Wildlife in the UK - The Kestrel

Greg Coyne, Wildlife Photographer, takes a closer look at this beautiful bird of prey

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We are so lucky to live where there is an abundance of wildlife right on our doorstep. One of the most common sights often seen, particularly when driving around the countryside, is a bird hovering motionless over a grass verge at the side of the road or over a hedgerow, and this is nearly always a kestrel.

Kestrels are beautiful and they are amazing to watch as they hunt small mammals and birds. They are found in such a wide variety of habitats from moor and heath to farmland and urban areas. The only places they do not favour are dense forests, vast treeless wetlands and mountains. They are a familiar sight hovering beside a motorway or other main road and can often be seen perched on a high tree branch, or on a telephone post or wire, on the look out for prey.

Their plumage is mainly light chestnut brown with blackish spots on the upper side and buff with narrow blackish streaks on the underside. Unlike most raptors, the males and females are quite different with the male having fewer black spots and streaks, as well as a blue-grey cap and tail. The tail is brown with black bars in the females and has a black tip with a narrow white rim in both sexes.

When lockdown eased, I set off for a farm in Lincolnshire where a family of kestrels breeds every year. I have been returning to this spot for many years now with my camera. It really is a privilege to see a family of kestrels and watch their hierarchy and feeding behaviours. It was July when I took these images and the youngsters would soon be forced away by the parents to fend for themselves, but at this time the parents were still tolerating the young birds.

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Photographing from a hide means that you can get a lot closer to the action and these normally skittish birds will be relaxed in their local habitat. Using my current camera system, an Olympus set up, means that I can photograph in silent mode so the subject is oblivious to the attention it is getting. In the past the noise of my shutter as I fired off a small burst of shots would spook the bird and it would not feel relaxed. At the end of the day the welfare of the bird must always come first.

All of the images in this article were taken during one session, spending 15 hours in the hide and making the most of the various types of light that I encountered: sometimes full glare from the sun and at dawn and dusk the opportunity to snatch a few backlit and side lit images. It was great to see three young birds at the same time with one of the parents sitting on a haystack behind, trying to get some rest from the young kestrels. 

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So next time you are out and about in the countryside and see a kestrel hunting at the side of the road, try to find a convenient place to park up and watch this fantastic bird. You will be amazed at the acrobatic skills it possesses as it hovers in the sky, riding the winds, its head not moving an inch as it focusses and concentrates on its prey. 

If you would like to see more images of this spectacle go to my Facebook Page which is Greg Coyne Photography, like it and then keep up to date with my travels on a regular basis. You can also visit my website  gregcoynephotography.co.uk

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