Wildlife Column: The Kestrel that bounces back to us
Over the last few years, it does seem to me that the kestrel, our most common small falcon,has recovered its numbers.
Many people called this bird the ‘windhover’ because of its habit of hovering over grassy banks such as roadsides and motorway verges whilst on the lookout for its prey of small mammals. The kestrel, also often mistakenly called a ‘hawk’ was one of the few birds of prey to do well back in the 1960s and 1970s when most others died off through DDT pesticide pollution and illegal persecution. Probably associated with the spread of motorways and dual-carriageways, across the countryside this bird thrived on the extensive networks of less-intensively managed roadside grasslands. However, in recent decades it has seemed to be taking a bit of a dip, and this might be due to competition with its larger cousin the common buzzard. The latter suffered a catastrophic decline from the 1800s to the late 1900s, but in recent decades have bounced back quite remarkably. This is indeed great news but for the kestrel maybe not so good. Buzzards compete for the same habitats as kestrels and birds of prey generally don’t tolerate close neighbours! So one possibility is that on the back of the resurgence of common buzzards the kestrel has been squeezed out.
However, in the last year or so I have seen more of these lovely falcons quite frequently seeing several in a short distance along a roadway with suitable habitats. So I do wonder if they are now on the up again. I have seen one high overhead hovering above Norton but not close enough to be a threat to my garden birds. The sparrowhawk on the other hand is often around and is the more likely to take smaller birds from the feeders. They do have to eat of course! Another bird coming to the garden more frequently is the jay and this is another species which formerly suffered badly at the hands of gamekeepers and even park-keepers. Not only did the birds become rather uncommon but those which remained became very wary indeed!
Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues.