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Woods, water & worse/Jim Junttila

Birds of a feather

August 20, 2010
By Jim Junttila

"Did I mention that a bird flew into my car on the way over here?" Rick Anderson asked as our PLWA meeting at the ClBC was about to break up. We usually hang around for a coupla rounds and a show-and-tell session. "I'm pretty sure it's a kestrel," he added, reaching into his pocket, whipping out this dead bird, then casually laying it on the table for all to see.

"Not just any kestrel, but an American kestrel," said WW&W wildlife correspondent Paris Hiltunen, gently petting the beautiful raptor. "Check out the rufous (reddish brown) back and tail, the white face, cheeks and chest with black bars and spots. It's a boy, notice the bluish-gray wings?

I never know where my next column is coming from but one just showed up. By the way, PLWA stands for Portage Lake Water Authority, not to be confused with Portage Lake Walleye Association, both fictitious organizations. CIBC stands for Copper Island Beach Club, a real live place.

"Ten to 12 inches, about the size of a bluejay or robin," Paris continued, taking off her dangerously high heels to measure and for dramatic effect. "Notice the 24-inch wingspan," she said, fanning out the gorgeous blue and rust-colored feathers.

Some say the PLWA is just a BS session and an excuse to get together and pound a few beers, but I was going to school on kestrels here and Paris was the teacher. Like any good teacher, she triggers my lust for knowledge and makes me want to learn more, so I wandered off into the research wilderness of Wikipedia to cool down.

Turns out kestrel-car collisions are more common than I thought. Who knew? Kestrals characteristically perch on roadside fence posts, telephone wires and trees when they hunt and tend to fly into cars. This one picked Rick's.

When you live in a place where deer-car collisions are pretty commonplace, a small bird is like a bug on the windshield. I've had a coupla partridge fly into my van, and yes, I stopped and threw them in the back. Wouldn't you? When you hit a deer around here, the guy behind you is usually throwing it in the backa his truck before you can turn around or back up. We're birds of a feather; hunterers and gatherers for life.

But Rick Anderson is the first person I ever knew who stopped to pick up a bird thinking not only fresh roadkill for supper, but in the meantime, a hot topic for show and tell, and was now offering it up for the plucking; help yourself to whatever feathers you want for your fly-tying vise, quill pen, a real feather in your cap for a change instead of just a metaphor, or some other fashion statement. That way, the bird pretty much gets plucked by others and Rick takes the breast home to marinate and wrap in bacon like woodcock.

Among the prettiest of our birds of prey, the American Kestrel (Falco sparverius), also known as the sparrow hawk, is the smallest falcon in North America. It is not a true kestrel, its ancestors having split from those of the common kestrel and its relatives during the late Miocene epoch.

There's nothing common about the kestrel; it is the only raptor to hunt by hovering in the air with rapid wing beats like a hummingbird, or by perching and scanning for lizards, dragonflies, mice, voles, bats and small birds. It can spot a grasshopper 100 feet away and with flight speeds to 39 mph, it's like a bat outa hell and on you like a hawk as they say.

They are efficient avian predators and falconers use them to hunt grackles, starlings and sparrows. Mating kestrals put on quite a courtship, males perform a diving display, a series of steep climbs and dives. He seduces her by flutter-gliding and offering her food. Once she accepts the dinner date and starts flutter-gliding back, that's it. Some pairs nest in the same tree for many years; others nest in rock cliffs, buildings and artificial nest boxes. Both sexes take turns incubating the eggs, rare behavior among birds of prey.

But then so is flying into cars.

WW&W Summer Outdoor Calendar

Tonight & Saturday, Calumet-Keweenaw Sportsmen's Club Gun & Sports Show, Calumet Colosseum, 4-9 p.m. today, 9-5 p.m. Sat, Mike Dudenas, 337-0347

Also tomorrow:

Calumet Heritage Celebration, Agassiz Park, mainstreetcalumet.com, 337-6246

Great Deer Chase Mountain Bike Race, Swedetown Recreation Area, greatdeerchase. com, 337-1300

Thimbleberry Jamfest, Mohawk, keweenaw krayons.com, 337-4706

Art in the Park, Copper Harbor Community Center, Johanna. punkin906@yahoo.com, 289-4363.

Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at jjunttila@ chartermi.net.

 
 

 

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