Tag Archives: Florida birds

Bird Island: the name says it all

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Radar spots Bird Island.

Just off the east side of Sewall’s Point, in the Indian River Lagoon, the spoil island is one of the top ten bird rookeries in Florida. We borrowed a boat from our boat club on Thursday and went to see how nesting season is coming along.

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Is this place even real?

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Of all the islands in the Indian River Lagoon in Martin County, the birds have chosen this one for nesting, feeding, roosting, loafing.

We stay outside the Critical Wildlife Area signs and use binoculars and a superzoom camera to watch but not bother.

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Roseate Spoonbills, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Wood Storks. Oh my!

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The most Great Egrets I’ve seen in one place – they seem to prefer the solitary lifestyle outside of breeding season.

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Snowy Egrets and a Wood Stork at the top right of this photo. Is that a rare Reddish Egret on the left? Or a Tri-colored Heron? Can’t tell.

(Update: confirmed to be a Tricolored Heron – white belly – by helpful birders on Facebook’s “What’s This Bird?”)

I saw what I thought were three Reddish Egrets on a sandbar adjoining this island a couple of months ago, doing their distinctive fishing dance, but didn’t have my camera. In March, we spotted what I think was a Reddish Egret on Bird Island and I got a photo (it’s in this post). (Update: that one confirmed as a Reddish Egret, yay!)

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“Gear down,” noted my husband, the airline pilot.

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Fuzzy-headed juvenile Wood Storks. It’s been a phenomenal breeding year for these big wading birds. I see the adults flying back and forth over our house every day now. Sometimes a fish crow or two can be seen chasing a stork out of “their” suburban residential territory.

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Wood Storks occur only in a few areas in the United States, so to get a look at one, head to a wetland preserve or wildlife area along the coast in Florida, South Carolina, or Georgia.

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Wood Storks are social birds that forage in groups and nest in colonies. Small groups of storks forage in wetlands, frequently following each other one by one in a line. In the late afternoon, when temperatures rise, Wood Storks often take to the sky, soaring on thermals like raptors. They nest in tight colonies with egrets and herons and generally show little aggression, but if a bird or mammal threatens them, they may pull their neck in, fluff up their feathers, and walk toward the intruder. Threats are also met with bill clattering and jabbing. Despite the myth that Wood Storks mate for life, pairs form at the breeding colony and stay together only for a single breeding season.

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Teenagers doing what they do best.

I’ve read that water levels affect their nesting rates. When levels are low, they have fewer offspring. Well, we did have a wet year last year!

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Just amazing to see (and hear and smell) this many birds in one place.

Bird Island is part of our town, Sewall’s Point. Here is a brief history of the island and a list of species observed, on the town website: Bird Island.

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Young stork, Brown Pelican and Black Vulture on the beach.

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Spoonbills and stork. I guess the juvenile storks start feeding on the island. I have not see the adults feed there – they fly off to other shallow waters, usually inland, usually fresh water.

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I was shooting into diffuse light, so these pics aren’t that great, but I wanted to show how many Magnificent Frigatebirds were in the trees on the northwest side of the island. I have been told that this is not a confirmed nesting site for frigate birds. I’m mildly skeptical… but humble about the limits of my bird knowledge.

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All together now, what a place!

More on Bird Island…

Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch: Sewall’s Point is for the Birds!

Visit Bird Island with Sunshine WildlifeTours

My blog: Bird Island Bird Spies; Bird Island from a boat; Boating near Bird Island.

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Meyer Art Originals Wood Stork print

Savannas in early May

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Partridge pea is blooming at Savannas Preserve State Park. We went for a walk there yesterday, at the far south entrance off Jensen Beach Blvd.

Savannas Preserve State Park encompasses 6,000 acres stretching 10 miles from Jensen Beach to Fort Pierce with the largest freshwater marsh in South Florida. Water levels are seasonally variable.

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This is a marsh overlook, with trusty dog and adventurous husband, but without much water to see at the end of the dry season.

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But the water is coming. In fact, half an hour after our walk it rained hard off and on for the rest of the day. Rainy season officially begins May 15 and lasts to Oct. 15.

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Not a lot of birds got close enough for me to photograph. The exception to the rule was odd: a Little Blue Heron flew to the top of a tall pine tree.

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Bird’s eye view.

Check out the Nature & History of the park at the Friends of Savannas Preserve State Park webpage.

The Savannas comprises six natural communities: pine flatwoods, wet prairie, basin marsh, marsh lake, sand pine scrub, and scrubby flatwoods. Each community is characterized by a distinct population of plants and animals that are naturally associated with each other and their physical environment. 

Of particular interest is the sand pine scrub, a globally-imperiled plant community covering the eastern boundary of the park. It is dominated by sand pines and is home to the Florida scrub-jay and gopher tortoise.

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We were walking on trails through the flatwoods and scrub. But that is not a Scrub Jay…

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Those feet seem to work for perching as well as the usual shoreline wading.

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Little Blue.

Check out this drone video of the Savannas by Alan Nyiri on Youtube.

Haney Creek list

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Green Heron!

Not an uncommon bird, but hard to spot. This is my first sighting since we moved to Florida.

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I went for a walk at Haney Creek yesterday late morning. I kept track of the birds I saw and heard and posted an eBird checklist for the first time in a while.

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The first to greet me: a couple of Gray Catbirds.

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Meow.

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Next, a non-bird.

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A slow-moving Gopher Tortoise was grazing at the edge of the path.

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On the fence at the dog run, an Eastern Phoebe.

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“Phoebe!” it said, helpfully.

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I expected to see more wading birds in the wetlands but only came up with this immature Little Blue Heron.

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That is a school just beyond the wetlands.

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The Little Blue is starting to get its adult colors.

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Why do they start off white and turn slaty blue-gray? I don’t know.

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On the hunt.

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Mirror, mirror.

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Last time I was at the dog park at Haney Creek (two days before), there were a pair of Sandhill Cranes and a pair of Great Egrets having a turf battle. I did not have my camera. I was hoping to see them this day but no luck.

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Next I walked a trail through sand pine scrub.

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There were little birds calling but I only got a good look at a few, including this Yellow-rumped Warbler.

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There have been a ton of butterbutts around this winter. I’m almost getting sick of them.

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More info on Florida sand pine scrub, an endangered subtropical forest ecoregion.

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Another gopher tortoise out for a stroll.

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Finally an animal that can’t outrun me, or fly away.

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Lots of Northern Cardinals around.

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I think it’s nesting season for them.

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Chestnut cap helps identify this (out of focus) Palm Warbler.

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Who doesn’t love a Green Heron??

Catbirds are songbirds

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Gray Catbird perches on the birdbath behind Audubon of Martin County yesterday at the Possum Long Nature Preserve in Stuart, FL.

I am still learning year-round vs. winter residents. Looks like catbirds are snowbirds in Florida.

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Resident along the Atlantic Coast; otherwise migratory. Catbirds from across North America spend winters along the Gulf Coast from Florida through Texas and all the way down Central America and the Caribbean.

They would arrive at our old house in coastal New Hampshire in early May, when tree flowers were blooming and insects were out. Contrary to popular opinion they were not shy. But I did serve them a fine feast at the feeders.

Scroll down for catbird photos from days of yore: GRAY CATBIRD – Amy’s Birds.

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Catbirds are mimids, members of the Mimidae family which includes mockingbirds and thrashers, notable for their vocalizations and ability to mimic other birds and outdoor sounds.

Yesterday I attended an Audubon class on Songbirds and Woodpeckers. Catbirds are songbirds or, more scientifically, Passeriformes or perching birds. Of the 10,000 species of birds in the world, about half of them are “songbirds” possessing the vocal cords and brains that allow them to sing, not just vocalize or call.

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From Cornell Lab Bird Academy: How and Why Birds Sing.

I went outside to get the Sunday paper during this morning’s dawn chorus and heard and saw two noisy catbirds in the bushes across the street.

If I could understand the language of the birds, I might hear them saying: “Write about us, write about us! We are leaving soon to fly north for the summer. See you next fall.”

Cedar waxwings are Florida snowbirds

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Cedar Waxwings visited the live oak tree across the street from our house in Sewall’s Point, Florida yesterday in the early afternoon.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cedar Waxwing:

A treat to find in your binocular viewfield, the Cedar Waxwing is a silky, shiny collection of brown, gray, and lemon-yellow, accented with a subdued crest, rakish black mask, and brilliant-red wax droplets on the wing feathers.

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We spotted several large flocks flying over, plus this flock that had settled in for some perching and trilly whistling. Maybe 50 or 60 birds in this tree?

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I’ve only seen Cedar Waxwings in winter, when we lived in New Hampshire. They liked the berries from the winterberry holly growing wild around us.

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Cedar Waxwings are social birds that form large flocks and often nest in loose clusters of a dozen or so nests. When feeding on fruits, Cedar Waxwings pluck them one by one and swallow the entire thing at once. They typically feed while perched on a twig, but they’re also good at grabbing berries while hovering briefly just below a bunch. When eating insects, waxwings either fly out from an exposed perch, or make long, zig-zagging flights over water.

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Notice that the bird on the left has an orange-tipped rather than yellow-tipped tail. What’s that all about? I don’t know.

During courtship, males and females hop towards each other, alternating back and forth and sometimes touching their bills together. Males often pass a small item like a fruit, insect, or flower petal, to the female. After taking the fruit, the female usually hops away and then returns giving back the item to the male. They repeat this a few times until, typically, the female eats the gift.

I saw a few of them do this. Charming!

Twelve 2017 birds

A few of the many birds I saw in 2017…

january

A cuteness of peeps, at Santa Lucea Beach on Hutchinson Island.

february

Amazing feather colors! Living with a few other macaws and lots of rescued wildlife at the Treasure Coast Wildlife Center.

March

Sometimes I see random cool birds on a walk around the neighborhood.

april

Fishing the easy way, at Sandsprit Park in Stuart.

May

Sexy spoonbills on Bird Island, as seen from a small boat.

june

A little pal in the backyard.

july

Lizard lunch in Sewall’s Point.

august

Warblers passing through our little peninsula between the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Lucie River.

september

Woodland hunter in Snug Harbor, Stuart.

october

Noisy neighbor.

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Raptor at the Stuart Airshow.

december

The ubiquitous waterbird.

Cathartes the purifier

So I went looking for the first bird of the new year, open to what the fates would send me yet pretty much expecting some sort of majestic raptor or rare wintering warbler.

If it was to be a woodpecker, I was hoping for the jaunty Pileated. If it was to be a heron, I felt a Great Egret would be appropriate… or maybe my oft-sighted pal the Little Blue. A Roseate Spoonbill winging overhead would be a pretty in pink.

But you cannot choose your New Year’s bird, your New Year’s bird chooses you. Behold…

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… the Turkey Vulture.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

If you’ve gone looking for raptors on a clear day, your heart has probably leaped at the sight of a large, soaring bird in the distance– perhaps an eagle or osprey. But if it’s soaring with its wings raised in a V and making wobbly circles, it’s likely a Turkey Vulture. These birds ride thermals in the sky and use their keen sense of smell to find fresh carcasses. They are a consummate scavenger, cleaning up the countryside one bite of their sharply hooked bill at a time, and never mussing a feather on their bald heads.

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I was walking the dog, my camera hanging from my shoulder, attuned to the sounds and movements of birds around me. An Osprey above, flying too far away for a photo. The little chirps of what may have been Palm Warblers, invisible in the trees. The noisy calls of Red-bellied Woodpeckers in someone’s backyard.

Instead my first good look at any bird, with a positive ID and photos, was of a committee of vultures, silent silhouettes lazing late into the morning on their dead-tree roost, waiting for sun and thermals to lift them into the sky to circle and scan for brunch.

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A group of vultures is called a kettle, committee or wake. The term kettle refers to vultures in flight, while committee refers to vultures resting on the ground or in trees. Wake is reserved for a group of vultures that are feeding.

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There was one Black Vulture with six Turkey Vultures.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

With sooty black plumage, a bare black head, and neat white stars under the wingtips, Black Vultures are almost dapper. Whereas Turkey Vultures are lanky birds with teetering flight, Black Vultures are compact birds with broad wings, short tails, and powerful wingbeats. The two species often associate: the Black Vulture makes up for its poor sense of smell by following Turkey Vultures to carcasses. Highly social birds with fierce family loyalty, Black Vultures share food with relatives, feeding young for months after they’ve fledged.

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Black vulture pair feeding on a mule deer, John James Audubon, via Wikipedia.

American naturalist William Bartram wrote of the black vulture in his 1792 book Bartram’s Travels, calling it Vultur atratus “black vulture” or “carrion crow”. The common name “vulture” is derived from the Latin word vulturus, which means “tearer” and is a reference to its feeding habits. The species name, ātrātus, means “clothed in black,” from the Latin āter ‘dull black’.

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A Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura.

Cathartes means “purifier” and is the Latinized form from the Greek kathartēs/καθαρτης. Is aura from aureus “golden” or Aura, the Greek goddess of the breeze?

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Grasping the tree with its dark pink, clawed foot.

I have noticed Black Vultures here in Florida year-round, maybe more of them in winter, but I think the Turkey Vultures are here mainly in winter. They benefit from each other: the Turkey Vulture smells and locates the carrion and the Black Vulture has a stronger beak to start the tearing.

And they benefit us too.

National Geographic: Vultures Are Revolting. Here’s Why We Need to Save Them.

THE VULTURE MAY be the most maligned bird on the planet, a living metaphor for greed and rapaciousness. Leviticus and Deuteronomy classify vultures as unclean, creatures to be held in abomination by the children of Israel. In his diary during the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle in 1835, Charles Darwin called the birds “disgusting,” with bald heads “formed to wallow in putridity.” Among their many adaptations to their feculent niche: the ability to vomit their entire stomach contents when threatened, the better to take quick flight.

Revolting? Perhaps. But vultures are hardly without redeeming values. They don’t (often) kill other animals, they probably form monogamous pairs, and we know they share parental care of chicks, and loaf and bathe in large, congenial groups. Most important, they perform a crucial but massively underrated ecosystem service: the rapid cleanup, and recycling, of dead animals. By one estimate, vultures either residing in or commuting into the Serengeti ecosystem during the annual migration—when 1.3 million white-bearded wildebeests shuffle between Kenya and Tanzania—historically consumed more meat than all mammalian carnivores in the Serengeti combined. And they do it fast. A vulture can wolf more than two pounds of meat in a minute; a sizable crowd can strip a zebra—nose to tail—in 30 minutes. Without vultures, reeking carcasses would likely linger longer, insect populations would boom, and diseases would spread—to people, livestock, and other wild animals.

Thanks, clean-up crew.

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Pink hibiscus blooming today, on the first day of 2018, in our front yard. The flowers only last a day or so.

First bird of the year, in years past…

2015 (NH): The sometimes dazed but indefatigably diligent downy woodpecker.

2016 (NH): Northern cardinal in the snow.

2017 (FL): Grackles running around at the gas station.

Happy 2018!

And a heron in a mangrove tree

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I believe this is a juvenile Little Blue Heron. Maybe they could rename it Little Blue Heron That Starts Off White.

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This bird was near the boardwalk that crosses from the Intracoastal Waterway to the ocean beach at St. Lucie Preserve Inlet State Park, a wonderful place for nature and quiet at the northern end of Jupiter Island. Accessible only by boat… or a very long walk up the beach from the parking lot at Home Sound Wildlife Refuge to the south.

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We were there a week and a half ago. Busy holiday time has made me a blog slacker. But now it is quiet Christmas morning and lo, the blog revives. Merry Christmas! The day will be busier soon, with my daughters visiting from the cold north and my husband the airline pilot winging his way home from London.

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The pretty green eye of the Little Blue.

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The Little Blue Heron is a stand-and-wait predator, rather than a frenetic, dashing-about predator. They watch the water for fish and other small morsels, changing locations by walking slowly or by flying to a completely different site.

A mellow little fellow, easy to photograph.

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Also from the boat trip, a Brown Pelican close-up.

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Have you noticed the tip of a pelican’s bill? It’s a built-in fish hook!

Also, the bird’s pouch (a “fishing net”) expands to hold up to three gallons of water, which is then expelled, leaving the fish inside.

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This looks like a neat movie: Pelican Dreams trailer.

What’s it like to try to get to know a flying dinosaur? Filmmaker Judy Irving (“The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill”) follows a wayward California brown pelican from her “arrest” on the Golden Gate Bridge into care at a wildlife rehabilitation facility, and from there explores pelicans’ nesting grounds, Pacific coast migration, and survival challenges. The film is about wildness: how close can we get to a wild animal without taming or harming it? Why do we need wildness in our lives, and how can we protect it?

I wish you Peace, Love and Joy this day. And I hope you see a few cool birds.

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Kestrel at sunset

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Falcon at sunset, on the tip top of a neighbor’s palm. This is an American Kestrel, to be exact.

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The American kestrel usually hunts in energy conserving fashion by perching and scanning the ground for prey to ambush, though it also hunts from the air. It sometimes hovers in the air with rapid wing beats while homing in on prey. Its diet typically consists of grasshoppers and other insects, lizards, mice, and small birds (e.g. sparrows). This broad diet has contributed to its wide success as a species.

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This kestrel arrived back in the neighborhood a month or so ago. I often see it in this exact spot, sometimes for 15 or 20 minutes at a time. Seems like a pretty chill little raptor.

Last year: Angel on top of the tree.