Female American Kestrel with prey

Female American Kestrel with preyFemale American Kestrel with prey – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/2000, ISO 320, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

American Kestrels are fascinating falcons, they are tiny, colorful and at times quite pugnacious. The female and male have different plumage coloration (sexual dichromatism) and the female is generally 10% larger than the male (sexual size dimorphism).  American Kestrels are also the most widespread falcons in North America and its range extends from Alaska to Argentina which include as many as 17 subspecies. Not that long ago American Kestrels were called “Sparrow Hawks” and many people still use that common name.

This female American Kestrel captured a vole at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area on New Years Eve of 2009 and flew up to a post to devour her prey. Though the image might be considered graphic by some people for me it simply shows nature, the kestrel’s behavior and allows a close up look of our tiniest falcon.


White Gyrfalcon – Yet another escaped falconry bird!

In the four and a half years I have been in Utah I have seen and photographed four escaped falconry birds, one in 2009, two in 2012 and yesterday I photographed another one, an escaped White Gyrfalcon. Just last month another escaped Red-tailed Hawk was found hanging by it’s leashes in a tree by my friend and fellow photographer, Jeff Cooper.

The night before last a report came on in UBIRD of a Snowy Owl nearby but when a description by the spotter of the bird came in I suspected that it wasn’t a Snowy Owl and that it might have been a very light Barn Owl. The description included stated the bird had a small head, narrow tapered wings and that the bird turned its head in an owl-like fashion.

People went looking for the bird yesterday without anyone spotting a Snowy Owl and some time in the afternoon a photo was sent in to UBIRD by Sean Jorgenson that clearly showed a Gyrfalcon in the same area that the Snowy Owl had been reported.  I hurried to get my gear together and Ron and I headed to the Mick Reilly Golf Course in Murray.

Gyrfalcon getting ready to lift offGyrfalcon getting ready to lift off

Before leaving for the Golf Course it was reported by people with the Gyrfalcon that it was an escaped falconry bird but we wanted to see it any way. It was a gorgeous white Gyrfalcon sitting on a power pole! By the time we got there the clouds had rolled in so my images are not what I would have hoped for them to be of the largest falcon of North America.

There was a large group of birders and bird photographers looking at the falcon that included people I knew and people I had only previously known through communications on UBIRD and via email. The Gyrfalcon was the star we were just the paparazzi.

Gyrfalcon lift offGyrfalcon lift off

Mike Shaw arrived with his gear to recapture the escaped Gyrfalcon and while we were there the falcon made several passes at the bal chatri trap. It was recaptured after we left and was transported to a mew at Hawk Watch International to be fed and housed until the “owner” claims it and if they don’t a decision will have to be made about the Gyr.

Gyrfalcon in flightGyrfalcon in flight

One of the biggest concerns for escaped falconry birds is that their hardware; anklets, jesses and leashes, can become entangled and the bird will die by starvation. The Red-tailed Hawk that Jeff located was found hanging upside down by its leashes. The Red-tailed Hawk was rescued thanks to Jeff finding it.

It bothers me greatly to have found three escaped falconry birds myself. It bothers me that without Jeff finding the Red-tailed Hawk it might have suffered and died. It bothers me that the Gyrfalcon escaped and could have come to harm.

Seeing this spectacular Gyrfalcon was amazing and sharing the experience with other people was great.

The number of escaped and found falconry birds in this area is disturbing, damages the reputation of the falconry sport and to be entirely honest I’d rather see these birds flying free and wild.


 For more on the escaped falconry birds above:

Escaped Falconry Birds – A Peregrine Falcon and American Kestrel

More on Escaped Falconry Birds


Male American Kestrel resting near the shore of the Great Salt Lake

Male American Kestrel resting near the shore of the Great Salt LakeMale American Kestrel resting near the shore of the Great Salt Lake – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/2500, ISO 640, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

I was going to do a post about a Bald Eagle this morning but at the last minute had a change of mind and decided to work up this male American Kestrel that I photographed resting near the shore of the Great Salt Lake.

The causeway to Antelope Island State Park used to be a great place to find and photograph these handsome little falcons but over the past two winters I have not seen nearly as many. That may be because of a decline in the vole population, at least I hope they have moved to more fertile hunting grounds and that it isn’t because the kestrel population in Utah is declining.

This image was taken two years ago this month when the level of the Great Salt Lake was higher than it is now, if I were to photograph a kestrel on this same bush today the background would be that of the mudflats not the beautiful blue water seen in this photo.


Fire in the sky, fog and a female American Kestrel

Fire Rainbow - Circumhorizontal arcFire Rainbow – Circumhorizontal arc or a Fog Bow?

I love to be at my shooting location before the sunrises and yesterday as normal I was there before the sun peeked over the Wasatch Mountain Range and even though there was heavy fog in the valley there was blue sky straight above me. I happened to look up towards where I thought the sun would rise over the mountains and saw what looks to be a fire in the sky. This might be what is called a “Fire Rainbow” (Circumhorizontal arc) or some phenomena caused by me looking up through the fog but whatever it was it was beautiful.

Farmington Bay WMA in a heavy fogFarmington Bay WMA in a heavy fog

This is what it looked like for quite some time yesterday morning at Farmington Bay Wildlife Management Area, there was plenty of thick, heavy fog. By the time I took this image the sun had risen over the Wasatch Mountains and I wasn’t seeing anymore “Fire in the Sky”. Just the fog.

Perched female American KestrelPerched female American Kestrel – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1000, ISO 400, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

The fog generally dissipates slowly after the sun rises and burns it off and fortunately it did yesterday so I could photograph this little female American Kestrel (here) who is the same kestrel I photographed a few days ago in low light, foggy conditions as the snow fell and she dined on an American Pipit.

It was delightful to photograph the female kestrel in much better light but once again there was an air boat revving its engine not too far away. Boy they are loud. The duck hunters are almost as persistent about being out early in the morning to scoot out into the marshes as I am to be on location bright and early. Okay, maybe it is a tie.

The American Kestrel had just finished devouring a small bird of some sort, I really couldn’t tell what it was because there were only a few small feathers left by the time I spotted the tiny falcon and when we stopped to photographer her.

Female American Kestrel lifting offAmerican Kestrel lifting off – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/1000, ISO 400, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

The female American Kestrel sure was beautiful in the soft morning light with hoar frost covered vegetation in the background.

Yesterday I had sparrows, fog, a few distant Bald eagles, frost, snow-covered mountains, the marsh, this American Kestrel and a fire in the sky.

Yeah, I love what I do.