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GO WILDWITH ERIC PAYLOR.

THE spectacular sight of a kestrel hovering in mid-air on a wintry day reminded me that even birds of prey struggle to find food when there is snow on the ground.

I've seen quite a few kestrels throughout Cleveland recently, several of whom will have flown across from Scandinavia to avoid the snow there.

Kestrels are omnivorous, which helps, though the vast percentage of their diet comes from field voles, shrews, rats and even worms.

Urban kestrels are more likely to take small birds, though voles are generally easier to catch.

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The kestrel is also known as the windhover because of the way it remains motionless in the air while surveying the ground.

They keep their heads perfectly still when hovering, even in strong winds, which allows them to pinpoint and catch mammals by sight alone.

They also focus completely on their potential targets, without paying too much attention to what is going on around them.

I was once on the ramparts of a castle when a kestrel suddenly appeared and began to hover right next to me. I could virtually have reached out to touch it.

This fine picture of a kestrel in typical hunting pose was taken by John Money at Scaling Dam.

Despite their small size, kestrels will also try to rob other birds of prey birds such as sparrowhawks and owls.

I was sitting in the far hide at Saltholme lately with RSPB hide guide Dave Atkinson when suddenly there was an almighty kerfuffle above our heads, which forced us to duck.

A kestrel had chased a sparrowhawk through one of the open windows of the hide, presumably to try to force it to disgorge a recent meal.

It looks as though the sparrowhawk kept his meal down but the incident perfectly illustrated the many options which the kestrel uses to get food.

Even so, kestrels are relatively short-lived.

Only around 20% survive the first two years to reach breeding age. There was a time when the kestrel was the most common bird of prey in Britain but it has since been overtaken by the buzzard.

There are still more than 50,000 pairs in Britain. The eldest birds have survived into their early teens.

If you have noted any interesting or unusual wildlife sightings in and around Teesside and Cleveland lately, contact Eric on eric.paylor@gmail.com

CAPTION(S):

John Money's picture of a

Small plane at Hartlepool, by Joan Croll, Teesville

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Jan 24, 2018
Words:409
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