By Nikki May
A man sits silently watching the box. A bird’s head appears in the opening. The man’s heartbeat speeds up; is this the moment? He has spent 2 summer seasons and a total of 125 hours sitting here, silently waiting and watching.
John Reaume aims his camera at the bird and waits expectantly. The bird fluffs its wings, wriggles in the opening, and then suddenly launches itself into the air. Snap!! The camera clicks rapidly, capturing the moment by moment first flight of a young kestrel.
The American Kestrel is relatively common in Grey and Bruce Counties. These small falcons are often seen sitting on hydro lines or posts, watching and waiting for prey such as small rodents, young birds or various types of insects. They have keen vision and once they take off, dive rapidly after their prey. The females are predominantly cream and rust with characteristic black markings on the face and neck. The slightly smaller males have creamy breasts, blue-gray backs and tops of their heads, with rust colouring on the wings and tails.
In 2019, John bought a kestrel box at a Saugeen Nature silent auction and in 2020 he mounted it 13 feet up on the side of his workshop overlooking an old field surrounded by trees. This is perfect habitat for hunting kestrels and it wasn’t long before a male, and then female showed up, investigated, and then moved in for the summer. They successfully raised a brood and the young kestrels fledged and flew in July; the last they were seen that season.
John had built a blind opposite the box, and spent 70 hours that summer photographing the comings and goings of the parents as they laid and brooded the eggs. When the time came for the young to fly, he was at work. Nancy, his wife, described the process as their parents encouraged them to fly for the first time. The adult birds tempted the young to fly from the nest by withholding a dead mouse outside the box. Up until that time all prey items had been brought directly into the nest box for the young to feed.
The next year, John was ready. He made sure he was at home when he knew the young were ready to fledge, and he spent long days in the blind waiting for the show. After a very long 12-hour day spent in the stifling blind waiting on tenterhooks he was sure that the next day was it. He vowed to get into the blind at 7 that morning to be ready. While eating breakfast, he kept an eye on the box, watching for the parents to start their performance. Before he could finish eating, two of the young simply came to the opening, hesitated a moment or two, and then flew off, never to be seen again. John quickly mounted into the blind and set up his camera but there was no further action that day. Fortunately, he was rewarded the next day when the third young bird
came to the hole and hesitated there. After several moments of struggling back and forth, the young kestrel backed into the nest box and John settled in for another wait. Finally, about half an hour later, the third young bird came to the opening, hesitated briefly and took off. The female was soon followed by the last young male taking its first flight!
At the October meeting of Saugeen Nature, John told us this story, complete with about 100 shots from the total of 12,000 he had taken over the two-year period. Saugeen Nature is lucky to have members such as John, and along with our invited speakers, we hear all sorts of stories about the wildlife of Bruce, Grey and surrounding counties. If you are interested, check out our website at www.saugeenfieldnaturalists.com for upcoming events.