Female American Kestrels

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This blog may be on hiatus for up to a week.  We’re going to be making our annual trip to the Elkhorn Ranch in the Baboquivari Mountains southwest of Tucson and it may be difficult or impossible to post from there.  In years past I’ve had great luck photographing songbirds on and around the ranch.  Hopefully, I’ll have many nice images to post when we return.

Today’s post features one of my favorite species, the American Kestrel.  Specifically, I’m showing images of three different females that I photographed over the past couple of weeks.  Kestrels are our smallest raptor.  They are falcons, only somewhat bigger than a Mockingbird in size.  They are a fairly common sight in the open country around Tucson during the cold months (I almost never see one in urban precincts or in the desert that immediately surrounds Tucson).  One often sees them perched on utility wires, on fenceposts, and on branches.

Male and female kestrels have somewhat different plumage.  Females, like the ones depicted here, have tawny breasts with rufous stripes and rusty colored outer wings.  Males have black spots on their breasts and their outer wings are blue.  Here’s the first female, a bird that I photographed in the grasslands of Sonoita, very early on a winter morning.  She’s fluffed out her feathers in an effort to stay warm.


Kestrels are notoriously high strung.  They have superb vision and can detect a human on foot or in a car from a very long distance away.  One will usually fly long before I can train my lens on it.  For every success I depict here I can recount dozens of failed attempts to photograph these little falcons.


I photographed this second bird sitting on a fencepost near Sonoita.  Kestrels love to hunt from perches.  They feed on small rodents, smaller birds, and insects.  When a kestrel spots prey it launches itself from its perch like a tiny feathered rocket, seizes it with its very long toes, and dispatches it with a bite.  Kestrels have extraordinary flying skill.  Unlike other raptors, kestrels can hover in the air for a few seconds at a time.


I especially like this third image because it shows off the bird’s pugnacious personality.  I photographed her in the agricultural flatlands northwest of Tucson.

I’ll be featuring some images of male kestrels in an upcoming post.

Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting.  The first image shot at ISO 1250, f8 @ 1/2500.  The second image shot at ISO 800, f8 @ 1/1600.  The third image shot at ISO 640, f8 @ 1/1250.

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