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My Life’s Birds: #88

May 1, 2008

September 3, 1993 – Christian Co, Mo – Back home in Missouri, back in the rhythm of the regular school year. It’s a grind everyone in my family is all too familiar with. When late August rolls around we all had to, once again, make the regular trek into town. For my sister and I as students, for my parents as teachers. It was just another weekday returning home at the end of a long week, when my next lifer rose up to greet me and reminded me that one of the great joys of birding is that the next lifer can come at any time, whether you expect it or not.

The road we drove from Ozark to the house in Linden wound up and around hay fields and cattle pastures along a ridge until dropping down into the Finley River valley. It just so happens that such high open ground is the preferred habitat for American Kestrels. They were especially apparent in the late summer, when the previous season’s young would perch on the power lines, waiting for mice and insects to pop up out of the fields that until recently had been thick with knee high fescue. But now, with the biomass neatly mowed in preparation for feeding livestock through the winter, the hide-aways reduced to big circular bales of dried grass, rodent and insect alike found themselves exposed, and easy prey for the Kestrels and other raptors taking advantage of the seasonal glut.

It’s amazing how lucky we are to have a colorful bird of prey so easily accessible to North American birders. With their rainbow plumage and raptor caché, they seem like they should be exotic and rare. But like so many open field species, the habitat that they prefer regularly gets filled in with houses and strip malls, the snags where they’d find cavities removed for being unsightly. It’s not all bad though, the Missouri Department of Conservation has been active placing kestrel boxes on the back of highway signs. The kestrels take to them, and in many areas across southwest Missouri are still common sights hovering in the median and perched on the electrical wires. A small bit of the exotic in the middle of the mundane.


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