An American Kestrel Finally Poses For Me

by Larry Jordan on January 5, 2011

American Kestrel photos by Larry Jordan

There was a sighting of a Rough-legged Hawk out on Dersch Road in Milleville, one of the areas covered by our Anderson Christmas Bird Count.  I really wanted to get some photos of the bird because it is one species I have yet to photograph.

I found this very dark hawk perched in the lone oak tree where it had been reported.  I pulled my car slowly to the shoulder of the road and casually got out of the vehicle.  I pulled out my digiscope and tripod without looking at the raptor in the tree.  I was probably 100 feet from my target as I slowly pulled out the legs on the tripod and set it up on the edge of the abandoned roadway.  I turned around and took one photo of the back of the birds head, just before it took flight.

I got very good looks at this dark hawk as it slowly circled me overhead, all the while watching me to see what I was up to.  It flew back to its perch in the oak tree and waited.  I thought to myself, great, he has checked me out and considers me no threat.  Here’s where I made my crucial mistake.

I began crossing the road when I noticed a car coming and rather than waiting to cross, I hurried to get to the other side before the oncoming vehicle got too close.  The hawk flew again.  This time it didn’t return.  I watched as the dark hawk soared in circles away from me.

I waited.  I knew it would return to the oak tree.  It had been seen there several times.  While I was waiting, I kept my eye on the pair of American Kestrels that I noticed when I first approached the area.  They were both perched on the overhead wires on the side of the road, just like the kestrels I see on my way to work nearly every morning.  But these two didn’t know me.  They didn’t know my vehicle like the ones on my daily route do.

I watched as this beautiful female flew toward the telephone pole where she had perched before.  Right across the street from where I was set up waiting for the dark hawk!  I quickly turned my camera to the top of the post as she landed.  I began clicking off photos as if it could be my only chance.  After all, I had been trying to get shots of these rather abundant little raptors for over a year with no luck.

After giving me great views, she looked at me for awhile, as if she was trying to figure out what the clicking noise was.  Then she flew to the wire you see in the top photo.  But before she did, I got a nice shot of her looking right at me.  Click on photos for larger view.

The dark hawk never came back to the tree so I decided to head out Milleville Road to look for a Ferruginous Hawk before it got too dark.  I didn’t find any Ferruginous Hawks but I, amazingly enough, found another fairly cooperative American Kestrel.

This beauty wasn’t quite as close, but the light was perfect.  Another female.  She began to preen.

Showing some aspects of her markings usually not seen like this head pattern.  Male and female American Kestrels are sexually dichromatic, the male has blue-gray wings and a rufous tail with a single broad subterminal black band, while the wings and tail of the female are rufous with black bars across their lengths1.

The male also has a spotted breast while the female’s breast is streaked with brown.

You can see the male American Kestrel at Christopher Ciccone’s post on Picus Blog for this weeks Bird Photography Weekly.  You will also want to see some more great bird photos at Springman’s World Bird Wednesday over at The Pine River Review.

So I have two tasks to complete, get photos of the male American Kestrel, and try to find the dark hawk again.  It is either a Rough-legged Hawk or a Harlan’s or Dark Morph Red-tailed Hawk.  I really need to get some good photos to get a good ID.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

References: 1 Birds of North America Online

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary Phillips January 5, 2011 at 6:08 am

You’re lucky!! She’s Beautiful. Boom & Gary of The Vermilon River, Canada.


springman January 5, 2011 at 7:44 am

Fantastic story! You sure know how to get me pumped up.
I thing there is a strange brain chemistry, all bird photographers share, that ignites the adrenaline gland when a large feathery mass is spotted in the bare limbs of winter. I’m shutting down this computer grabbing my camera and getting out there! ;-)WBW


Dawn Fine January 5, 2011 at 7:50 am nice of her to stick around for the photo shoot..such a lady! Great shots..Hope you find your Hawk and get some good photos!
Happy New Year!


Frank Kratofil January 5, 2011 at 9:10 am

We need to talk more often. Just after you telling me he wouldn’t hang around he does. Great shots Larry


Pam January 5, 2011 at 10:32 am

What a lovely bird! Very nice photos!


Jill January 5, 2011 at 11:05 am

Nice, Larry! I haven’t been able to snag a picture of a kestrel yet..I was 5 feet from one eating a snake but didn’t have the camera with me – i was so frustrated! i love the shots you got, well done!


Mick January 5, 2011 at 11:25 am

Great shots of the Kestrels. They are beautiful birds. Better luck next time with the hawk!


theconstantwalker January 5, 2011 at 11:59 am

Brilliant images of a lovely bird. I have still to get a nice close up of my local UK Kestrels. A bird I love to watch.


Hilke Breder January 5, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Lovely shots! I haven’t had the luck yet to photograph a kestrel. Good luck getting a male!


Syd January 5, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Great story and shots!
I “have lunch” with a male kestrel every day. So far we’ve only missed one day as it was very windy. Sometimes I wonder…am I really forming some kind of relationship with this bird? I can’t wait to get a decent camera. Your photos and stories really make me want to start a blog about my handsome lunchmate and my other wildlife encounters here in South florida. Thanks again for your great work Larry!


Larry January 5, 2011 at 8:30 pm

@Gary like I always say, I’d rather be lucky than good. Some of my best photos happen when I least expect it

@Springman go man, go get some more great shots! I think you’re right about the brain chemistry. My wife calls me a bird brain 😉

@Dawn, Happy New Year! She was lovely and cooperative

@Frank yes we should. I urge anyone reading these comments to click on the link to Frank’s Flickr page to see some really excellent photography. Frank was my inspiration, along with Klaus of Virtua Gallery, to get into bird photography

@Pam thanks for the comment

@Jill thanks. I can identify with your frustration. That must have been an awesome encounter!

@Mick thanks. I hope to try for the “Dark Hawk” again tomorrow

@Andrew I love to watch them too and I’m glad I finally got some good shots

@Hilke thanks. I think persistence is the key

@Syd thank you very much for those kind words. How lucky you are to commune with nature in this way. I bet that Kestrel would pose for you anytime. You have built up trust with that bird.

Please read this post by my friend Jason of Xenogere about his relationship with Baket, a Cooper’s Hawk. Unbelievable!


NatureFootstep January 6, 2011 at 2:10 am

oh, I am green of envy. I can´t stop looking at it. If I am very,very,very luck, I might get a glimpse of it when I am in Costa Rica. At least it is on the possibility list.


phyllis oller January 6, 2011 at 4:42 am

I see this bird along the highway all the time & have yet to get a photo of him,beautiful shots,good luck on photographing the hawk,I`m sure he`ll be back,phylliso


Larry January 6, 2011 at 9:56 pm

@NF I really hope you get the opportunity to see and photograph this beautiful little falcon. I am the envious one. I want to go to Costa Rica!

@Phyllis thank you. The Kestrels I spoke of in the post, I see on the way to work every day. I have tried to photograph them so many times, I can’t tell you. It didn’t take them long to learn my vehicle and fly off as soon as my car came within sight. I tried to explain to them that the big long lens (my scope) and I were friendly and meant them no harm, but alas, they don’t understand my love for them.


NatureFootstep January 7, 2011 at 2:54 am

I only hope the plain don´t get snowed in at Arlanda Airport. 😉

Had to come back and take another look at teh beeauty. 🙂

Reply January 7, 2011 at 9:13 am

Brilliant shots Larry, I especially like the head down preening one that brings out the back of the head pattern. I’m surprised you have found it so hard to photograph this bird though, what gives?


dreamfalcon January 7, 2011 at 11:11 am

Cool Larry. It happens to me very often that go to see a specific bird that others have reported and then I get to see something else – also beautiful. Great photos.


Kelly January 8, 2011 at 7:44 am

…beautiful captures of the kestrels! I see them regularly at a local park and sometimes in my backyard, but they have never given me such photo ops as yours!! Gorgeous…I’m jealous!


Mike B. January 8, 2011 at 9:37 pm

One of my son’s favorites. They are beautiful- yet to see one in the yard though!


Dave Bancroft January 13, 2011 at 10:56 pm

yes Larry shes a beauty mate

Glad I found your site, I will find time to have a proper nosey around it mate

Keep up the good work


Dave February 22, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Great shots Larry! I a kestrel this week on Vancouver Island but mine wasn’t quite as cooperative and I didn’t quite get the shots that I wanted! Your images are stunning!

Dave Ingram


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