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Post Info TOPIC: Species in Focus - Kestrel.

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Species in Focus - Kestrel.

At the time of our last atlas project the Kestrel was undoubtedly and by some considerable margin the commonest of our birds of prey, with an estimated population of around 450 pairs. For comparison, it was then considered that there were roughly 50 pairs of Sparrowhawks. What about Buzzard, Merlin and Peregrine Falcon? Well they only just about made it into the report and were included in the "Unusual Breeding Species" section at the back, with just one breeding record between these three species throughout the duration of BBGM! Poor old Hobby didn't even manage to earn itself a mention!! Most birders would consider that Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and Peregrine Falcon have made varying degrees of progress since our last survey. Merlin possibly remains largely unchanged and Hobby is now an expected summer visitor to GM, although not as yet as a regular breeder. But what has happened to our Kestrel population in the intervening years? On the Breeding Birds Survey (BBS) nationally this species has shown a statistically significant decline of 20% for the period 1995 to 2008, although this decline is of just 3% for north-west England for the same period. At the time of BBGM this species was recorded in 274 tetrads, representing 83% of the total number of tetrads available, breeding was confirmed in 121 of these. Yet at the end of our third breeding season for our current atlas project Kestrel had been proven to breed in just 49 tetrads, equating to only 40% of the BBGM total. So has this species declined or are we just missing signs of its breeding activity? As ever, this is where your expert help is urgently requested, as it is hoped that you will be able to report all sightings of Kestrel breeding activity this summer.

Kestrels are easily the most visible of our birds of prey when hunting for food and probably the raptor with the least well hidden of nests. Indeed, it is this species flexibility of both diet and nest site which allows it to be found across much of GM. Nest sites may include buildings, such as churches or derelict old mills, owl boxes, on pylons (usually in an old crows nest), crags, quarry faces or trees. According to the BTO Nest Record Scheme the range of laying dates for this species is between 10th April and 16th May. Incubation takes c30 days and the birds fledge after a further 30 days or so. With nests sometimes being so visible we may be fortunate enough to see adult birds visiting a definite nest site - use code ON (adults entering or leaving nest-site in circumstances indicating occupied nest). If adults are seen carrying food (use code FF) towards a likely nest site at this time of the year, then please try and follow its flight line and with any luck our eye will be lead towards the nest! To be able to observe large nestlings awaiting the return of adults with food is always a special sight and such a record would allow us to use the code NY (nest with young seen or heard) when inputting our confirmed breeding records at the BTO website. Recently fledged young remain dependent on adults for several weeks after leaving the nest and sometimes linger in the immediate area around the actual nest site for a short period of time. At this stage of this species breeding life cycle the breeding code FL (recently fledged young or downy young) should be used.

A quick summary of the data for the first three seasons of our current atlas project would show the first two letter confirmed breeding codes for an occupied nest (ON) noted as early as 18th April, the first adults carrying food (FF) on 26th April and the first fledged young (FL) seen on 1st June. However, whilst confirmed breeding records were reported between the aforementioned early date of 18th April and a final date of 25th August, the total number of records for April and August for the three breeding seasons was only small and the numbers for May just about made it into double figures. Not surprisingly therefore the peak months were June for those records coded NY or FF and then logically July for those coded FL.

Good luck and many thanks for your help.

-- Edited by Bill Myerscough on Friday 17th of June 2011 04:18:48 PM

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