Posted by: Ross Gardner | November 18, 2020

A kestrel hovers

Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

There are few finer sights in nature than a kestrel hovering. I watched one today in the gathering dusk. I was standing on a slope so that the bird was almost level with me. It was the old name of ‘windhover’ that came to mind as it steadied itself in the rising wind, staring fixedly on the ground below.

A falcon aligns his head

To the centre point

Of the whole universe

From all angles a hunting kestrel is an image of beautifully sculpted efficiency. As I watched this one through my binoculars I twice saw it turn its head towards me to check that I posed no threat, but with scarcely yielding a centimetre to the wind. It barely need to flap its wings to hold its position in the gusting air, relying only on the deft, sometimes almost imperceptible angling of its tail and wings.

The fanning feathers of the tail

Slanting groundwards,

The primaries quivering

Upon the cloaked span of his wings,

Each are a mockery of the wind.

On sighting its prey it will descend in stages, dropping a few feet, then a few more, before slipping forcefully groundwards, with legs out-stretched and talons splayed open in expectation. If the likes of a vole or mouse proves to be the quarry, the falcon may have tracked it down by following the trail of urine visible to it as an ultra-violet reflection. Many are the adaptations of this most elegant hunter of small things.

(with excerts from the poem ‘A Kestrel Hovers’ by Ross Gardner)

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