A shrill, mewling chatter falls from a clear city sky and echoes off the walls of glass of nearby buildings, thin and piercing through the rattle and roar of the traffic below.
A lazy shadow passes over Mitchell Street in central Darwin.
A female Australian (aka Nankeen) Kestrel watches her mate glide on the swirling breezes that flow in and around the office buildings and hotels that line the street.
The male bird floats effortlessly in broad, lazy irregular circles before me, the black terminal tail band stark against the soft creaminess and coppery…nankeen…soft browns…chocolate…bright yellow colours of his underwing plumage and legs. As he crosses before the sun these colours glow all backlit and glorious.
Does he see me?
Of that I can be sure because the first rule of watching birds – particularly raptors – is that the bird always sees you before you it. And so few of us ever bother to look up to catch sight of these beautiful things that live their lives in a domain all their own above and around us.
Does he care if any of us see him?
Most likely not. I pose no threat and am just a small part of the city’s visual clutter. I am neither prey nor predator.
I’ve been watching Australian Kestrels over central Darwin for a long time and this year I’ve had my best opportunities to observe them regularly at close quarters.
I work directly across the road from their preferred roost – and hopefully – nesting site at Darwin’s Crowne Plaza hotel.
Often the male bird will roost on the topmost antenna on the roof, watchful for prey and threats. This year I’ve seen the female bird flying from one of the small ledges outside of the rooms several times and it may be here that they will make their nest.
Australian Kestrels are common across Australia, their preferred habitat being open country, where they can often be seen hovering on rapidly fluttering wings at a fixed point above prey in the grass, dropping in steps as if on a wire to pounce on the unwitting prey – a small lizard or mammal – with deadly accuracy and purpose. What prey they find – and whether there is enough to feed themselves and offsprings – is unclear to me. But with the coming wet season the insect and small reptile population will boom, hopefully sufficient for their needs.
A pair of Kestrels in the inner-city is a rare thing that should be celebrated. It may be the small size of Darwin city that provides the required combination of nearby open ground, sufficient prey and high roosting points. I’m interested in hearing of inner-city Kestrels in other Australian cities – where the combination of habitats may not occur – and particularly of nesting attempts and successes. Please drop me a line with any observations.
I look forward to a few more months with this pair – and hopefully this season’s successful clutch – over the coming months.
I’ll keep you posted.