Swallows And The Kestrel

As buzzards will always remind me of the Priory, so kestrels will always make me think of the Old Forge.

I see them hunting over the gardens and the surrounding fields almost every time I’m there.

Today was no exception.  And I saw one closer than usual …

… as he perched on the house roof.

He had a good view from up there …

… and a perfect spot from which to launch, and set off …

… to hunt over the gardens.

Sadly, rather than its usual prey of small mammals (voles, field mice, shrews and the like), the kestrel’s victim today was a swallow nestling.  The male kestrel had found a swallow nest in the out-building at the very top of the gardens.

The parents mobbed the kestrel as it tore at the young swallow.

But as in my recent post The Fox and The Duck the mobbing had no effect.  And the kestrel repeated his raids on the nest until all the nestlings were gone.  Apparently, when food is plentiful, like a nest of baby birds, kestrels will cache food.  Though alternatively, it may have had young of its own to feed.

Even after the kestrel had emptied the nest …

… the swallows continued to …

… swoop down on the hawk.

Later, when the kestrel had returned to his vantage point on the roof, I watched a fearless chaffinch also have a go at him.

I think the kestrel might have been rather too close to the chaffinch’s nest.  Fearless little chap though, eh?

The kestrel took wing again …

… and the swallows continued their harassment.

We can hope that this wasn’t the only brood raised by the swallows this year (they can have up to three).   It was certainly upsetting to watch but I felt privileged to have seen such high drama at first hand.

But I do wish the kestrel would stick to voles.


33 thoughts on “Swallows And The Kestrel

  1. Bravo chaffinch!Both are beautiful birds.
    On the coast here, kestrels and red kites hang around in the air, looking out to sea. I suppose they are looking for creatures at the waters edge (rats sometimes go for a swim!) but it looks as if they are fancying fish for a change.
    Very special pictures.


    • Hi Esther. “Bravo chaffinch” – (rapturous applause, whistles and shouts of encouragement). That’s what I thought – though I was watching through a gap in my fingers as I didn’t fancy his chances. I suppose the kestrel was still feeling pretty stuffed …..
      I should love for kites to arrive here in Sussex. I see them whenever I drive up the M40 over the Chilterns; dozens of them. Dave


  2. When we lived in Guildford and then Oxfordshire about 10 years ago there were kestrels all over, especially by the side of the motorways but we don’t see them so frequently now. I’ve noticed on our travels they don’t seem to be around as much and it is a rare treat to see them here in this part of Wales. Buzzards however, are everywhere. Great shots. WW


    • I have heard and read that kestrels are down in numbers but personally I’ve not noticed. I suspect open, close-cropped downland is ideal hunting territory for them and might explain why they still seem to be numerous in this part of Sussex. Dave


  3. WOW! That is an amazing reportage! Where the hell did you climb to get those pics?!
    You always make me feel a little sad with your tough reportages, though! Don’t you have any happy ending one to post?
    I also wonder what you do exactly at the Old Forge (other than climbing the roofs…). I mean the Priory has a beautiful garden to maintain but the Forge hasn’t any, right? There are beautiful panoramas there and the place is amazing on its own, does it need weekly maintenance? (I am not being sarcastic here, just curious!)


    • Hi Alberto, I didn’t need to climb anywhere. The kestrel sitting on top of the house roof was, only about 20 or 30 feet away – my 300mm lens did the rest! As for the sadness of some of my posts, I can only apologise. But I can only post what I see, even if this post was rather similar to the sad duck and fox post. It is always a little nerve-wracking when I’ve taken a series of photos like this. I have to wait till I get home in order to upload the photos onto to my laptop and see whether they are good enough to use. Often they are not.
      As for the Old Forge, well – it is actually of a similar size to the Priory but with very few borders and beds and a very small veg area. Most of it’s five acres is lawn and then large (i.e. acres and acres) of rough grassland through which I mow paths. There is also a further area of light woodland. (Didn’t think you were being sarcastic for a moment, my Italian friend). My duties are mostly mowing and strimming and in that sense it isn’t the most rewarding garden to look after. But, and its a big but, it is beautiful. What you have done is made me realise I haven’t really covered the OF in detail. Part of this is intentional; the Anxious Gardener is about the Priory after all but I should, perhaps, give at least an overview of the OF too. So thanks – I shall. Dave


  4. Kestrels are such regal birds isn’t it? Nature can come across as savage sometimes but we have to keep reminding ourselves its all part of a natural cycle every time we see scenes like this. Great photologue as usual, really enjoyed reading it this morning!


    • Hi Boys. Glad you liked it. And yes, regal and totally captivating to watch; either watching me back or floating over the gardens. Love ’em – even with their evil baby-swallow eating ways. Dave


  5. Wonderful photos of a wildlife drama, but as Christina says, without predators we would be knee deep in little birds. Here we have buzzards and sparrowhawks. The sparrowhawks zoom round the house, only about 4ft off the ground and snatch their prey at the bird table, they are so agile. Hopefully your swallows will lay more eggs when and if the weather improves.


    • My neighbourhood farmer was telling me today how much she hates sparrowhawks for that very reason, Pauline. I’ve probably only seen half a dozen in my life though but were they to become regular visitors to the bird feeders, I might grow to hate them too. Generally though I admire hawks too much to ever hate them. I think. Will the swallows lay again? I’m not sure. July is very cold and wet and their preferred nest site has been discovered. I do wonder whether they won’t just leave early for Africa. Dave


  6. Beautiful photographs. You have captured a real-life drama that must be happening around us all the time and most of us are completely unaware. I never thought that a bird of prey would clear a nest so rapidly. The chaffinch was remarkably brave, he looked an easy prey for the kestrel.


    • I’m so grateful for my job for giving me the opportunity to witness interactions like this. And to blogging which gives me reason to take photos. And yes! That chaffinch! He was really chiding the kestrel. I half expected the latter to just grab him and swallow him whole! Dave


  7. OK, You win the swallow challenge! That’s an amazing sequence. I really do think you ought to be the new David A. Round here I’ve noticed a distinct lack of kestrels since the buzzards arrived in great numbers – do they compete? You’d think not, but maybe there’s only room for a certain number of hawks. I’d rather have the kestrels – I have no love for buzzards.


    • Hehe. I did think of you while snapping swallows, Mr K. Sadly my skills (and camera) aren’t quite good enough to capture small creatures, travelling at speed, at a distance, during a brief ‘event.’ The kestrel sitting on the roof, helped a great deal! Actually the shot I was happiest with was the second to last – only because it is my best shot of a swallow in flight – so far. Interesting point re buzzard/kestrel numbers. The former have increased and the latter have decreased – whether it is due to competition for prey; no-one seems sure. And I feel lucky enough to have both kestrels and buzzards. As I say above, the crying of the latter will make me think of the Priory always. Dave


  8. I called ‘the beloved’ in to show him your post as he is a keen birdwatcher – and he said it was a male – I have never seen a close up of a kestrel – beautiful shots of it on the roof. Nature can be a cruel master.


    • Thanks for that, Elaine. I didn’t know what sex it was so I’m grateful for ‘beloved’s’ input. Normally I don’t mind the whole hunter/hunted thing but I do have a real love of swallows. Jim and I cycled along the Baltic coast of Germany a couple of years ago and swallows kept us company for much of the way, zipping about our heads. Put us in mind of dolphins racing the prow of a boat. D


  9. Very dramatic, but such a shame. Reminds me of when I noticed a thrush in the front garden. I may have decided it looked like the rarer song thrush, when a bird of prey swooped down and attacked it, carrying it off.


    • Sounds like a sparrowhawk, Karin. Of which I was chatting about to Margaret, the farmer, today. She loathes sparrowhawks with a passion; they swoop on her bird-table and make off with the very birds that Margaret is trying to entice. I, on the other hand, have only rarely seen them and (as long as I had my camera to hand) would love to have a close encounter with one. Dave


  10. Wow, Dave — you definitely get to see your fair share of the whole “nature, red in tooth and claw” thing. I can see how it would be a little gut-wrenching, but a little awe-inspiring, too. I’m kind of surprised the swallows didn’t succeed in driving off the kestrel, having been dive-bombed by them myself in the past… At least the kestrel is considerate to humans, posing for you like that and giving you such a good view of his handsome plumage.


    • Yeah, he just sat on the roof looking imperiously down at me. Posing. If I looked like that, I’d do the same. He seemed supremely unconcerned by the dive bombing of the swallows. I think I saw him flinch once. I guess mobbing does drive hawks away – I’ve seen buzzards withdraw after being hassled by crows. But then crows dive-bombing me would drive me off. And I suppose a mobbed kestrel (even one mobbed by swallows) might drop its prey. Perhaps. Dave


  11. Superb images, you must have a great telephoto lens. Nature is tough but there needs to be balance and without predators there would probably be too many swallows. Bye the way in Italy we say two swallows don’t make it spring rather than summer in England. Interesting the same bird is used for a very similar saying in both countries. Christina


    • Not as great a telephoto lens as I’d like but as good as I can afford! I like the adaptation of that saying, Christina – or perhaps we northerners nicked it from further south and adapted it? Dave


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