American Kestral perched on the dead branch just above the bird feeder.
Photo of American Kestrel from the website sdakotabirds.com.
During our three previous winters in this house, we have kept bird feeders dangling from the dead spurs of a tree stump outside the dining area window. The regular visitors have included a bewildering variety of sparrows, goldfinches in winter plumage, rosey-capped finches, chickadees, black-eyed juncoes, woodpeckers, the gaudy flickers and the detested starlings. Red-winged blackbirds and their yellow-headed cousins are here from late winter through autumn.
In the endlessly cold wet spring of 2007 we had two pair of lazuli buntings eating at the feeders for about three weeks, perhaps resting on their way to a more northern destination.
In the week before Christmas we noticed that our regular visitors had disppeared. I worried that perhaps I hadn't refilled the feeders quickly enough and they had left in despair. On Monday I saw a scattering of sparrows picking at the cracked corn and seeds. They flew up in a startled cloud and a larger bird sailed into view. Catching sight of the black-spotted bronze back feathers I at first thought one of the flickers was visiting. A closer look indicated it was a bird who was a stranger to us. I got a photo as it perched on the dead spur of the old stump, cropped and zoomed in until we could see it clearly. J. went through the bird book making comparisons until we identified our visiter as an American Kestral.
It [he?] has arrived again today, stopping in one of the old cottonwoods near the pond, then circling in a swooping flight. The back-swept movement of its' curved wings is very distinctive.
We are interested to see this bird, but fear he has driven off our familiar smaller friends. We miss their busy presence.
Added this evening: I sent the photo of the kestrel to my friend and neighbor, Sue, who reports that kestrels visit her dooryard as well and don't pose a threat to the smaller birds at the feeder.
So, I'm left still wondering why our usual birds are missing!