Monday, April 21, 2014

Kestrels: A different sort of Easter Egg

I’m not really into watching the television, but this week I have been glued to the box. I’ve set up CCTV cameras in a kestrel nest box and it has had me entranced. Putting it all in place has been a logistical challenge. We dug trenches and buried cables then had to link the footage up to television screens in my studio, house and gallery.

My heart skipped a beat when I turned on the screen for the first time to see a male kestrel walking to the back of the box, lying down and flicking his feet to form a kestrel-sized nest scrape. The female arrived at the entrance. He bowed his head over and over again as if to say, ‘c’mon look how well suited this one is.’ She sat down on his nest scrape but looked less than impressed by his handiwork. She found an uncomfortable bit on one side and started to peck it. It didn’t help that they were getting hassle by up to 26 jackdaws. She went off for a viewing in another nest box close by in a huge elm tree stump that I had put up a few years earlier.

The male was quite impressed and dug a fresh nest scrape. The female changed her mind - she strutted around picking fault. It wasn’t to be and she flew down the valley looking at three other sites in hollow ash trees. A stand-off between the couple ensued. They sat apart for a whole 12 hours each outside their chosen nest site. By the end of the day the male looked dejected and by evening he gave in. He passed her a morsel of food and they made up by mating.

By morning it was all change and they were back at the first nest box – in spite of the fact that it was now half full of twigs as the jackdaws had moved in. The male took a look and I could almost see him roll his eyes before he valiantly tried to remove a few of the tangle of twigs! That night I got my ladder out gave them a helping hand by pulling out all the sticks that the jackdaws had put in and put a bag of fine bark chips into the box too.

The following morning the kestrels were battling with two very annoyed and newly evicted jackdaws. Events turned serious, when I saw the kestrel going into the box followed closely by a thuggish looking one. On screen, I watched the kestrel grab at the jackdaw and with their feet locked on to each other they tussled in the box. This was going to be a fight to the death. It was difficult to watch. I ran down to the box and frightened the jack daw away.

The female returned to guard the site half an hour later she thought it was worth fighting for, but the male kept clear for three hours as if he was trying to entice her further away. The jackdaws surprised by the strength of this diminutive bird of prey have kept away so far.

On Wednesday morning the first egg was laid by the female in the first box while I was making breakfast. “An egg,” I shrieked, and called my daughter Lily to come and have a look. “Is it a chocolate one?” she asked. It certainly looked chocolate coloured on screen. “No it’s a real one” I explained. We both looked back at the screen intently, amazed at what we were seeing. Lily piped up “It’s our special egg for Easter, isn’t it Daddy?” It certainly was.

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