eye candy”.  It is beautiful as it hovers over open fields and sage lands hunting small rodents and insects.  This bird has eluded me for a number of years as a photo subject allowing a few grab shots here and there.  It was the end of July and all of my photo subjects had fledged their nests.  I was aware of a number of kestrel nesting sights (they typically fledge a bit later) but the cavities were either too high for photos or I could not find the nest cavity.  The latter was the case with this pair. I gave them one last opportunity at giving it up to me, but no go. There were too many tree cavities available and I could not guess which one they were using.  But… I got lucky! The most photogenic of the cavities was 5′ above the ground in a leaning, dead aspen.  I took a peak into the hole not expecting to see movement but there it was, a second look gave me a view of several small, downy, birds.  I found it!  I took a quick scan around the aspens looking for a good camera angle and then left the area.

I returned a week later and set up a blind.Kestrel_feeding It worked perfectly; now I just had to figure out the feeding schedule of the chicks.  My first thought was early morning and late evening but found out feeding started at about 8:00 AM and went through lunch and then a shorter session took place in early evening. Through the course of the next eight days I spent numerous hours watching these little ones as their father brought in grasshoppers and crickets.  They made quite the ruckous upon his arrival.

As they became older they started sitting at the cavity entrance, sometimes quietly and sometimes in constant begging mode.   This was the prime spot for receiving incoming food.  The day prior to fledging, the aggression between the three of them (2 males, 1 female) became constant.  They would squeeze their head up between the legs of the sibling holding the cavity spot and push up and back.  Success would knock the other one back into the cavity and allow the victor to climb up into the entrance.  The female nestling was the largest and held Kestrels_vying_for_spotthe cavity position the longest.  The male kestrel would bring in a grasshopper or cricket and the first mouth would get the bug and then drop back into the cavity. There were times when you could see dander, feathers, and dust fly up from the hole. The three of them I decided must tussle in the cavity hoping to each get their beak on the food.  It was really fun to observe these little ones.

The final day came all too quickly.  The nestlings awoke with the male bringing in a grasshopper and then the mayhem began.  The female left first flying to the ground, the youngest male was pushed out by his brother, and the last male climbed out when he saw the other two high above him in the tree.  This all happened in about thirty minutes. A constant noise was made by all and I awaited the arrival of a predator from the air looking for an easy meal.  They all eventually settled into the trees above the cavity but continued to announce their whereabouts and the events of the morning.  The male fed them throughout the day as they looked over their new domain.  I worried about them overnight but arrived early the following day and found them all well and quiet, which gave me more confidence in their survival.  I wished them well and was sad to know my time with them was now over.  As usual, I always want more!

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