Bear-ly A Scratch
by Alice Droske, a NestWatcher, FeederWatcher, Great Backyard Bird Count participant, and Cornell Lab member for 25 years
June 24, 2013, started out like any other American Kestrel nest box monitoring day. I, along with Joe Palzkill and Judy Schwarzmeier (federally licensed banders), monitor 27 kestrel nest boxes for Beaver Creek Reserve in Fall Creek, Wisconsin. Jill Barland, our silent auction winner, was with us.
It was a beautiful warm day, and upon our arrival at Box 20, we expected to find 4 juvenile kestrels inside the nest box, which we were prepared to band. We had quite a shock! As we drove up, there was no nest box on the 10-foot pole. Our truck went deadly silent inside. We looked at each other and said, “Oh no.”
We jumped out of the truck and began searching the area for the nest box. We found the nest box broken and scattered in pieces on the ground beneath the pole. Just then, the farmer who had given us permission to place the box on his farmland drove past. I ran to the farmer and asked, “Have you seen a bear on your property?” He replied, “Yes. A rather large bear has been seen in the area.” We were fairly certain that a bear had ransacked our kestrel nest box.
We quickly began surveying the area under the nest box. To our surprise, on the ground hidden in the tall grass were the four juvenile kestrels! We assessed they had been on the ground for several days due to the amount of fecal matter and pellets. They remained quiet until Joe pushed the tall grass away from where they were huddled together. Once they were spotted, they became very noisy.
Judy began the process of aging, sexing, and banding the juvenile kestrels with Jill aiding her. Joe and I used the two ladders we carry in the truck and began repairing the nest box. We used multiple bungee cords and used the old screws to reattach the nest box on the pole. We then placed the four juveniles into the nest box, while the adult female kestrel flew overhead. Later that evening, we returned to the nest box to check that our repair work was holding up. The adult pair was flying to the nest box and dropping prey into the entrance hole. The parents continued to feed the young, and the four juvenile kestrels fledged successfully. At the end of the season, the old box was taken down, and a new box was installed. It was a happy ending to an exciting adventure for us all and an important reminder why we monitor our kestrel nest boxes so diligently.