Sunday, 18 June 2017

Kite, etc

. . . my most recent "Nature Notes" column:

I was going to write about this year’s fledglings, which are everywhere in my garden as I write, with hoards of little coal tits and a brood of bullfinches my particular favourites. There are so many, and they seem so without fear that even the grey squirrels are put out by them. Squirrels expect to have control of the bird feeders whenever they choose to raid them. The birds are supposed to move away, but these young birds don’t. The squirrel I was watching climbed the pole from which the feeders hang, to look in amazement as the birds just continued to flutter and feed as though he wasn’t there, before eventually admitting defeat and descending.

But while parking cars for the Welshpool Air Show at the Livestock Market my eye was caught by a superior flying display - a red kite, which was about all day. It was a blustery sort of day, and the kite was totally expert in manipulating the wind, soaring, gliding, dipping with negligible effort, spreading its long wings and twisting its body in flight with amazing suppleness. At times there were two, so they were presumably nesting locally - I hope so, anyway.

Birds of prey never linger long in one spot without attracting opposition. Jackdaws were nesting, probably somewhere by the canal, and whenever the kite strayed too close to their comfort zone, they were up and about, mobbing him, and driving him back across the market. Even small birds will mob raptors and other birds seen as possible threats - I’ve seen songbirds mobbing a sparrow hawk, which would normally have been happy to make a meal of any of them. But in such cases they can probably tell that the hawk isn’t in hunting mode, and so not a direct threat, and out in the open (and in numbers) they probably have the ability to annoy it without being at too much risk themselves.  Mobbing in numbers will tend to confuse and disorientate a possible predator, as when the black-headed gulls at Llyn Coed y Dinas lift noisily as one to drive off a passing heron or greater black-backed gull.

In this case, the kite allowed the jackdaws to see it off, drifting back over the market area without paying them too much regard. It probably won’t have been much of a real threat, and the mobbing came across as something done for form’s sake rather than as a real emergency response. Red kites are mostly carrion feeders, and jackdaws are mostly hole nesters, so their eggs or young will have been safely out of reach anyway.

It was when the kite found and picked up a bit of carrion (roadkill, probably) that it became the target of a serious and concerted attack, which came from two directions. It lifted up with something dangling from one talon, and immediately there was a buzzard on the scene, pushing up from below and trying to tackle the kite. From above appeared a lesser black-backed gull which swooped repeatedly at the kite’s head. In an aerobatics competition I’m sure the kite could have beaten either of them, but against both at once it was up against it. The morsel was dropped as the kite made its escape, but I didn’t see which of the two attackers got it.

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