An American kestrel

Kestrels maneuvers impress



Kestrels once again are sitting on the wires alongside local roads. A friend sent me a beautiful photo of this bird that he had taken this past week. The kestrel, formerly known as a sparrow hawk, is a real beauty. If they are in the area, you’ll be able to see them now on wires or fences near open fields where they like to hunt for grasshoppers, large insects and mice. They hover in the air quite often before they drop quickly to the ground and seize their prey. With their catch, they fly to a nearby perch and enjoy their meal.

This bird is quite small and very colorful. It is the smallest of the falcons in this area. It is not much larger than a robin and usually sits in an upright position. If you catch a glimpse of one flying along someday soon, look for its rust-red tail.

During the summer months, kestrels hunt in open areas for crickets and grasshoppers. As the season advances, they take more mice and may someday take advantage of any small bird at a feeder. From a perch on the top of a telephone pole, kestrels will watch the ground intently for any movement, and when something good comes into sight, they swoop down upon it. Whatever food they find will be taken back to a favorite perch, ripped apart by the bird’s sharp beak and then consumed.

Some friends of mine had a brief look at a bobcat this past week. They just happened to be in the right place at the right time as it crossed the road in front of them. Seeing one of these large wild cats is very exciting, for they are very beautiful mammals. Bobcats are not seen regularly on Mount Desert Island, but occasionally a young one out exploring for territory will come on the island. Sightings of them are few and far between. I saw one myself several years ago here on the island and will never forget it. I can still close my eyes and relive the moment. They are handsome animals. One night coming through Ellsworth in the late hours, I spotted one sitting in the ditch beside the road. The other exciting big cat for me to see was a Florida panther in a meadow on a wildlife refuge in Florida. Such encounters are special moments and always remembered.

Peregrine falcons are back again and setting up their nesting territories. Respect the signs in the park when certain trails are closed for them so they can nest in peace. This falcon is the world’s fastest bird and can dive through the air at an incredible speed. It has been clocked accurately at 100 mph as it plunged downward through the air. In regular flight, it flies about 60 mph.

Peregrines were first sighted on MDI in 1936, but during the 1950s, the peregrine became a nonbreeding bird in Acadia National Park on MDI, a direct result of the use of pesticides. Nest robbing, trapping and shooting first contributed to their downfall, but the later use of pesticides completed the job.

One aerie, or nesting site, was located on the steep slope of Champlain Mountain near Bar Harbor and the other on the Eagle Cliffs of St. Sauveur bordering Somes Sound. A new chick-hatching program has this species once again nesting successfully on Mount Desert Island. In order to help the bird, some trails are closed to foot traffic during the nesting period. Please respect their privacy. Fledglings will leave the area by mid-summer. This restriction program was started in 1984 and has been very successful.

Although peregrines usually nest on precipitous cliffs, they also will nest under suspension bridges and atop tall city buildings. When the young falcons begin to grow, they may be seen sitting on the edge of their nest on the cliff and perhaps flapping their wings to strengthen them. At this time, they look white and fluffy. Later, you may get to see them practicing flying above the cliff or perched in a tree in the vicinity of the nest. Riders on tour boats often see adults sitting on the rocks on small islands along with cormorants, seals, eagles and gulls.

From March to mid-April, it is possible to see their courtship activities. Adult falcons fly close together near their nesting cliffs, performing in-flight acrobatics and even feeding each other. From mid-April through May, you also may get a chance to see adult birds exchanging food in the air.

Someone asked me about nuthatches here on MDI. We have both the red-breasted and the white-breasted nuthatches year-round. The red-breasted nuthatch is the one most commonly seen. In lower New England, it is the other way around. Nuthatches often are called the upside-down bird, for you see them most frequently with the head down and tail up as they search for food on local trees. They often move about with chickadees, creepers and woodpeckers.

Nuthatches all over the world have “that” look. I was enjoying temples in Greece one time when a bird flew by me at close range and landed on a column. There was no doubt that it was nuthatch of some sort. They all have a nuthatch look. This particular one turned out to be a rock nuthatch.

At all seasons of the year, the wildlife under the ocean locally is very wonderful. I remember well a trip I took with Diver Ed one summer. We could look down and see him swimming among the sea anemones just off Bar Harbor. It looked like another world. We constantly have to consider what human activities in and around the salt water will do to such wildlife. Whatever harm we do is usually irreversible.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to teahousetrio@wildblue.net or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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