Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Steel," the American Kestrel

I always enjoy catching a glimpse of our smallest and most colorful falcon, the American Kestrel. Every now and then one rips through our side yard as I look out the window, his orange and blue feathers flashing, and the bold, black and white stripes on his face visible even at his breakneck speeds, but he never sticks around long enough for me to grab the camera or the binocs for closer viewing, so I was very happy to get the opportunity to see one up close at RAPTOR, Inc...


Painting 213. A Watery Portrait of "Steel" the American Kestrel
(watercolor)


A quick pencil sketch of Steel. I made the watercolor a little different from the sketch. In the drawing, his left shoulder is soft. In the painting, I made the left shoulder sharper, plus I took the curve out of his left side. He just seemed too soft and puffy in the drawing.

Back in the autumn, Matty and I went on a photo shoot at RAPTOR, Inc. (a rehab facility for injured birds of prey). Most of the birds at RAPTOR are treated, rehabilitated and released, but some are so badly injured they can not heal well enough to survive in the wild. (Click here to see more of the birds from RAPTOR).


"Steel" is an American Kestrel that is blind in his left eye, making it impossible for him to hunt. He stays on at RAPTOR, Inc. as a teaching bird.


"...it looks like a tiny aristocrat, with an intricate tapestry of white, blue, and reddish feathers..."

The above quote is from Robert Bateman's book "Birds." I love this book and pick it up and read it often. The book is a compilation of some of Bateman's most beautiful bird paintings, but what makes it even better, is he writes about each bird, supplying his inspiration for each painting and his encounters with the bird in the field. A few weeks ago, while eating breakfast I opened the book to his American Kestrel entry (page 84), and I liked his description:
"The American Kestrel is a superbly designed, compact falcon with unusually elegant plumage. I think it looks like a tiny aristocrat, with an intricate tapestry of white, blue, and reddish feathers on its upper body and a breast decorated with dark ermine markings."


The black bars under a kestrel's eyes are beautiful, but their purpose is more than just esthetic. The dark color absorbs bright sunlight to help reduce glare when the bird hunts.


...and the pair of large black spots on the back of his head....they serve a purpose too. They are ocelli (false eyes) and may make a predator think twice about attacking a kestrel from behind. Since ocelli look like a pair of eyes, predators may assume the bird is facing them.

Beak Bit
American Kestrels perch-hunt and hover-hunt. When they hover, they use the wind velocity to stay in one place, so even though they may look like giant hummingbirds hovering in the sky, their hovering method is different. Hummingbirds use a figure-8 wing motion to hover in one place, but kestrels fly into the wind at the same speed of the wind. Click here for an earlier post that shows an American Kestrel hovering in the air.

Those of you who follow Birding is Fun! might recognize some of this post. I'm a monthly contributor on the blog and posted part of this article on that site a week or so ago. I switched it up a bit, though and added the pencil sketch. The painting is part of the 100 Paintings Challenge.

18 comments:

Montanagirl said...

I love the Kestrels! Your photos are superb.

KAT said...

what a stunningly beautiful bird and Im enjoying the facts you include aboout these amazing bird creatures

holdingmoments said...

Such a beautiful bird Kelly.

Lovely pictures, and the painting has captured him perfectly.

Elaine said...

Fantastic photos of the Kestrel! Exquisite markings on this beauty.

grammie g said...

HI Kelly...He is so beautiful...what a fantastic job you did with him!!
Grace

troutbirder said...

I really like both the photos and the portraits. Monas mention of you Long Eared Owl led me to your photograph. Wonderful. During our recent Golden Eagle Survey for the National Eagle Center I saw my first Long Ear. Your picture captures his nature perfectly. Thanks...

TexWisGirl said...

i love these tiny raptors. they're so elusive and quick, like you said. your photos of steel are beautiful, as are your drawings/paintings.

Robert Mortensen said...

Definitely worth the second look, now with bonus features!

KaHolly said...

Incredible photos!! I love your 'quick' sketches the most!

Alan Pavey said...

They are stunning birds you really do them justice with both mediums, lovely set of images :-)

Gillian Olson said...

A beautiful bird. Your sketch and painting are wonderful, they capture the bird so well. Thanks also for the facts about the bird, fascinating.

Mary Howell Cromer said...

Wow the images are marvelous as is your drawing and watercolour... such grand talent there and the Kestrel is really a gorgeous bird, one of my sentimental favorites~

Tammie Lee said...

so wonderful to see your sketch and your painting and then your photographs! I love these birds, something so beautiful about them.
you are much past 100 paintings challenge.... you must love it!

Janice K said...

Wow, he is beautiful. Great pictures and artwork!

Marie said...

Such wonderful colors this little bird carries! I've got a female waiting in the wings that I visited last fall at the Howell Nature Center--I think she has a wing injury and is not releasable. You've inspired me to get to work!

Roy said...

Great photos Kelly, but I really like the sketch of the Kestrel, especially the head.

the cuby poet said...

Your pictures are lovely of this delightful bird.Have you seen my poem kestrel? where I describe its hover hunting.

Kelly said...

...thanks, everyone! I'm always sad when I see the captive birds, but they really do help the other birds. Education is critical in conservation. Anyone who falls in love with these birds might step up to help save habitat. As always, these captive birds are great references for artists too. Cuby.....I just read your poem. It's great. You really caught the feel of a kestrel.