Dive-Bombed— in My Own Garden!

by Lois Rice

© 1998 Lois Rice

A 'whoosh' of air through spread wings and a sudden puff of wind raised the hair on the back of my neck. Startled, I looked up from the bean row I was weeding, in time to see a robin-sized bird with long narrow wings flying away.
My bird book confirmed that my dive-bomber was an American Kestrel. When I was growing up we called them sparrow hawks, and they were more common than they are today.
Outside again the next day, the same thing happened. I soon learned that if I had my back turned to the trees in our front yard, I was likely to hear that 'whoosh' and feel the puff of air, but if I faced the front yard, the bird would keep its distance. After a couple of weeks, the birds became accustomed to my outdoor activities and no longer dived at me. Later I was thrilled to see several kestrels, to hear their sharp 'killy, killy' calls, and to watch as they hovered, then dropped on some prey, most likely an insect. A hollow limb, far up in an old maple tree had been their home.
The kestrels returned to the same nest site for several years. One day I found a tiny fluffy baby kestrel on the ground. It already had hawklike instincts, for when I attempted to pick it up, it rolled back and struck at me with its tiny claws, while snapping its beak as if to say, "Keep away from me!"
I got my camera and took several pictures, then herded it gently toward the shelter and protection of an evergreen shrub, hoping the parents would hear its calls and feed it. A few days later, though, I found the little bird dead. The kestrels did not return the next year, and not long after, when the nesting limb came down, we saw that the bottom had rotted out--it could no longer support a nest.
Now, each time I see a kestrel near our home, I wonder if it is part of 'our' kestrel family.

copyright 1998 Lois Rice, all rights reserved

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