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Our neighborhood kestrels

This article appeared in the June 22, 2012 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

Our neighborhood kestrels

A small band of young scientists from Explorit Science Center’s summer science camp exploring Mace Ranch Park spotted this kestrel. Photo courtesy of Mike Wang-Belt

By Lisa Justice and Carmen DeLeon

Special to the Enterprise

On a recent Wednesday morning, a small band of young scientists from Explorit Science Center’s summer science camp exploring Mace Ranch Park spotted a fierce kestrel defending its territory from crows.

Kestrels are among the smallest of falcons and the American Kestrel, that we have here in the central valley, is one of only two species of raptor in North America to have different male and female plumage.  Males tend to have wide slate-colored patches on their wings, while females tend to be ruddier.  But both males and females are distinctive for having a lot of brown in their coloring.

Kestrels don’t make their own nests.  Instead they usually take over pre-existing nests made by other birds or they move into a natural cavity like a hollow oak.  This housing strategy is getting harder for kestrels in the Sacramento area due to the loss of old growth oak trees.

Such trees provide a wealth of abandoned niches and nests, perfect for kestrels.  But as these trees die or are removed, nesting possibilities diminish.  So many area kestrels rely on man-made nesting boxes which they find inviting.

Kestrels love living in wide open spaces like the agricultural areas in the central valley because it makes their prey easier to see.  Kestrels eat a variety of small animals, including scorpions and earthworms.  But they spend most of the summer eating lots and lots of insects that humans consider pests.

Kestrels have the ability to hover in the air as they hunt their prey, but they are also fond of perching on fence posts and telephone poles.  So if you see a brownish raptor intently studying the ground from high atop a light pole, it may well be a kestrel.

Kestrels are not known for being particularly social birds.  They can be quite aggressive with each other as well as other species, so it’s no surprise that our Mace Ranch Park kestrel was spotted while having an altercation with a crow.  This bird could have been defending anything from a nest with little ones to local hunting privileges.

Kestrels can also be quite vocal when they’re upset, emitting a high-pitched call like “klee” in rapid succession.  Explorit’s campers got to both see and hear this kestrel/crow confrontation.

So keep your eyes and ears open the next time you’re out for a walk through Mace Ranch Park or another open area for a glimpse of a feisty kestrel hard at work catching dinner or keeping the peace.

Explorit’s summer science campers have frequent opportunities to explore the natural environs of Mace Ranch Park and learn more about how kestrels and other members of our local wild community interact.  Limited spaces are still available for select camps for students age 4 to entering fifth grade.  Visit www.explorit.org/programs/summer-camp for full details and to enroll.

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Explorit’s coming events:

• Family Exploration, “Spiders in Your World” is open from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. Saturday, July 7 and Sunday, July 8.  Come explore the science of spiders through hands-on exploration and learn how you can get involved in Explorit’s Community Science Project.   

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Explorit Science Center is located at 3141 5th St. and features a hands-on science exhibit open to the public the first full weekend of the month. For more information call (530) 756-0191 or visit http://www.explorit.org, or “like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/explorit.fb.

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