Friday, May 1, 2015

Close Encounter with an American Kestrel near Knights Ferry

We took one of our short excursions yesterday, into the low Sierra Nevada foothills near Knights Ferry on the Stanislaus River. The region is part of the fast-diminishing prairies and grasslands (almonds are the new gold in agriculture around here). We saw several birds here and there, but eventually we started home. We must have passed 200 Meadowlarks, Goldfinches, and Western Kingbirds perched on the fences, but as we approached Highway 108 I saw an unfamiliar shape and stopped down the road. I took a distant shot and realized it was an American Kestrel (Falco sparverius).
I wondered what it would do if turned around and came back up the road (slowly). To my surprise, it didn't seem to care that we were there and I was able to snap a series of extraordinarily close pictures. I've taken a few shots of Kestrels in the past, but never this clear. They are strikingly colorful birds.
The Kestrel is common across North and South America, but their numbers have declined by almost half during the last fifty years, due in part ot habitat loss, and from pesticides that kill some of their principle prey species such as grasshoppers. They are the smallest of the falcons, and sometimes fall prey to the larger raptors.

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