Crafty as a Kestrel

Copyright Matthew Pendleton

One of the best things about living in Teton Valley is observing the gorgeous birds of prey that grace our skies. Spring is an especially good season to witness these winged creatures. You might find yourself staring at osprey, red tailed hawks, harrier hawks, or bald eagles, to name a few. Many years back, I spotted a golden eagle here, something I had never seen before. I was in awe of its massive wingspan as it lit from a fence post in a horse pasture. I remember gasping at the sight.

What might escape the periphery when gazing skyward is the American kestrel. About the size of a mourning dove, the kestrel (also known as the sparrow hawk) is the smallest and most common falcon in North America. The male of this species has compelling slate blue wings, while the females show off a reddish-brown hue. Their breasts are a creamy buff color, and the belly is spotted.

This raptor is practically dainty compared to its counterparts. But it can survive very diverse conditions, ranging from above the Arctic circle to the tropics of Central America. Small but resilient, they like to conserve energy by perching at the edge of a field. They also practice kiting, where they hover in the air briefly before pouncing on their prey. A lot of their time is spent observing, and the meals they consume range between insects, reptiles, and even the occasional squirrel. They have the freedom to live as omnivores.

Why all this kestrel talk? It’s just one of those things. Something captures my attention and I go with it. But in this case, I’m identifying with the bird. Just as I have claimed the clever fox (let’s be clear: vixen) as my familiar, the kestrel appeals to me in a similar way. I am no bald eagle or osprey. And despite the fact that the owl has deep appeal—who wouldn’t want to be associated with knowledge and wisdom?—this kestrel thing has my wheels turning.

Broad-based diet? Me. Hangs on the fringes and observes? Me. Possesses resilience in a multitude of environments? Me. Sometimes the easiest thing to see isn’t necessarily the most interesting. As kestrels prove, size does not prove ingenuity. Flying under the radar, even being mistaken for a carnivorous sparrow, can be advantageous. It’s about having the ability to do the unexpected, and to quietly triumph when a hardy disposition is at play.

Sporting colorful feathers that might elicit a double-take doesn’t hurt, either.

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