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Fotherdale Kestrels 2020 | Stories from a Kestrel Nest Camera
This blog follows the story of a family of kestrels living in my garden in North Yorkshire and includes the best footage from live cameras in their nest.
Kestrel Pair Choose Next Year’s Nest
The kestrel chicks have now all dispersed, but the adult pair are still here in the valley of Fotherdale and recently I spotted them prospecting for new nest sites. Although it is only September and they won’t be laying eggs until next spring, this isn’t the earliest I’ve seen kestrels looking for nesting sites. I’ve actually seen them prospecting in July before. Looking for a new home for their chicks is a sign of a really great start to the next breeding season.
Inspecting Sycamore Stump
My cameras picked both kestrels checking out the nest box I made from a sycamore stump. This box is in my back garden, well away from the ash stump nest box they chose this year. And given all the trouble they had from tawny owls and jackdaws, my bet is they will choose this box to nest in next year. And of course with all the cameras I’ve got here, I can’t wait to see the action unfold.
Fledged But Still At Fotherdale
The kestrel chicks have now fledged, but all five remain in the garden as they perfect their flying skills and learn to hunt. I have yet to pull together the best of the footage of their fledging. But in the meantime, I thought I’d share some amazing clips filmed with my iPhone from a new hide close to their favourite perch.
Kestrel Chicks Grow
The kestrels are excellent parents
All five kestrel chicks are growing fast under the care of their doting parents. The male works hard to find food for his hungry family and has been bringing in a wide variety of prey, from small rats to lizards.
Feeding times are very fair
It is the female’s job to tear this up into tiny morsels to feed the chicks. She is very fair, distributing a little bit to each one in turn. If there are any bits that are too big she eats them herself and where a prey item is too big to finish in one go she caches the rest at the back of the nest for another day – like a food larder.
Watch the short video below to see her pluck a blackbird ready for her chicks – the nest quickly gets carpeted in fine blackbird feathers. Notice how fast the chicks grow from tiny, helpless creatures unable to hold up their heads to a noisy rabble squabbling over food by the time they are just one week old!
The brood is getting a little bit to sit on
The kestrel mum is so attentive. Watch as she spreads her wings over her fluffy brood and envelopes them in her feathers – at one point she actually topples over!
She is still very wary of intruders, which is hardly surprising after all the attacks on the nest she endured whilst incubating, but she’s a fierce defender and these chicks are set to do well.
Watch the video now:
June 7th, 2020
Five Kestrel Chicks Hatch
A Successful Hatching in the Kestrel Nest
In spite of a succession of brutal raids from jackdaws, tawny owls, and even a barn owl, five of the kestrel eggs survived intact and have now hatched! Watch my video below to see the first chick emerge, wobbly but safe, followed by four more chicks.
The first egg hatched on May 7th. I knew something was about to happen after noticing the female, who usually shares incubation duties equally with the male, become reluctant to allow the male a turn on the eggs. This often happens when the chicks are due. Play the video to see her hunker down on the clutch as soon as he appears. She lowers her head, calling, and they exchange a few calls until he retreats.
A few hours later, I got a glimpse of the first freshly-hatched chick – its down still wet and eyes barely open. Despite the tiny bird’s obvious helplessness, the female left the nest. But she was only gone briefly to collect a vole from the male. As she returned she called softly and, remarkably, the chick was already responsive. Then, with gaping mouth, it swallowed down a few morsels. It couldn’t quite manage the vole’s foot.
After this feed, the female quickly continued incubating since it is very important she keep this newly-hatched chick warm. The next time I caught a glimpse I noticed that the chick’s downy feathers had dried and were now fluffed up. Watch to see it trying to rest its head on an egg. It’s so sleepy its head keeps slipping off the smooth surface of the shell.
When the male came in he very looked unsure. This is this male’s first breeding season and although he now has the hang of incubating eggs, he’s not quite sure how to brood a live chick. Watch as he is all talons and ‘thumbs’ as he works out how to sit on the young chick. The female, too, is especially careful with her talons and it’s clear that she doesn’t want to harm the chick as she settles down to brood.
It wasn’t until the following morning, May 8th, that the second chick hatched, and this chick was followed an hour later by a third. In the video below you can really tell the difference in size between the newly hatched chick and the chick that is almost a day old. Then the fourth chick hatched and it became quite difficult to count them as they wriggled in a mass of fluff and shell. At this point, the female began to eat the eggshell. This is common amongst birds of prey and restores their nutrients, but I noticed she also ate the chicks faeces, which is not something I have ever seen kestrels do.
Watch the video to see her feed her chicks. She walks across to the other side of a nest where she and the male have been caching food for their young, and returns with half a vole. She’s very patient and feeds each chick in turn, making sure not to exclude the weaker ones. It’s so sweet to watch. The chicks become quite sleepy towards the end of the feed and the female settles down to brood them again.
Note how as she broods she also preens her feathers. It is really important that she keeps these in good condition and doesn’t allow them to become clogged with the mess inside the nest.
It isn’t until the following day, May 9th, that the fifth egg hatched. It’s always great to see new life, but after all this kestrel pair have been through I was especially happy – and relieved – when the final chick appeared.
Look out for my next update where I’ll be showing you more clips from the nest as the chicks grow up.
May 4th, 2020
There’s a New Barn Owl in Town – And He’s Not Welcome
Stories from Fotherdale
Chaos ensued this week when a new barn owl unwittingly entered the valley. The owl was spotted on the cameras trying to take cover in my Ash Stump box. I knew immediately that it wasn’t a resident owl because it wore an identification ring on its leg.
The owl soon discovered that this valley is already well-populated with birds of prey. As soon as it landed on my ash stump box, the female kestrel who had been busily incubating her clutch of eggs angrily blocked the entrance to the box with her wings.
The incomer retreated only to land in a box the tawny owl uses to roost in during the day. Spotting the barn owl at the entrance to its box, the tawny owl flew straight at the barn owl. Thankfully the barn owl managed to slip under the tawny’s wing and escape. Barn owls are much smaller than tawnys and tend to come off worse during confrontations of this sort.
Inside the Elm Stump Box, my resident female barn owl left her eggs to see what all the noise was about. She returned to her eggs agitated and began calling in distress. On hearing her calls, the male barn owl appeared, but his attempts to reassure her by cementing their bond at that moment were swiftly rebuffed and the male barn owl left the nest to check the coast is now clear. But just as he lifted off, the tawny owl, who is now looking for trouble, flew at him, delivering such a hard blow to the barn owl’s head that the male barn owl fell back into the box.
April 28th, 2020
Kestrels Continue to Incubate Despite More Raids
Egg Laying Under Attack
The kestrels are still fighting to keep their nest safe following last week’s vicious raids. This week the tawny owl was back on the attack. Tawny owls are well known for their territorial disputes, and this one is a real bruiser – he seems determined to rule the valley. His latest attack followed a peaceful lull in the nest when the female kestrel went on to lay yet another egg, on April 11th. This brought her clutch up to a bumper six – although of course it would have been seven if she hadn’t lost one to the jackdaw.
But four days after this last egg was laid the tawny owl forced its way into the nest and sadly yet another egg was lost in the scuffle that ensued. Watch the following clip to see the beleaguered female kestrel peer out of her nest and shriek a warning shortly before the tawny returns for another ariel attack. She fights bravely, but the tawny owl actually drags her out of the nest. I was worried when she didn’t come back for a while that the eggs would get cold.
Thankfully she did return and she, and her mate, have bravely continued to share the job of incubating their clutch of, now five, eggs. It is quite heartening to hear them chatter to one another as though swapping notes as they switch over incubation duties. I feel very proud of them for carrying on, where many birds would have abandoned this nest and found somewhere safer.
April 14th, 2020
Kestrels Fight to Protect their Clutch
Egg Laying Amid Nest Attacks
It’s been a very dramatic time for the kestrel pair. Although the female has laid a total of six eggs, laying one every other day like clockwork, there were two vicious raids on the nest in which at least one egg was destroyed.
The first attack came from a tawny owl. The female kestrel was alone in the nest at the time and fought bravely, but unfortunately, the owl stood on her solo egg during the scuffle and I am afraid it may now be damaged. Watch the video clip below to see the tawny fly straight at the kestrel ignoring her warning screeches! The kestrel braces her wings against the sides of the entrance to try to prevent the owl from entering, but he barges past her and they duel right on top of the precious egg. The kestrel eventually evicts the intruder – digging her long claws into its back and screeching at it as it flies off. See how afterwards her entire body shakes with rage and no doubt the stress of the experience.
I was very worried she would abandon the nest following this onslaught, as can sometimes happen after a nest raid, and I did see her inside another nest box for a while and thought she might have been considering laying the rest of her clutch there, but thankfully she returned the following day, April 1st, to lay her second egg.
She then went on to lay another egg on April 3rd, but again her efforts were thwarted when, whilst she was out, a jackdaw raided the nest and cracked open an egg! Watch the clip to see the male kestrel return to discover the tragedy. He carefully removes the broken pieces of egg and throws them out of the nest. It is important to keep the nest clean and reduce the risk of infection. But watch as he dips his beak in and swallows a bit of the egg yolk. This may seem a little unsavoury to a human eye, but the protein is very nutritious.
Despite these two tragedies the female kestrel continued to lay every other day, with a fourth egg laid on April 5th, a fifth on April 7th and a 6th on April 9th, and the male helps by taking turns incubating the eggs. There are of course only five eggs in the nest after the jackdaw raid, and I expect that the first egg could be scrambled, but this leaves four hopefully healthy eggs and all going well I am expecting these to hatch on May 6th or thereabouts.
Watch the story of this kestrel’s nine, dramatic, egg-laying days:
March 30th, 2020
Female Kestrel Lays First Egg
Today the female laid the first egg of the season in my Ash Stump nest box. She is earlier than normal, last year she laid on April 10th and the year before it was April 20th. Kestrels are generally known to lay between late April and early May. A typical kestrel clutch can range between three to seven eggs. These speckled brown eggs are normally laid at intervals of two days.
Watch the clip below to see her shuffle about awkwardly as she labours to push out the egg before standing up to reveal a perfect, reddish speckled egg! Check-in again in nest week to see how many she goes on to lay – I’ll be posting the updates!
March 23rd, 2020
Choosing a Home
Inspecting a Nest and Digging a Nest Scrape
The kestrels seem to have selected the Ash Stump as their home for this year. The male and female have been prospecting several different sites, but so far this seems to be their favourite. The male usually finds the nest sites and sits outside the nest box calling them female to come and give it a seal of approval.
This year, she has had to fight off a jackdaw for the site. Watch the following clip to see her furiously defend Ash Stump. Turn on the sound to hear her as she angrily calls to the jackdaw before then leaping at it, claws poised for attack.
Eventually, the site is hers and she settles inside to dig a nest scrape ready for her eggs.
Click to play video
Stories from the Fotherdale Kestrel Nest Camera
The timing of egg-laying is dependent on the weather, but a female kestrel normally lays her clutch of 3-6 eggs in late April or early May. This year was relatively mild so she has laid much earlier. A female kestrel is also only able to produce eggs if she can get enough food. In years when vole numbers are low, many kestrels fail to nest at all. This year, thankfully, vole numbers have been high.
The female lays speckled, brown eggs at two-day intervals
Kestrel Eggs: Incubation, Hatching and Brooding
Stories from the Fotherdale Kestrel Nest Camera
The female usually starts to incubate as she lays the third egg and incubation takes 27-29 days per egg. These then hatch over a period of a few days. The chicks require constant brooding for the first 10-14 days, after which they are able to control their own body temperature.
During this time the male provides the female and the chicks with food and in fact the female will only hunt if food is short since she risks losing her eggs or young chicks if she leaves them. Only as the young get bigger, can she safely start to hunt close to the nest.
Last year the kestrels at Fotherdale actually lost their mother during this crucial period. Click here to read how they were rescued
Stories from the Fotherdale Kestrel Nest Camera
The chicks fledge gradually when they are around four weeks old. They explore increasing distances from the nest, but return to it to roost for another couple of weeks. Adults continue to feed the young for a month after fledging, during which time they will learn to catch their own food.
Unusually for birds of prey, there is no aggression between the chicks, which tend to fly, perch and roost together even for some time after fledging.
In the autumn, kestrels readjust their territories to make best use of winter food supply. In good vole habitat, kestrels tend to stay within their home ranges throughout the autumn and winter, while elsewhere many move to areas with a better winter food supply. The size of the winter territory is dependent on food supply and the number of other kestrels, but is at least 1 km square. Although it is defended, neighbouring territories sometimes overlap.
More Kestrel Facts
Do you know how to tell the difference between a male and a female kestrel or a juvenile and a female?
My Kestrel Paintings
Inspired By Watching These Kestrels
My nest cameras inform my paintings, helping me to get an insight into the behaviour and character of the birds I portray. Below are some of the compositions inspired by my kestrel camera.
Kestrel | Art Print | Shop Now
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