Zenfolio | Photography by Dan Quinn | 2/23/2017 A Kiting Kestrel Catches a Vole -- and More
Visitors 131
Modified 4-Mar-17
Created 4-Mar-17
58 photos

Walking alone along the road near dawn, coming around a corner: a giant bird takes off! Instead of observing, I reach for my camera and bring it to my eye. Too late! The bird has flown. Later, I catch a glimpse, up the hill to the north, toward Trail 15 from my location on Road F. I walk a ways in that direction, but it can outfly me. When the birders (finally) catch up with me, they are full of excitement: they have seen a bald eagle! Perhaps this was what excited me, but I don't really know...

One bird I did see, I thought was a kite. It was near where I often see kites, the lone valley oak near where Trail 15 rejoins Road F. It was kiting: beating its wings, staying steady in the sky. But it was too brown, and maybe a bit smaller. I was confused until I looked at my images later: a kestrel! I had not known that kestrels also kite; perhaps you did.

Some of the other images I captured show the kestrel flying off with large cargo: a vole, pounced upon in the grass, possibly after kiting and then rapid descent, the way a kite captures a vole.

Who taught this to the kestrel? Did he see a kite doing this, and learn how to catch a vole? Did kestrels and kites each independently evolve this effective behavior? Or has it been inherited from a remote common ancestor, common to the two families, Accipitridae and Falconidae? If the latter, have any other of their present-day distant relatives also retained this behavior?

One argument for convergent evolution: the bluebirds seen here also practice something similar to kiting, but they use it to catch insects, not voles.

I saw other birds on this walk, in addition to the fabled eagle and the interesting kite and bluebirds: several red-tailed hawks, a white-breasted nuthatch, and some gulls are here. And of course, I saw some oaks and serpentine rocks, and captured images of several, including some of my old favorites.

There was also a tiny shooting star in the grassland, a white morph. Soon I hope to post its image(s) nearby, in "Adventures on a Smaller Scale".
Approaching DawnApproaching Dawn (2)Lone Blue Oak (Quercus douglasii) in Serpentine"Phainopepla Tree"Gulls and Windy HillGulls and Windy Hill (Detail)Grassland and OaksValley Oak (Quercus lobata) on the RidgeMistletoe Valley Oak, Windy HillMistletoe Valley Oak to Phainopepla TreeLone Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) on Road FMale Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana) Hunts from Trail SignThree Western Bluebirds (Sialia mexicana)Three Western Bluebirds (Sialia mexicana) (Detail)Two Western Bluebirds (Sialia mexicana)Mistletoe Valley Oak, Windy Hill: Full SunValley Oak (Quercus lobata) and ChaparralNew Leaves on Valley Oak (Quercus lobata)Lone Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) on Road FMale American Kestrel (Falco sparverius), Kiting