An unexpected encounter this week illustrated nature’s brutality in vivid detail.
I was driving through the Capertee Valley when I noticed a Nankeen Kestrel on a fence post beside the road. Nankeen Kestrels (Falco cenchroides) are common small birds of prey in the area. You often see them perched high on the powerlines or hovering above the paddocks searching for prey on the ground.
As luck would have it there was a handy place to pull off the road near the bird and try for a photo. Birds of prey can be hard to get close to and often take flight as soon as you stop the vehicle, but this one wasn’t ready to move. The vehicle can make a good visual shield, acting like a hide or blind and allowing you to approach closer than would be possible on foot, without disturbing the bird.
The kestrel was totally engrossed in feeding, using its foot to pin its prey to the post and tearing at it with its bill. Feathers floated up and drifted away with every tug — its prey was a bird! I tried not to breathe as I watched in awe and snapped photos from just five metres away. Eventually I quietly put the camera down and only then did the kestrel fly off, still grasping what remained of its prey.
The photos clearly show that its prey was a female Zebra Finch. It’s hard not to have a soft spot for “zebbies”. They nest under the eaves of my little cabin only five kilometres from this spot. Popular cage birds throughout the world, here in the Capertee Valley they are native and wild, and populate the paddock shrubs in chattering, sociable flocks. This unfortunate little female was either too slow or perhaps distracted for a moment. It fell victim to a raptor that rarely chases birds and whose more usual prey is grasshoppers, mice and lizards. In nature, a moment of carelessness can have fatal consequences for a small bird.
Photos © Carol Probets; all taken using a Canon Powershot SX50 HS.