Watching Backyard Birds | February 2018

Watching Backyard Birds • 5 sour fruit. But in the winter, my little kestrel claims the tree as cen- ter of her hunting territory. Her large, round, sharp eyes easily spot her prey, usually insects or small rodents, even from her alternate perch, which is high up on the telephone wires along my road. She dives like an F-16 fighter plane, so fast I can barely follow her, to pounce on her target. Then she soars back up with her catch in her talons. Although it is our smallest falcon, weighing less than a couple of candy bars, a kestrel can carry more than its own weight, sometimes even a full-size rat. They also fly at speeds close to 40 mph, which is as fast as cars drive on the road that passes my house. Kestrels perch on high places to hunt. They prefer open mead- ows or the edges of forests, but don’t insist on trees if there is something tall to use as a van- tage point, like a telephone pole or my play gym. Kestrels don’t soar in circles on warm ther- mals to hunt like larger hawks and vultures do, so places to perch and watch are important. Because our play gym is situated in front of what I usually call “the back forty,” but is really only one-and-a-half acres, Miss Kestrel has a clear view all the way back to the pond. I think she favors our play gym because it is sturdy; it doesn’t blow around in the wind like the per- simmon’s top branches. That’s important when you weigh only about four and a half ounces. Although usually diurnal, sometimes at night baseball or football games, the kestrel will chase large moths from atop the bright stadium lights’ stanchions, darting back and forth, catching nighttime snacks on the wing, and providing entertainment for game-weary fans. Their acute-angle turns and agile changes of direction could seem bat-like if it wasn’t for their long wings and slender tail. During the years when our daughters’ high school football team was so dominant that we usually led by 30 points at half-time, I would get bored. Then I’d amuse myself trying to decide if I was seeing our usual bats, the occasional Chuck- will’s-widow, or a hungry kestrel hunting in the lights. Usually it was a bat, but once in a while I’d be rewarded with a kestrel. Last MIRIAM POLING — Renny Gehman Renny is a grandmother of eight and an office manager for a landscaping firm. She recently completed a degree in creative writing from the University of North Texas—50 years after starting it!