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Saving our Natural Treasures: Rescuing Baby Kestrels
A new exhibition of my artwork opens today at my gallery in Thixendale. The theme is ‘Natural Treasures’ and is a celebration of Britain’s wildlife heritage through paintings, photography and film.
Saving Natural Treasures: A family of wild kestrels
I’ve traveled the world to see some of the rarest creatures on the planet, but it is the wildlife on my doorstep that I value the most. One of these gems is Mr Kes, a wild kestrel I have watched in my garden for the last 13 years.
Every year he and his mate nest in my garden, in a nest box I made for them out of an old sycamore stump. The box is rigged with surveillance cameras so I can watch the story of their growing families as it unfolds.
This April, the female laid a clutch of five, reddish-brown, speckled eggs. The pair worked well together as they incubated the eggs. The female did most of the work, but Mr Kes gave her plenty of breaks, flying in to the nest frequently with food for her and to sit on the eggs whilst she took a break to stretch her wings. I was delighted when all five kestrel chicks hatched out safely. As each new life emerged, their mother responded tenderly, tearing off tiny titbits of food for each hungry mouth.
Saving Natural Treasures: Rescuing the kestrel chicks
But two days after the last chick had hatched there was a tragic turn of events. Whilst watching the young family on the screens in my studio, I noticed that the mother kestrel was refusing food. The male came into the nest with offerings for her several times during the course of the day. But each time she turned her head away from him and refused to take the food either for herself or to feed the chicks.
I was very worried and woke early the next morning to check on the cameras. She was slumped over in the nest, lying motionless with the chicks trapped beneath her. I rushed out to the nest. She had died just hours before. I had to work quickly since the chicks were too tiny to survive on their own. I lifted her off and carefully took the chicks out from under her.
They were cold so I carried them quickly inside, cupped carefully in my hands. It was important to warm them up so I found a box, lined it with a heat mat, and then settled them all inside my fleece hat on top of the mat whilst I made arrangements for my local wildlife rehabilitation centre to take them in.
I still do not know the cause of the adult female kestrel’s death. Kestrel chicks cannot survive without their mother at such a young age. Although the male brings in all the food for his growing family, it is the female that broods them and tears their food up into tiny morsels. The males don’t seem to know how to do this and the chicks are too young to break up the food themselves. I wanted to give these chicks a chance, but sadly, despite my best efforts, two died on their way to the rehabilitation centre.
Saving Natural Treasures: Life with motherless kestrel chicks
Thankfully, the remaining three chicks thrived and over the course of the next few weeks grew into healthy young birds. When they were four weeks old they came back from the rehabilitation centre ready to be released as wild birds from my garden. Releasing birds that have been hand-reared by humans is not ideal, I prefer to put young motherless birds like this into a wild nest and encourage adults of their own species to raise them, but when the chicks are this young this isn’t possible. Before letting the kestrels go, I placed them in an enclosure built onto a tower where I normally feed the wild owls and kestrels that live here. I wanted them to be able to see the garden as well as their surrounding territory from this vantage point so that they would think of it as home.
When the kestrels were six weeks old, the day came to release them. I opened the door to the enclosure and watched them hop out. They were surprisingly confident. It was an incredible feeling to see them fly free over the trees at the edge of my garden.
Natural Treasures: The kestrels learn to hunt
I watched for most of the day, and even saw them flying down to catch grasshoppers in the meadow. This was a good sign since it meant they had the beginnings of the skills they would need to hunt to survive.
Later that day, two of the fledglings encountered a young stoat. It rushed out towards them, its mouth open wide. But one of the young kestrels turned to face it, spreading its wings wide to make itself look bigger and rushed at the stoat. Thankfully, the stoat turned and fled. These chicks had survived such a disastrous start and here they were now flying free on the wing and displaying signs that they would be able to cope in the wild.
Then something even more incredible happened: after a day spent testing themselves on the wing, all three fledglings flew back to the tower I had released them from. This was important because it meant that they saw the tower as home and I could continue to provide them with food, while they developed and honed their hunting skills.
Over the next few weeks, I left the door to the enclosure open so that they could come and go as they pleased. It was fun to watch them explore the garden and amazing to see how inquisitive they were. I even got to watch them take their first ever dips in the garden ponds.
As time passed the kestrel’s dependence on me for food waned until eventually they left the garden for good and set out to find territories of their own. I still miss the sound of them calling out to me whenever I step out of the back door but it is great to think that they made it despite their tragic start.
My Kestrel Paintings
Inspired By Watching These Kestrels
My Christmas art exhibition runs at my Thixendale gallery from Nov 9th – Dec 1st. I’m celebrating our natural heritage with fine art paintings, including a number of limited edition prints featuring kestrels.
Kestrel | Art Print | Shop Now
Placemat: Blue Tits on Hawthorn by Robert E Fuller
(Placemats and Coasters )
Kingfisher on Willow - Glass Work Top Saver by Robert E Fuller
(Glass Worktop Savers )
Lap Tray with Cushion - Barn Owl by Robert E Fuller
(Lap tray with Cushion)