A springtime love affair:

Wildside Festival site welcomes nesting kestrels

(C) Jon Hawkins Surrey Hill Photography

(C) Jon Hawkins Surrey Hill Photography

 
 

By Louise Baker, for The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust

One of our favourite moments from last year’s Wildside Festival was the stunning kestrel created by Sheffield graffiti and street artist Fauna Graphic. Painted onto one of our barns the kestrel is bold, bright and beautiful; a poster-bird for the many species that have come to call Woodside Farm Nature Reserve their home. We were particularly excited to discover that we have a pair of nesting kestrels on the site at the moment. If you listen long, and hard enough you may just hear their shrill ‘kee’ above the noise of our performers and visitors come June...

 

Did you know...? Much like other birds of prey kestrels don’t build their own nests. Instead, this hardy falcon makes the most of abandoned nests, ledges, tree forks and ruts in the ground, as well as artificial nesting sites. This manner of nesting provides kestrels with a wide and varied territory in which to breed, raise eggs and hunt.

The kestrel, or falco tinnunculus, has become one of the country’s best-known, and most beloved birds of prey. Easily identifiable by their distinctive plumage, pointed wings and long tails kestrels are a common sight along country lanes and motorways; many of us will identify a hovering kestrel by its characteristic hunting style long before we’ve seen its bright and colourful feathers.

Kestrels are adaptable hunters, happy to feast on all manner of small mammals, insects and birds when their main food source, the short-tailed field vole, is scarce. They’re also incredibly well suited to Derbyshire’s landscape, and can be found swooping over a variety of habitats including open farmland, moorland, woodland, and even urban areas. Renowned for being hardy souls the kestrel has stolen our hearts.

 

Did you know...? Kestrels often pair for several seasons, forming long-term partnerships much like swans do.

Kestrel courtship usually begins in early spring, and results in batches of four to six eggs that are laid in April or May and incubated for approximately one month. Our nesting kestrels may well be sitting on eggs while you’re enjoying our festival; we’re particularly excited by that prospect. Young kestrels fledge a month after hatching, but remain dependent upon their parents for a further four weeks. Look towards the skies this June, and you may just spot our young kestrels taking their first flights.

Did you know...? Kestrels will often return to nesting sites year after year – including artificial nest boxes. You can imagine how excited we are at the prospect of welcoming our feathered friends back next year, too!

Despite their enduring reputation and adaptable nature the kestrel has faltered since the 1970s, perhaps due to changing agricultural practices. Experts estimate that numbers could have fallen by as much as 25% in the last forty years, leaving just 36,000 kestrels in the wild. These figures place the kestrel on amber alert, at moderate risk of extinction. They’re not yet endangered, but we face a real risk of losing one of our most beloved species if we can’t change our approach to habitat management, or our attitudes towards the wildlife living alongside us.

There’s good news; it’s not too late for us to help this wonderful little falcon. We, alongside the other Wildlife Trusts, are working hard to promote wildlife-friendly practices amongst those with the power to change the landscape for the better. This will, eventually, create a ‘Living Landscape’ that will support a network of habitats and, in turn, the numerous animals, birds, and plants that live and thrive there. With the help of landowners, farmers and members of the public we can all safeguard the future for the kestrel.

 

If you do happen to be out for a wander don’t forget to look up; your sighting could help in the battle to preserve this beautiful species, simply by registering your sighting at www.kestrelcount.org. You can also support our county’s species by joining the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, and by purchasing your tickets to the Wildside Festival. Each ticket purchased will help Derbyshire’s wildlife – and you’ll have a fantastic time, too. We, and our kestrels, will see you then!