Of all the colorful birds you may see as you drive along a country road, there is one who stands out. They may be no larger than robins, but when it comes to beautiful plumage, the American Kestrels are in a league of their own.
The Kestrels that I see here in the winter are usually perched all along on a power line just off a country road. Once commonly known as Sparrow hawks, Kestrels are the smallest true falcons in North America. They weren't called Sparrow hawks for nothing, being able to catch English sparrows, at will, in any farmyard. They can do amazing things when on the wing if they have a mind to, but most of their time is spent perching on a wire or tree limb watching the ground below for field voles. Occasionally they will fly high over a grassy field and hover in one place for several minutes while searching the ground below for a vole. They hunt the same way in the summer, only then the prey is large insects, small amphibians and snakes.
Like most birds of prey, living a life in solitude is the way of the falcon. Observing life from a distance and learning the movements of others has sharpened the falcons' senses. He has become the ultimate hunter on wings and the envy of all, with or without wings.
At dawn this morning, the calls of crows got my attention. Something has got them talking out near the garden. At first I thought the local Red-tailed hawk was nearby and the crows were taunting him. When I eventually peeked out the window, I saw a crow fly to the ground. Then I could see there were several other members of the crow family standing around a road-killed deer several yards off the road. People drive too fast on their artificial trails, and the deer can't judge the unnatural speed that we travel. That is the third doe this winter that couldn't outrun a car in front of my house.
The crows will take advantage of the opportunity the deer has given them. It's mid-February and cold, so food is where you find it, if you find it. At night, the scent of the dead deer will drift on the breeze and lead the coyotes to the carcass. As it should be, those who live with the deer will recycle the deer.
I like the calls of the crows. They put a voice in an otherwise cold, quiet winter day. I've always thought it was good luck to have the crows visit me. They're rarely alone, and depend on their community to survive. For them, life is about family and friends. Needless to say, there is much we could learn from the crows.
Each evening the cardinals gather to fill their crops with sunflower seeds. Anyone who feeds the winter birds will tell you that the beautiful red cardinals are the first to come to the bird feeders in the morning and the last to leave at the end of the day. Sometimes I like to toss the seed in a small area on the ground. The red birds will gather close together to eat, giving me a chance to count them. It may have been the best winter for cardinals at my feeders, and I've seen 32 at one time. Hopefully, some of them will stay and spend the summer here. I heard one of the males sing his first spring song this morning; it was short, but oh-so-sweet.
I saw a six-point White-tailed buck today. I should say that he was a six pointer, but now he only has three points, because he has shed one of his antlers. It seems the deer shed their antlers a little earlier each year. Anyway, it's a sure sign of spring.
All art ©2013 Organic Valley