Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Where Are The Birds?

American Kestral perched on the dead branch just above the bird feeder.

Photo of American Kestrel from the website

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!


  1. The Cooper's Hawk who visits my feeders definitely does scare the little birds away. He is mostly after the gold finches. They are beautiful birds but lethal. But I think the birds will come back again, after they have broken the kestral's habit -- and then the process will begin all over again. The American Kestral is certainly a beautiful bird, I have never seen one. Glad you got your blog up and going again. You know sometimes it isn't you, it's the program that just isn't written conveniently. I love your winter scene banner.

  2. I'm So envious -- eight cats! They all look so healthy and full of fun.

  3. Hi Chris,
    We are missing "our" little birds. I'm going to pick up a different seed mixture and hope that coaxes some to return.
    The header "banner" is being uncooperative and there seems no way to shrink it to size. My thought was to have a seasonal photo at the top, but none of the templates I tried would work. I need to stop fussing and get on with it!

  4. It's possible that the smaller birds feel threatened, even if the kestrel isn't a threat to them. Although, I dare say that if hungry enough, he would probably nab one or two!

  5. I don't want to contradict your friend and neighbor, but i'm pretty sure the little birds are fearful of the kestrel, and they have every right to be. (One of its common names is "sparrowhawk.") However, he will get disappointed when the little birds aren't around and go off somewhere else to hunt for a while. (So he may alternate back and forth between your and Sue's places all winter!) The blue jays here play head tricks on the other feeder birds by imitating the kestrel's call (killy killy killy), which makes the other birds freeze and then the jaysj can take over the feeder.

  6. J. remains convinced that the kestral is stalking the little birds.
    QC; when we lived in New England the blue jays were good at intimidation tactics. We have usually seen a variety of small birds feeding here in apparent harmony--I'm hoping they return.