Big thank you from


 Kestrels in search of food
by Paul Cormacain 01/12/2000

THE sedge has winthered by the lake at Leathamstown. The nearby house martins and swallows had all departed, although there is always a chance that a late bird lingers. One report last week tells of a swallow winging his way' south, but that would not be the norm. On the water, which is usually full of birds, there were few about, and they were quiet.

In the vicinity we came across two kestrels. Recently I was talking about how kestrels had taken advantage of man-made structures, like cities. Some have moved in, nesting on tall buildings and hunting in parks and other open areas. But these birds were of the open spaces; hunting and living far from humans, and keeping up a tradition of hundreds or even thousands of years.

The first kestrel was hovering, looking, moving from time to time to sight more territory, and hopefully, more dinner. He regularly sighted something, swooped down to get a better look, then swooped up again. He was exhibiting some of the characteristics of his breed. He was a great flier, had brilliant eyesight, and a wonderful capacity for patience.

He got no dinner during the time we watched him!

The other kestrel nearby was exhibiting the same qualities. We watched her for a while. Then in the distance we spied another kestrel, we thought. The bird came closer, about the same size as the kestrel and with a long tail. But when it got closer, it turned out to be a magpie.

The magpie attacked the kestrel by dive-bombing her. At the last minute the kestrel moved to one side. If the magpie had made contact, the chances are that both birds could be hurt, seriously injured, or even killed. That would be a terrible and pointless loss, so Mother Nature in her wisdom has decreed that such fights should be fierce, but usually no contact is made.

A wood white butterfly fiercely attacks other butterflies that invades her area. She successfully sees them off, but no contact is made. Could you imagine being hit by a butterfly? Deer, wild horses and the like, can make contact when fighting, but as a general rule the damage inflicted is minimal.

Anyway, the magpie kept dive-bombing the kestrel, and with each evasion the kestrel moved further away . This way, the magpie got rid of the kestrel, and no one was hurt.

Over the lake in the distance, a strange-shaped black bird flew quickly. It was difficult to identify from the rear, but when it turned to descend to the water it was evidently a cormorant. The weather was not particularly gusty that day, so the bird was not blown in by storms. It must have had a desire for fresh-water fish, and decided to sample the stock at Leathamstown.

One swan graced the lake. A single solitary bird, no partner, no young, no friend, no mama and no papa, and this was slightly unusual. Nearby were coots, a pair of them, lying low, and lurking under the branches of water-side bushes. A single great crested grebe swam on the water, and dived occasionally for food. She seemed to have more luck than the kestrels, for she surfaced regularly with small fish in the last seconds of their life.

Much smaller, a little grebe also swam in the vicinity. A pigeon flew overhead. A robin searched for food. And no bird sings.


Ulster Star