kestrel defined in 1930 yearkestrel - Kestrel;
kestrel - Upper plumage, neck, and breast dark lead- grey; sides, under tail- coverts, and thighs light yellowish red, with longitudinal, narrow, dark streaks; beak blue; cere and feet yellow; irides brown; claws black. Female: upper plumage and tail light red, with transverse spots and bars of dark brown; lower parts paler than in the male. Length, fifteen inches.
The kestrel is the best known of the British hawks, not only because it is the most common species, but also because its peculiar preying habits bring it more into notice. It is resident and found throughout the United Kingdom, but undoubtedly possesses a partial migration, as it wholly disappears from some northern districts in the winter, and at the same season becomes more abundant in the southern counties.
"When in quest of prey the kestrel has the habit of stopping suddenly in its rapid flight, and remaining for some time motionless in mid-air, suspended on its rapidly-beating wings, usually at a height of twenty or thirty yards above the surface. This habit, which has won for the species the appropriate name of windhover, is unique among British hawks. It is this peculiar aerial feat which makes the kestrel, when seen on the wing, so familiar a figure to country- people. The instant that the bird pauses in his swift-rushing flight you know that it is a kestrel, although it may be at such a distance as to appear a mere spot, a small moving shadow, against the sky. It has shorter wings than other falcons, and, by consequence, a more rapid and violent flight.
The kestrel preys chiefly on mice and field-voles; occasionally it takes a small bird, and carries off young, tender chicks, if they come in its way; but it certainly does not deserve its scientific name of alaudarius (a feeder on larks), which would have fitted the hobby better. It also preys on frogs and coleopterous insects. Selby relates that a kestrel was observed late one evening pursuing the cockchafers, dashing at them and seizing one in each claw, eating them in the air, and then returning to the charge. When on the wing the kestrel's downward-gazing eyes are constantly on the lookout for the mice that lurk on the surface, and as mice are usually well concealed by the grass and herbage, the eyes must indeed be wonderfully sharp to detect them. After remaining suspended for some seconds, sometimes for half a minute, or longer, during which the bird watches the ground below, he dashes down upon his prey, or flies on without descending, as if satisfied that what had been taken for a mouse had turned out to be something different.
When thus hovering motionless the wings are seen to beat rapidly for a few seconds, then to become fixed and rigid for a moment or two, after which the beating motion is renewed. A short time ago I watched a kestrel thus hovering in the face of a very violent wind, and it struck me that this suspension of the wings' motion in such circumstances was very extraordinary and hard to explain. One can understand that, even in the face of a violent gale, the bird is able to maintain its motionless position by sheer muscular power; but how happened it that in the short intervals, when the outspread wings became fixed and motionless, the bird was not instantly blown from its position?
In its breeding habits the kestrel, like the starling and jackdaw, has a partiality for towers and lofty ruins, and it also nests in holes in rocks and hollow trees. In woods it frequently takes possession of a disused nest of a crow or magpie. The eggs are four or five, blotched with dull red on a reddish white ground; and in many eggs the ground-colour is quite covered with red.
The kestrel, among British birds of prey, is a favourite with the ornithologist in virtue of its interesting habits; and it deserves to be equally esteemed by the farmer on account of its usefulness. It is, indeed, the only bird of diurnal habits that wages incessant warfare against the prolific and injurious mice, and thus carries on by day the task of keeping down a pest which those ' feathered cats' the owls, so efficiently pursue at night.
The kestrel is easier to tame, and, when tame, more docile and affectionate, than most hawks, and many accounts have appeared in print of the bird and its ways in the domestic condition; but, to my mind, not one so interesting as the history of a pet kestrel kept a few years since by some friends of mine. The bird was young when it came into their hands, and was lovingly cared for, and made free of a large house and park, and of the whole wide country beyond. And it made good use of its liberty. As a rule, every morning it would fly away and disappear from sight until the evening, when, some time before sunset, it would return, dash in at the open door, and perch on some elevated situation - a cornice, or bust, or on the top of a large picture-frame. Invariably at dinnertime it flew to the dining-room, and would then settle on the shoulder of its master or mistress, to be fed with small scraps of meat. This pleasant state of things lasted for about three years, during which time the bird always roosted in, or somewhere near, the house, flew abroad by day, to return faithfully every evening to his loving human friends to be caressed, and fed, and made much of; and it might have continued several years longer, down to the present time, if the bird's temper had not suffered a mysterious change. All at once, for no reason that anyone could guess, he became subject to the most extraordinary outbreaks of ill-temper, and in such a state he would, on his return from his daily wanderings abroad, violently attack some person in the room. Up till this time he had preferred his master and mistress to any other member of the household, and had shown an equal attachment to both; now he would single out one or other of these his best friends for his most violent attacks; and, very curiously, on the day when he attacked his master he would display the usual affection towards his mistress, but on the next day would reverse the process. And his hostility was not to be despised: rising up into the air to a good height, he would dash down with great force on to the obnoxious person's head, often inflicting a lacerating blow with his claws. More than once, the lady told me, after one of these cutting, ungrateful blows on her forehead her face was bathed in blood.
It is pleasant to be able to relate that no feeling of resentment or alarm was excited by this behaviour on the part of the bird; that he was never deprived of his sweet liberty or treated with less gentleness than before. It was hoped and believed that he would outgrow the savage fit, and if he had confined his virulent attacks to his master and mistress it would have been well with him. Unfortunately for him, he attacked others who were made of poorer clay. One evening at dinner the butler, while occupied with his duties, was struck savagely on the wrist by the kestrel. Like a well-trained servant, he did not wince or cry out, but marched stolidly round the table, pouring out wine, anxious only to conceal the blood that trickled from his wounds. But on the following day the bird was missing, and was never afterwards seen or heard of.
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