Tarlatt Slough in the South Bay Unit of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places for nesting birds. Barn swallows nested and fledged young for the first time anyone knows of last year and then again this year. Western bluebirds showed up a few years ago and nested. The evidence of at least an attempt was one eggshell in the box the pair chose to nest in. It looks like many of the bird species know that Tarlatt is an excellent place to be.
Another first for Tarlatt occurred this year. American kestrels found the nesting box at Tarlatt. The female selects the site. She must have loved the Tarlatt abode so she and he decided to set up residence in March 2018. Since then the pair have been observed dating on-line, mating, carrying food to the box and generally going in and out.
Last week, my friend, Susan, and I saw two fluffy-looking kestrels sitting together on the guide lines to the posts acting for all the world like juveniles. For example, they ventured too close to the Belted Kingfisher’s territory. The kingfisher patrols Tarlatt Slough looking for the tasty small fish it prefers. It was Johnny-on-the-spot when two kestrels came too close. As a result, they suffered many dive bombings by a very aggressive kingfisher, giving its loud rattling calls as it drove them both out of its territory. They didn’t learn until after the second chase was on again that afternoon by the very territorial and aggressive kingfisher. I doubt adult kestrels would make the mistake of getting in this kingfisher’s way!
Scientists suggest that perching together may reflect juveniles who are involved in social hunting. This often occurs with kestrel siblings. They perch together, but hunt on their own, and in the process learn hunting techniques from each other.
In addition, when perched close to one another, one would stay while the other took off and perched in another place down the road a bit. Then the latter took off like a shot and flew back to other juvenile as though they were playing tag. Once the sitting bird was dubbed “it,” it flew off and perched down the road. Now the game was on! The process reversed itself and continued for quite a few minutes.
The identification of first-year female kestrels in the field is tricky because they look identical to the female adult. The only difference, according to some scientific writers, might be that on average, females lack the wide dark sub-terminal tail band (Crossley et. al., 2013). Crossley indicates that male juveniles are also nearly identical to their male parent, but show dark streaks on the chest. He also indicates that first year males wear this plumage for a very short time. Molting occurs throughout the fall so that by early winter they are indistinguishable from adult males.
Another nesting success seems to be at hand, but we will keep on looking in the hopes of seeing more than two birds at a time. This would provide more evidence for an important nesting record in our area!
P.S. Three American kestrels were sighted at the same time at Tarlatt on Aug. 5, so breeding status has been confirmed.