The drought has been as hard on wildlife as it has been on farmers. Our resident hawks and kestrels have gotten more and more aggressive with our chickens as the populations of mice, gophers and ground squirrels have declined. I cannot blame them for trying to make a meal out of my birds – they are hungry! Every creature must do what it can to survive.
The kestrel has been taking a young chick every couple of days from one of my light brown hens. This poor hen has lost all but one of her chicks. I have tried locking them up but the chicks are eager to explore and slip through chicken wire and under the edges of their pen as their mother and free-ranging chickens dig up the dirt. Once out the chicks are vulnerable to the kestrels and one by one they have disappeared.
Yesterday the last chick was out again so I decided to let it’s mother out to protect it. Not an hour later I heard a commotion and saw the kestrel performing some amazing air acrobatics in an attempt to catch the chick. He was being put through his paces by the hen who countered his attacks – throwing herself at the predator battering it with her wings and legs. It was quite a fight. The kestrel landed in a tree to rest only to have the hen fly up and attack him in the branches. I was able to scoop up the chick and return him and the hen to their pen. Even with my presence the kestrel stayed close by flying over my head to try and find out where the chick was hiding.
I felt very sorry for this wild bird as I knew it had to be extremely hungry to be this bold. I spent most of the day pondering how I could help it. Were there ways I could attract sparrows to open areas that would give it a better chance hunting them? Could I flush mice and moles from the ground in areas where the kestrel could grab them? If I put out strips of chicken would he take it?
In a weird sort of irony when I left the house this morning I was greeted by a present from one of my cats. A killed but otherwise untouched sparrow on my door mat. My first thought went to the kestrel so I took my “present” to an area I know the kestrel frequents and left it poised in a “natural” feeding position. I hope the kestrel gets it before the ravens do! I hope it provides a meal and a little more energy to hunt natural prey.
I must be the only farmer who is hoping for a few more field mice, moles, sparrows and small birds to raid my fields. My neighbors the hawks and kestrels need them!