As a fledgling bird watcher, I mostly enjoy the activities of the birds in my rural neighborhood. Each summer, at least one brood of American Kestrels joins their parents on the wires over the hayfield to take their course in Grasshopper Hunting 101. Kestels, the smallest member of the falcon family, characteristically bob their tails while perched on a wire, dead tree, or telephone pole. Their posture is erect and with binoculars, their colorful markings become visible. The contrast of rufous, slaty blue, creamy white and black makes the American Kestrel a spectacular looking bird. Once spotted, they are quite easily recognized.
But on this particular day in late July, I had yet to see my first kestrel. What I did see when I went upstairs in our garage was a young barn swallow fluttering at the screen inside the open window. I gently cupped my hand around the small bird in order to set if free. But then I realized that a bird in hand is an opportunity to have a close look.
Outside the window I notice a swallow or two swooping and twittering but my attention is focused on the young bird in my hands. I see that he is a paler version of the chestnut rufous throat and forehead of his parents; steel blue upper parts; lower parts creamy. The outer tail feathers seem shorter.
As if from nowhere, I see a blur of similar barn swallow colors flying up to the window. “I think your mother is here,” I assure the bird in my hand but gasped when I saw the intruder. A Barn Swallow with war paint! A BIG BARN SWALLOW with war paint!! That is what flashed through my mind and that is when I felt a talon pierce my finger through the screen. I suddenly realized that this was not a barn swallow protecting her young: it was a bird of prey who spotted a young bird in trouble. It was my introduction to the American Kestrel.
My husband came along, took the bird from my hand and released it while I babbled my story. To emphasize my peril, I squeezed a teeny-tiny drop of blood from my finger--proof of my close encounter.