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We shouldn't always fear change

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Chris Packham Chris Packham | 11:36 UK time, Monday, 12 October 2009

Driving home on Saturday (which for me means an M32/M4/A34/M27 route) I only counted a single kestrel hovering on the verges. Last weekend it was the same. That's just one kessie in 114 miles, a pretty clear indication that this species is in trouble. Yes, this is subjective rather than scientific, but a striking change of affairs for this little falcon.


Kestrels in trouble? I counted just one in 114-mile journey

The reason we notice and record such apparent fluctuations is that they are perceptible in the timespan of our experiences. That is to say that I, and you, if you're over ten, remember when kestrels were our commonest raptor and were easy to see on such journeys. For some they were so familiar that they were considered a little ordinary. But now they've gone, or at least they are going, and we feel compelled to investigate why and hopefully in future conserve them.

But how would our grand parents remember the abundance of kestrels, or their grandparents? Maybe they were once rarer, perhaps in the peak of the 1950s pesticide crisis they decreased only to recover more rapidly than other species such as the buzzard and the sparrowhawk.

Sparrowhawks are another interesting case. When I was studying kestrels as a teenager in the 1970s they were uncommon. Finding a nest was a big deal. But now I read letters from people who claim that they are reaching plague proportions, that they are responsible for the diminishing number of songbirds.

Sparrowhawk at Threave

The thing is that these people, and you and me, probably became aware of birds and thus began to measure their relative abundance when the population was on its knees. Now it's just getting back to normal and thus to some they seems over-abundant.

Not that it could be. The sparrowhawk population is self-regulating and largely determined by that of its prey. No predator eats itself into extinction. So blaming it for a songbird genocide is a fundamentally flawed concept. We should in fact be celebrating the sparrowhawk's recovery.

This phenomenon is called 'shifting baseline syndrome' and it's proving to be a real hindrance to effective conservation in some instances. Natural systems rarely function in parallel with the human lifespan and of course if we are messing those systems around they may not re-stabilise in our lifetimes. Thus maybe some of the positives and negatives will in time cancel each other out.

Kestrels mainly feed on small mammals and sparrowhawks on small birds. So it's unlikely that the increase in the latter is responsible for the decrease of the former. But what about buzzards? They do eat small mammals. Could their also significant recovery be having a negative impact on the kestrel? And now that those arch exterminators goshawks are again widespread, what effect might they be having on other raptor numbers?

The UK countryside is a dynamic and interesting place and change is not something we should necessarily fear before we fully research and understand it.


  • 1. At 2:30pm on 12 Oct 2009, Nicola Main wrote:

    We have just come back from a holiday in Dumfries & Galloway and on the return trip I saw only two Kestrels in a 160-mile journey. One was on the ring road outside Edinburgh and the other just outside Perth. I only see Kestrels on my local patch every so often when as little as three years ago we had one male and two females. I certainly feel that Kestrels are in serious decline in my area (Carnoustie in Angus) and would also like to know if others are seeing anything similar in their areas?

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  • 2. At 3:50pm on 12 Oct 2009, thewildlifestudio wrote:

    While a decline in some areas may be evident, I can drive four or five miles down the road and count anything up to half a dozen kestrels.
    Mind you, there has always been a distint lack of Buzzards in the area, but a couple of those have been seen on numerous occasions recently. I'm talking about the far east of Kent.

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  • 3. At 6:06pm on 12 Oct 2009, mrsbirder2 wrote:

    We live in north Leeds and often drive along the Wharfe valley on Red Kite watch .Kestrels and Buzzards are spotted nearly every trip especialy around the eccup/harewood area.We have see kestrels on most of our birding trips around the Yorkshire dales which is great as the RSPB say North Yorks is bad for raptor crime.
    I am also delighted as we now have a regular Sparrowhawk that parols over the Chapel Allerton area,she is a nice big female must be getting lots of dinner.I am sure that the garden bird population near us is not getting any smaller in fact if anything it seems to be increasing!

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  • 4. At 6:16pm on 12 Oct 2009, Boofer wrote:

    We have seen a kestrel several times this year sitting on the telegraph pole in our field. The field is not grazed, unlike the fields which surround it, and the grass is cut spasmodically. Am I right in thinking that tussocky grass is good for small mammals?

    We have buzzards nesting in a nearby copse, a pair of sparrowhawks use our garden (plus bird table) as their private dining room and owls are regularly heard in and around the area.

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  • 5. At 6:35pm on 12 Oct 2009, Nicola Main wrote:

    Boofer - tussocky grass is ideal for small mammals and therefore birds of prey like Kestrels, Barn Owls and Short-eared Owls. I would definitely keep an eye on that field to see what turns up ;)

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  • 6. At 7:44pm on 12 Oct 2009, ellie1rox wrote:

    I live close to a main motorway, and we used to see lots of kestrels hovering above the road- however, in recent times we've seen none. I can totally believe that they're in trouble- a shame, they're beautiful birds! :(

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  • 7. At 8:26pm on 12 Oct 2009, mithrandirpike wrote:

    Living in N.Lincs and travelling to work @ 6am I see both owls and falcons . Barn owls abound as do kestrels on the return journey by the A15 , often its the time of day that limits the number seen on a journey. Looking forward to the identifying birds of prey on next weeks AW .

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  • 8. At 8:26pm on 12 Oct 2009, scotsgirl wrote:

    We have regular sightings of a kestrel above the fields in front of our house, and also regularly hear owls at night above the same fields (Scottish Borders).

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  • 9. At 10:54pm on 12 Oct 2009, Andy Gibb wrote:

    I have a great game when I'm driving along. It's called buzzards vs kestrels and simply involves counting both species on a journey. I get some pretty realistic football scores out of it. Trouble is: I haven't kept a long term tally of the games.

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  • 10. At 01:19am on 13 Oct 2009, MAW1962 wrote:

    Now this has got me thinking. I do see kestrels, but nowadays around the more minor roads, not on the Motorways like I used to see them say, 5 or 10 years ago.
    Also, I now comment to people in the car when I see a kestrel, whereas it would have been tedious to do so in the past because they were such a common sight.

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  • 11. At 11:47am on 13 Oct 2009, Sparrowhawk1974 wrote:

    We live in West Oxfordshire and used to see a kestrel every day over our local meadow but haven't seen it for a few months, in fact very rarely see any kestrels any more. Quite a few buzzards and the odd sparrowhawk but very few kestrels. Shame really because they are very lovely birds.

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  • 12. At 12:17pm on 13 Oct 2009, hickbe2 wrote:

    Here in NE Norfolk in the field behind our house we see a kestrel on a daily basis and if we go a little further to the rough grass dunes we can see 2 or 3 hunting which is really nice as they are a lovely bird.

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  • 13. At 12:42pm on 13 Oct 2009, ATilmouth wrote:

    Chris, there does appear to be a general reduction in the Common Kestrel population and there may be an underlying cause. 70% of the Common Kestrels analysed by the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme, a long term scheme running since the sixties,have levels of rodenticide in their liver, this may be leading to a reduced lifespan and resulting drop in population. Whilst this is still unproven don't be surprised as more evidence is gathered if this turns out to be a key factor driving population growth.

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  • 14. At 12:56pm on 13 Oct 2009, akaLondonFreespirit wrote:

    While on a walk through Widford on Sunday, apart from seeing the outstanding sculptures by Henry Moore, I was also fortunate to witness a Red Kite flying above my (and others) head. There was a sqawking kind of noise (was it the Kite or its prey)then the wonderful, majestic bird flew wondrously into a nearby tree, no doubt waiting for us to depart in order to return to whatever it was doing.

    It was my first ever sighting of a bird of prey and thankfully, due to looking at pictures, I was able to distinguish it from a kestrel. Bliss!

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  • 15. At 4:08pm on 13 Oct 2009, tedbun wrote:


    Chris, thanks for another interesting article etc. I don't know if you presenters ever find the time/interest to check the Autumnwatch web pages, but I'm assuming that Jo and hordes of BBC researchers sift through all the messages etc to select some to air during the live shows and that you won't have read my earlier "epistle" from our nature-watching/photographing home here in Wapping on the edge of the City of London. Although this epic largely concerned wasp and spider queries, and also mentioned our witnessing what we thought was probably a small female sparrowhawk taking a song bird on the wing last week, it also noted that we'd been less aware this year than others of the kestrels which have hunted from, and possibly nested on, Tower Bridge in the past - certainly they have been less audible and visible than previously in this area. However, last Friday during a house-hunt close to Gatwick Airport, my partner was thrilled to watch a magnificent kestrel hovering over the home's large garden - apparently, badgers, foxes, rabbits, deer etc are also all regular visitors, hence the home's attraction re our viewing/purchase. Then today, at 9.0 am whilst on our River Thames-side balcony, we were cheered by the impressive sight of around 30 magpies flying past from the east towards the City - they were close on the wings of a lesser numbered flock of crows/ravens?, all apparently gathering as though some call or other signal had gone out in birdland to start the week's work in the Square Mile! Is such flocking behaviour usual at this time of day? It reminded us that, a fortnight ago, we witnessed around 2-300 jackdaws flying low overhead in Blaenavon in South Wales, again on a sunny day, although this time at around 4.0 in the afternoon. Although jackaw numbers are very noticeably greater here now than in other years we've visited this seemed a bit soon before dusk for roosting type behaviour. We were also reminded of last Christmas when, again very close to Gatwick Airport, we spent a happy half hour or so mesmerised by probably thousands of pre-roosting starlings forming and re-forming as they swirled low right over our heads during the gathering dusk, and we have also seen this natural spectacular, albeit further into the distance, whilst staying in Utrecht in Holland.
    Anyway, hope that this is of interest to some of you and that someone might be able to enlighten us further. I, like others on these pages, wish that it were found feasible to have a formal "expert" question and answer section somewhere, and that a programme like yours could air more regularly during the year, even if it's not practical for all the star wildlife to perform "live". Any chance of seeing some of Bill's voice-over vignettes again this season? And thanks and congratulations to whoever was lucky and clever enough to shoot that very funny and memorable "fat rat" trapped footage last Friday ...!!

    Regards, TB.

    PS - "Theo" the wasp has started visiting our balcony again! (any special insights into wasp lifestyles would also be very gratefully received, thanks! - and we are also particularly interested in krill and in our native crayfish and chalk streams, and niche habitats (loads!) .... and in fungi and lichen and mosses and ferns .... and all those clever crows, and gull etc behaviour .... and bats and spiders, and "rattie", and manatees, and elephants, and otters and octopusses and ...........!!)

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  • 16. At 8:45pm on 13 Oct 2009, Katherine Birkett wrote:


    On our way home to south Lincolnshire from the Lake District this year, we took the route from our holiday accommodation in Keswick to home via the Pennines. I was fortunate to count no fewer than four kestrels between the Cumbria/Lancs/N. Yorks border town of Kirkby Lonsdale and Leeds, and a further five between Leeds and the Lincolnshire town of Sleaford making nine in total!

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  • 17. At 9:12pm on 13 Oct 2009, Rob Ward wrote:

    You are so right Chris and nature has shown us time and time again that it can heal itself, this includes our wildlife also. It’s called adapting and it is so easy for us to think that we have to step in with every single issue out there, but in reality, given the chance the animals will adapt to change and help themselves.
    I am not saying that we should stand back and let them get on with it, but we sometimes need to let the animals fight themselves, for this is what makes them strong and helps them overcome hardships.
    Man has damaged this planet, but he is not responsible for all the wildlife and conservation issues affecting it today!

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  • 18. At 08:03am on 14 Oct 2009, Thewonderfrog wrote:

    Lucky enough to currently have 6 Kestrels in my local patch and 4 Buzzards due to both chicks surviving this year. However what I have noticed this year in particular is the Buzzards in my area have started to hunt like the Kestrels. I'm not sure if it's common in other area's for Buzzard's to hover as I've certainly never seen them doing it anywhere else. Maybe someone here also has Buzzard's that do this or hopefully Chris or Simon could shed some light on it, is this a normal thing for them to do given that the area is more heathland than open fields?


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  • 19. At 11:24am on 14 Oct 2009, robin_h_p wrote:

    What amarvellous picture of the male Sparrowhawk.
    I don't live in Britain, but in Den Helder on the Northwest coast of Holland. We have had several visits from Sparrowhawks - male and female - in the past year, when they grabbed birds feeding in our garden.
    The best view I got was in February this year when a female Sparrowhawk decided to pluck a pidgeon on a tree stump just 5 yards from our backdoor.
    I managed to take several pictures and am willing to share a couple with you, if I can find out how.
    Thanks for your interesting programme, I really enjoy watching it, as I have the past years.
    Glad to hear Bill Oddie is recoevering well.


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  • 20. At 1:43pm on 14 Oct 2009, mr-woodlark wrote:

    I never fail to see kestrels when out birdwatching in many locations...
    "I have a theory"...As Chris would affectionaly say on air..
    Many motorway verges are still densely overgrown & tho a kestrel can still effectively hunt in these conditions it seems at this time of year migrating songbirds are far easier prey.
    I do tend to see far more kestrels hunting over the motorway verges in deeper winter & early spring.
    A theory perhaps but a good general observation here in suffolk

    Good work Chris.

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  • 21. At 2:04pm on 14 Oct 2009, theSteB wrote:

    I think Chris makes a very important point and the "shifting baseline syndrome" is a big problem with human thinking as we tend to see problems where there aren't any, and ignore problems that do exist. Nowhere is this clearer than thinking about Climate Change, where the problem becomes defining what is the baseline climate. I'm not a Climate Change sceptic, it is just that the issue cannot be seen in the simplistic terms it is often portrayed in.

    Whilst I generally agree with Chris' points about raptor population levels and changes - I also think that there are actually 2 separate issues here. Firstly, there is the very noticeable decline of hovering Kestrels on our motorway verges, and secondly there is a decline in the Kestrel population. Whilst there is a relationship between the 2 I do not think that hovering Kestrels on motorways are necessarily a good way of assessing the Kestrel population. I am around Chris's age so my memory goes back over a similar period and I remember how scarce Sparrowhawks were and the phenomena of the motorway Kestrel. It is hard working from memory, but from my recollection hovering Kestrels by motorway verges became far more numerous in the late 1970s, 1980s through to the 1990s. In other words for quite some time it was increasing.

    Kestrels are still pretty common around the edges of the Moors in my part of Lancashire and you will reliably encounter a number of hovering Kestrels on a short walk. However, on the nearby motorway, it is not that common to see a hovering Kestrel by the verge. So there are quite a lot of Kestrels, they just now ignore the motorway verges. Why? There are a number of possible explanations. Whichever, explanation it is, the evidence is fairly clear that motorway verges are not now favoured by Kestrels for hunting. It could be that some sort of modern management has meant less Kestrel food - voles, beetles etc. Something else could have changed. However, I think the most likely explanation is that motorway verges were always the second choice for Kestrels, but that as the Kestrel population becames so large, that many Kestrels were forced to use second choice territories. So with even a moderate drop in population the motorway verge territories are abandoned first as they were basically second choice anyway, and just an overspill when there was so many Kestrels.

    In addition, I don't think it is just a food competition thing with Common Buzzards. The niche concept covers far more than just food and the intraspecific competition with raptors is more complex than this. Raptors can be quite agressive to other raptors that try to share their territory. This is more of an issue for both Buzzards and Kestrels because both species spend a lot of time in the air so are very visible to each other and other birds. I have certainly seen a lot of Kestrel/Buzzard interaction and these birds will fly some distance to check out each other. As Buzzards are a more social bird than Kestrels their sheer numbers may mean that Kestrels are under pressure not just from food competition, but for space as often one species will try to drive the other off. Of course I do realise that this could be explained in terms of competition for food, but I doubt that either Buzzards or Kestrels have that much insight into what the other one feeds on - raptors just don't like other raptor species around. Maybe the Motorway verges might get popular once again.

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  • 22. At 9:18pm on 14 Oct 2009, ForeverToad wrote:

    we were out walking along the Devon coast near Bantham on Saturday and saw four kestrels along the sea cliffs hovering!! My son loves raptors so he was really pleased.

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  • 23. At 9:41pm on 14 Oct 2009, stevenhumphrey wrote:

    Kestrels seem to be doing well in and around Aberdeen - I've recently spotted a number of kestrels hunting around the edges of the city. Buzzards are also doing well and have become more common in the suburbs, often being spotted in areas frequented by kestrels.

    Sparrowhawks are regularly seen in our garden in Aberdeen and we continue to enjoy a healthy group of songbirds.

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  • 24. At 12:37pm on 16 Oct 2009, goldcharles1969 wrote:

    We see the occasional kestrel in Yate,South Glos (Yah-tay).

    They are certainly not as numerous as the common buzzards which regularly sweep over the area,the edge of the Cotswolds provides a rich and varied hunting range.

    Sparrowhawks are also a common occurence now regularly taking small birds from gardens,probably due to the visiting flocks of sparrows and starlings.
    We also see peregrine falcons fairly regularly,and I was lucky enough to see a "stoop"...an amazing and breathtaking spectacle.

    Thanks Autumnwatch for a brilliant show.

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  • 25. At 9:22pm on 16 Oct 2009, rocco132 wrote:

    well if your looking for kestrels you were not to far away on your way home .because on your way down the a 34 get off at chilton and head through west isley and up farnbrough there are several breeding pairs there ,or head on over to wooley gallops by the a338 ,and you will see plenty on your way .plus there were yesterday 27 red kites all flying in the breeze .. a very common site .plus my wife travels this route evey day , and see's at least 5 or 6 kestral's in the 4 miles from our door ..

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  • 26. At 10:33pm on 16 Oct 2009, supabenz10 wrote:

    I see red kites every day without fail just driving home and if you want to see red kites then go to High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire

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  • 27. At 10:34pm on 16 Oct 2009, rstacone wrote:

    Hi, can anyone help me? I live in Skegness and was driving along Lincoln Road when a bird of prey crash landed at the side of my car and hopped up the pavement and down someone drive. Thinking it was injured and needing help I went to the rescue. Armed with a car blanket, I pulled up and went to see what was going on. There were lots of feathers all over the pavement and so I thought it must have been hit by a car. As I went towards the drive the bird appeared and seemed to have a broken wing. I went closer and the bird hopped backwards releasing a collard dove which scuttled past me and onto the front garden of the house. The brid of prey must have caught the dove midair and come down to eat it. Can anyone tell me what bird of prey it might be? I have only ever seen kestrels and know it couldn't be one of those as it was just too big. Thanks

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  • 28. At 11:26pm on 16 Oct 2009, mightyBirdwatcher wrote:

    Hi I live in the countryside and I am pleased to report that the Kestrels in my ared are alive and kiking, I record most days a pair of Kestrals flying around the sourrounding feilds to my garden and also down the lanes. I can also report sightings a 5 or 6 miles away so I guess these will not be the same as the pair around my home. I guess the habitat must suit them were I am spotting them, they also share the sky with , Red Kites, Sparrow Hawks, Marsh Harrier, Barn Owl, Little Owl, Tawny Owl and may other specis of birds.

    PS my sightings are at a village called Monk Fryston LS25 5EZ which is near Selby West Yorkshire.

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  • 29. At 11:26pm on 16 Oct 2009, unarmadillo wrote:

    ' shifting baseline syndrome'
    made me wonder,when i was a kid in 1970's.i remember my gran taking me out side our holiday caravan in nottinghamshire to listen at nightingales,and last year talking to an old fella who said willow tits used too nest at back of our shed in rotten post.at that time no one put food out for birds.now almost every van on site has feeders and there are allot of the more common species,but alas no willow tits or nightingales.
    is helping the common birds by putting nuts and seeds out detrimental to the uncommon ones who dont visit feeders?
    i dont acctually remember seeing chaffinch's as a kid but now they are easily the commonest bird.
    maybee encouraging the blue tits and chaffinch's is indirectly elliminating the willow tits and nightingales?!?
    what do the experts think?

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  • 30. At 01:51am on 17 Oct 2009, RosiPossum wrote:

    I come from Newcastle and used to see quite a lot of kestrels on trips in the car.
    I moved to Glasgow 4 years ago and think I have seen maybe 3 kestrels in Scotland.
    Buzzards are abundant, and there are a few sparrowhaws and peregrines around here, but kestrels? None.
    It's a shame, but it means I appreciate them more when I see them!

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  • 31. At 09:15am on 17 Oct 2009, The Artful Codger wrote:

    I have noticed a distinct decline in the Kestrel numbers here on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. However the Sparrowhawk is on the up - would this have any bearing on the matter?

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  • 32. At 10:04am on 17 Oct 2009, milosdad wrote:

    I live just outside Peterborough just on the Northants border. We see quite a few Kestrels over farmland near our house but in the last couple of years I have also noticed increasing numbers of larger birds of prey especially red kites of which there are numerous pairs in the local area.
    The problem is that Kites and Kestrels are very distinctive and easily identifiable but I struggle to identify others and can't wait for the promised feature on identification this year.

    Fantastic Show

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  • 33. At 6:28pm on 17 Oct 2009, LateNightSkies wrote:

    I used to see many Kestrels in and around The 5 valleys, Stroud, Glos but their numbers do seem to have dwindled, I cant remember the last time i saw one actually,

    However Buzzards are doing well, we frequently see them circling over our valley, as are Sparrowhawks who we occasionally see darting through the garden, one even landed in our apple tree for a very short while :)

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  • 34. At 6:58pm on 17 Oct 2009, avaroseannie wrote:

    When ever i go past Oxford, Bicester and Brackley. I see quite alot of kestrels hovering over, hunting for prey and i thought they had quite a big population.

    I also see red kites, over junction 6 on the M40 (stokenchurch) and I seem to see them loads going around that area.

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  • 35. At 7:22pm on 17 Oct 2009, Diane7354 wrote:

    In the Algarve going up to the hills I saw a bird which I took to be a red kite because you could see white flashes underneath. Do you think it was a red kite?

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  • 36. At 7:45pm on 17 Oct 2009, avaroseannie wrote:

    well a kestrel has a fan shaped tail and a red kite has a pointy kind of shape

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  • 37. At 9:35pm on 17 Oct 2009, ashlynslapwings wrote:

    Hi there, i work on a organic farm near ongar in essex and we have at laest 5 pairs of kestrels afew sparrow halks, poss 8 buzzards and the best of all 3 pairs of barn owls, over 5 farms covering 1500 acres . I love working in the fields watching the kestrels catching there pray after i topped some grass, watching sparrow halks sweeping the hedge rows flushing there pray out and love the ever increasing population of buzzerds flying on the furmels. Last week hedge cutting i watched from a far a buzzard eating a dead rabbet then fly of withit. I have also sceen twice a kestrel chase and catch a sky lark out of the sky, that was a site to watch

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  • 38. At 10:25pm on 17 Oct 2009, mithrandirpike wrote:

    Correct me if I'm wrong but did Kate say on episode 2 that there would be a section on how to identify birds of prey in episode 3 ?? or did i miss it last night ? I watched the i player and never saw anything about birds of prey.

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  • 39. At 1:28pm on 18 Oct 2009, MrBarnOwl wrote:

    Every time our Family travels up and out of East Anglia to the Midlands or South eastern England, i count the number of birds of prey i see. Typically I see Kestrels first but in small numbers then never see them as we leave the East of England. We are swamped by Buzzards. The average count is around 3 kestrels and 10 buzzards. Sometimes a Red Kite or a Sparrowhawk gets mixed in there too.

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  • 40. At 2:31pm on 18 Oct 2009, captainkitewatcher wrote:

    Am sure Chris will already know about them if he's travelling up and down the A34, but there are a number of red Kite in North Hampshire. Climbed up Beacon Hill which is just off he A34 south of Newbury and saw 6 Red Kite swopping around the hill. Fantastic to see them and great to see them presumably expanding out from Oxfordshire/Berkshire Southwards.

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  • 41. At 7:11pm on 18 Oct 2009, catharinew wrote:

    Plenty of kestrel activity in Branscombe, Devon where my son goes to school. He always looks forward to PE outside so that he can skywatch for raptors!

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  • 42. At 11:42pm on 18 Oct 2009, mickycoop wrote:

    Nice one Chris.
    I think it's extremely important that we emphasise that populations of Sparrowhawk and other raptors have not simply increased, but have recovered to levels similar to those before the man-made declines. I've spent many years arguing with the various loony groups who wish to see a return to the days of legal persecution, and these bigots will stop at nothing in their bid to change the law.
    I remember seeing you, not so long ago, on BBC breakfast news having to debate with one of these charlatans from SS (sorry, I can't bring myself to give them their full title as they don't deserve the publicity).
    The scary thing is, that there are many lay folk out there who are influenced by such total guff, and are unaware of their, albeit badly, hidden agendas(see notice board). I honestly believe that we should show SS our teeth, and expose their "terminological inexactitudes" at every opportunity. The more people are educated on the subject, the better. Knowledge is power.
    Just to give the average reader some idea of the mindset of these people: In my local area, it's been reported to me that certain (by no means all) pigeon fanciers have trapped Sparrowhawks, severed their feet, and released them alive! 'Nuff said.

    Keep up the fight.

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  • 43. At 4:27pm on 20 Oct 2009, goldenjoebird wrote:

    RE- Kestrels,

    I have also noticed a downfall in the numbers of these birds in certain areas round surrey, for example Gatwick, but round Betchworth and Leigh there is a great number of Kestrels as well as many common buzzards.

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  • 44. At 7:44pm on 20 Oct 2009, grandhaggis wrote:

    When will you show us how to identify birds of prey ?

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  • 45. At 8:15pm on 20 Oct 2009, tootsietim wrote:

    Kestrels are still doing well in Norfolk, But I drove from Scotland to Norfolk one day and didn't see a single Kestrel until back in Norfolk.
    We also do well for barn owls and buzzards are, at long last, becoming regular sightings.

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  • 46. At 8:18pm on 20 Oct 2009, tootsietim wrote:

    Shifting baseline phenomenon.
    I have often wondered, when the BTO et al highlight falling populations of whatever species, against what measure are they comparing it. Our countryside, with the exception of some saltmarshes and mountaintops, is entirely manmade and man managed. Can we possibly know what a natural background population of any species ought to be?

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  • 47. At 6:26pm on 21 Oct 2009, lucykop wrote:

    I live on the Isle Of Sheppey in Kent and Kestrels must be in abundance here as during a 10 minute drive off the Island we regularly see at least 5 or 6 Kestrels each time.

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  • 48. At 9:58pm on 22 Oct 2009, peteseaman wrote:

    Up here in N.Yorks I usually get Kestrel most times when visiting my local patch,other raptors showing fairly well in this area are Common Buzzard,Red Kite and in Winter if lucky a Merlin stays around.

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  • 49. At 12:36pm on 23 Oct 2009, lee_powell wrote:

    im pleased to say that i spotted a kestrel hovering along the ringroad around bristol near emersons green, its the second time ive seen it there and want to carry on seeing it

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  • 50. At 11:16pm on 23 Oct 2009, anonla wrote:

    When I was doing A-level English, back in 1992-1994, I studied Gerard Manley Hopkins and his poem "The Windhover", at my high school in Lincolnshire. I had to get an encyclopedia (this was pre-internet Lincolnshire), to look up what a windhover was. Discovering it was a Kestrel didn't help me as I had never seen one. In fact it wasn't until 1995, when I was traveling across West Yorkshire that I saw one hovering in the air, by a busy road. I had always loved the poem, but that was the moment when I finally "got it".

    Since then I saw Kestrels from time to time, but not that often. Then in 2004 when I moved to SE London, I lived near an eco park by the Thames, and started seeing them more often, hovering over disused land.

    I have seen Kestrels in London with increasing frequency, often hovering over the undeveloped Olympic sites, riding the air above the urban carriage-ways. But the greatest source of surprise to me is that suddenly, the population has increased over the fields of Lincolnshire, especially on the roads between Sleaford and Grantham. They are often to be seen, staring down from the top of street lights, or hovering perilously close to the road, waiting to swoop on some unsuspecting small animal.

    Whilst I am thrilled to be able to see more Kestrels and find London wildlife inspiring, as it triumphs over so much adversity, I think that, if we are suffering a decline in Kestrels, Chris's route home sums up the problem, the evidence of which is nestling on the hard shoulder. Cars.

    As they hover too close to the carriage-way, completely focused on on their prey, Kestrels become vulnerable to the automobile and the person whose circumspection extends only to dangers on the road, and not the poor bird hovering out of peripheral vision. They get hit as they swoop back from going in to pick up their prey, finally coming to rest by the side of the road.

    I have been in car which hit a Kestrel coming out of a dive. As it cartwheeled away into the field, clearly injured or dead, it still the mouse it had caught, clasped in it's claws. I have rarely felt so simultaneously sick, sad and revolted by the effect we humans are having on the miraculous wildlife around us. I think Gerard Manley Hopkins would have felt similarly depressed.

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  • 51. At 1:21pm on 24 Oct 2009, Buzzardwatcha wrote:

    On a drive from Brighton to Peterborough last weekend I spotted a total of 7 Buzzards during the journey and only 1 Kestrel yet on the drive back yesterday (same time of day & weather conditions), I saw 4 Kestrels and no Buzzards.

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  • 52. At 6:02pm on 24 Oct 2009, LateNightSkies wrote:

    Saw 3 Kestrels today between Swindon and Gloucester on the M4 (I think)And possibly 2 more, didnt get a good enough view.

    UNfortunately 2 were dead on the side of the road :/

    Typical that as i mentioned to my Dad how i hadnt seen many along came up to 5 all in the space of about 10 miles!

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  • 53. At 8:50pm on 24 Oct 2009, mimahpud wrote:

    We recently visited Gigrin farm in Rhayader, Powys. One of the most amazing places in the UK. So many amazing birds of prey in one place at one time, for anyone who loves these birds like we do this is well worth a visit. If i can work out how i'll put some pictures on to show everyone who hasn't experienced it just what happens :o)

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  • 54. At 6:01pm on 25 Oct 2009, lee_powell wrote:

    I was on the way home from London on the M4 last saturday (i live in Bristol) and my dad pointed out a buzzard up ahead, however as we got closer i managed to identify it as a red kite! we were so close i felt as if i could reach out and touch it, but i was just wondering if this was a normal sighting?? As later on i discovered that they normally live in mid wales, or have they spread?

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  • 55. At 7:11pm on 25 Oct 2009, JayneRowles wrote:

    Just thought you might like to know that as we were driving into Brecon today (Late morning)
    We saw a REDKITE !!
    It was great - We'd only ever seen one; once before in North Wales, years ago...
    Has anyone else see them recently...??
    It had a superb forked tail so we can't have mistaken it for anything else..

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  • 56. At 07:18am on 26 Oct 2009, Watchpost wrote:

    I disgree with what passes "as being normal" and to be honest ,this year I am deeply worried about smaller songbird populations and the effects predation has had on them.
    This year the breeding populations of young and adult birds in two suburban gardens I manage has all but been wiped out by predation by two species,Sparrowhawks and Magpies.
    Both mine and my parents gardens are currently almost devoid of Blackbirds, thrushes, most of the tits,finches and sparrows.Only the Robins and Hedgesparrows which stay very close to the ground, seem to have survived.
    I have never known a year like it.There have always been some losses but this year,because of the very high numbers of predators they have been serverely reduced.
    As I manage the gardens regularly I have been stunned by the number of kills, ie decapitated and plucked birds scattered around them.Out of around fifteen nest less than a half of them had youngbirds that fledged, and they suffered badly.
    Yet in one week in September I saw Sparrowhawks in every location I walked, hunting and most commonly being mobbed by Housemartins and Swallows .
    Small birds have constantly struggled against many types of losses, but have been able to wing it to safety from ground based predation.This is no longer the case.Sparrowhawks are Avian Exocets and their hugely increased numbers are severely impacting on certain species of small bird, a population that has already been under pressure for years.
    This is an added threat and I am deeply worried by the steep decline of birds in our suburban areas and woodlands. I see Sparrowhawks hunting regularly now because of a lack of small birds.Infact in this last month I have found more corpses of doves and pigeons in the gardens now ,presumably because of the lack of smaller bird prey.
    I would be interested in anyone elses observations but I think this year bird tables are going to be regretably short of many of the usual visitors.

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  • 57. At 11:57pm on 26 Oct 2009, mickycoop wrote:

    Whatchpost provides no evidence as the the identity of the species responsible for the remains scattered around the garden/s in question. Sparrowhawks don't simply decapitate and pluck their prey, they consume practically everything, leaving just a skeleton. I leave it to the reader to deduce the possible "culprit".

    Let's take a look at the species He/She cites as "victims" of Sparrowhawks and or Magpies. The national long-term population trends (based on CBC and BBS data since 1965) for these species are as follows: Robin-shallow increase
    Blue Tit-shallow increase
    Great Tit-rapid increase
    Chaffinch-shallow increase
    Greenfinch-shallow increase
    Blackbird-shallow decline, shows increase since mid 90s
    Song Thrush-rapid decline which has slowed showing
    slight recovery since mid 90s
    Woodpigeon-rapid increase
    Collared Dove-rapid increase


    Remember that from each breeding pair, and all their offspring each year, only two individuals are required to survive to breeding age for the population to remain stable! The others will either perish from starvation, disease/parasites or indeed predation, or survive to drive an increase in the population. So,the alledged losses in the two gardens cited are irrelevant. In any case....

    If we conduct a survey as to who uses a particular brand of washing powder, for example, we don't just knock on two doors, as our results will be "statistically insignificant" i.e. meaningless! This is what watchpoint is asking the reader to swallow. The only picture that matters is the big one.

    Regarding watchpoint's two pantomime villains: CBC/BBS data has shown that densities of "songbirds" were in many cases actually higher in areas with higher Magpie densities. Around 89% of Magpies' diet consists of plant and invertebrate material. Many Magpies may never kill vertebrate prey in their lives.

    Wytham Wood, Oxfordshire is famous for population studies in Great Tits. During the period when Sparrowhawks were scarce, due to the effects of organochlorine pesticides, Great Tit numbers remained largely stable. THEY DID NOT ROCKET AS ONE WOULD EXPECT IF CLAIMS THAT SPARROWHAWKS DROVE YEAR TO YEAR DECLINES IN THEIR PREY WERE CORRECT!

    Sparrowhawks have not increased hugely in numbers as He/She suggests, but have merely recovered to levels similar to those before their population crashed. This is an important difference, because if these birds were indeed capable of driving significant declines in prey species, then both predator and prey would have both become extinct long ago! Also,the UK Magpie population levelled out in the late 80s and has shown a small decline over the last five years or so.

    Unfortunately, Watchpoint appears to be ignorant of the facts surrounding the issue, and those of basic ecology. Or He/She is indeed one of those individuals who seek to mislead the reader, driven by ulterior motive. Let's give the benefit of doubt here folks. Watchpoint has opined on a subject that, sadly, He/She shows very little understanding of. As indeed is the right of all who post on this blog. The truth is there for all to see, however!

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  • 58. At 8:06pm on 27 Oct 2009, connonbarrboy wrote:

    I live in barr and i get a lot of kestrels and buzzards . I have seen peregrine and sparrowhawk going about too

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  • 59. At 8:43pm on 29 Oct 2009, falconsmark wrote:

    Chris, After reading your blog on the number of kestrels you didn't see !!!! I drove from Woking in Surrey to Newcastle upon Tyne (M3,M25,M40,M1) over 320 miles and I only counted 14 Kestrels, (on the way back only 7). I remember as a child (I'm now 40)seeing loads of kestrels up North but few Buzzards. Since I now live down south I have noticed the opposite lots more buzzards than kestrels. Is there any logic to this ???? The good news is I counted over 20 red kites over the M40 around junction 6, the most I've seen in that spot. seems it was a very good year for having young red kite.....

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  • 60. At 10:42pm on 30 Oct 2009, eskimomel wrote:

    Hi. I live on the North Wales coast and I can honestly say I have seen very few kestrels about his year. There are plenty of buzzards about though.
    The last kestrel I saw was on the Rhuallt Hill a couple of weeks ago but that was the 1st one I've seen for at least a couple of months!

    The only red kite I've seen was in Yorkshire (even though there are a couple which have been seen near us)!


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  • 61. At 01:33am on 31 Oct 2009, scorpiophilnic wrote:

    I regularly see Kestrels on the A31 Hog's Back between Farnham and Guildford. Unfortunately I also see lots of squashed ones on that road. How far south have people seen Red Kites. I have been seeing them over the past 10 years or so on the road between Henly and Oxford. They have bee steadily increasing in number over the last 2-3 years but to my surprise I saw some south of Henley this week. Iwas on my way to Oxfors around midday and I spotted one Red Kite as I was going through Hurst and all of a sudden I looked up and counted at least 10 Red Kites circling above just as I entered the built up area going into Twyford. This is the furthest south I have seen them. It was a wonderful sight they really are impressive birds.

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  • 62. At 10:59am on 01 Nov 2009, Barryharmac wrote:

    With regard to the reduction in numbers of kestrel working the motorways one of the major influences is the state of the landscape. When the motorways - any motorways - are first built initial growth and maintenance along the banking, and for the first few years, is excellent.Even the tree cover is thin because the trees are young with very little leaf foliage. So the ground cover is ideal for hunting kestrels s they can see their prey. As the trees grow and the grass thickens it becomes more difficult for the birds to see their prey as the small mammals can move around under tunnels in the deep grasses. Also, of course there is less maintenance of the established sward particularly in these cash strapped times.
    So less available prey and a reduction in predator numbers,which will move to other ares where conditions are more suitable. These are often major roads in the more populated parts of the country where regular maintenance is carried out,or on places where soil is less fertile and grass cover is thinner.
    A similar situation occurs in young and recently plated forestry plantations where kestrel and short eared owls are frequently quite abundant in the first few years and as ground coverincreases the birds will move on to other more suitable areas.
    Habitat change is one of the most important factors in any bird and animal species because of its effect on food availability or suitable nesting sites.

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  • 63. At 12:24pm on 01 Nov 2009, birdhappyjane2 wrote:

    I live on the Isle of Wight. We certainly have a lot of Kestrels.I would perhaps see 2-4 on a twelve mile trip from Ventnor to Newport.

    Also Peregrine falcons.I'm on the southcoast,in Ventnor, so I see them flying along the Undercliff ,which is where the land dropped dramatically thousands of years ago leaving towering cliffs about a quarter of a mile inland from the wooded shore line.

    It used to be common to see Peregrines over my house, but since the Buzzards have moved south,and out numbered them, I see the falcons a lot less. They are still around, and luckily pretty noisy! so easy to spot, they don't have any fear of man, (they ignore me,they know I can't fly!)

    The Buzzards are not popular with the crows and rooks, who were seeing off a young buzzard trying to set up it's own territory. It was escorted down the coast by two rook "outriders" and one behind to encourage it with a peck now and then to its tail.(It has to be a tender spot, I've seen that done before!) When the rooks where happy they'd done their job, they peeled off in unison and flew back.

    The young buzzard was incredibly unhappy and spent a good 15 minutes wheeling round complaining very loudly. But "he?" didn't dare come back.

    On the subject of unwanted birds being chased off, this week we saw a Heron being mobbed, and chased away by carrion crows and jackdaws, and a herring gull joined in too. How common is this?

    I should say that the heron did some amazing flying stunts trying to get away,dropping and twisting.I suppose it had to do that, because its turning circle is fairly slow.

    Most of our local birds know each other. A pair of herring gulls have lived on the roof below us for at least eight years. Rooks live in the trees behind us. Jackdaws live in the chimney pots, and so on.

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  • 64. At 8:17pm on 01 Nov 2009, Spadge wrote:

    I think that was a very salient point Barryharmac made about the length of grass (or general levels of undergrowth) and its effect on a raptor's hunting.

    Are there conditions whereby a grassland raptor can make a strike but then find itself boxed in by long grass and unable to take off (other than by hopping along the ground to a better spot)?
    Might this takeoff-limiting condition occur before the grass becomes so dense that prey items cannot be seen from the air?

    Also, the whole point of being a species is that you have a niche, which all other species of similar body-plan are a bit naff at exploiting. So what is all this about Kestrels suffering from competition with Buzzards?

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  • 65. At 4:43pm on 02 Nov 2009, birdhappyjane2 wrote:

    I wouldn't say the Peregrines are exactly "suffering" from competition from the Buzzards. Their flight patterns have certainly changed.
    I've spotted them two miles to the west. They may have moved their hunting grounds for many reasons, availability of food etc.

    There are more kestrels than before, so no problem there.

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  • 66. At 8:04pm on 02 Nov 2009, Seatiger wrote:

    My local patch is Morecambe Bay which includes Leighton Moss RSPB reserve. I have a particular fundness for the kestrel and have been lucky to followed a couple of pairs over the last two years. This year no sight of either pair and am sorry to say I have noticed a reduction in general sightings over the Morecambe bay area.

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  • 67. At 6:43pm on 21 Nov 2009, tootsietim wrote:

    I have to agree with Chris that the baseline does indeed keep moving.
    We live in a landscape that is almost entirely manmade with the exception of some saltmarsh and possibly the high scottish peaks.
    Therfore the populations of flora and fauna to be found here are going to be influenced by us and the way we manage the landscape.

    We may well see a drop in one species against say 50 years ago, but why? Is it really a decrease from a normal level, or a return to a more normal level following a boom population.

    With raptor persecution and agricultural pesticide poisonings in the last century, can we honestly say that the numbers of prey species were 'normal' during that time?
    It's generally held that a healthy population of predators is dependent on a healthy population of prey species. If the sparrowhawks are there, then presumably the food is there also.

    I'm only 40, but is remember the great flocks of sparrows and finches on the stubble fields and around the grain stores on the farms. It was an unnatural supply of grain and corn field weed seeds that maintained these populations, now they've gone and so have the birds, but should the birds have been there in those numbers? Who can tell?

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