"Operation noctua" end of week 5 - HD video of kestrel mobbing owl

March 26, 2012  •  1 Comment

This “end of week report” this week is a day later than normal, primarily because last week I had the trail camera in place for three days and three nights; due to the start of BST yesterday, I had to wait until gone 20:15hrs before retrieving the camera (after dark) – and upon retrieving it, I found it had recorded over 80 (eighty) short clips of the owls.


So…Anna and I took a little time last night to look over the clips because the vast majority were so good (showing the pair together etc…). It’s fair to say I have some lovely footage from the past week that I will upload in four clips during the week ahead, starting today with the best clip of all recorded so far (I’ll come to that in a mo).


As described here on my more general blog, we’ve had another very warm sunny week (after any thick early morning fog burned away) – and regular viewers to this site will know by now (I’m sure) that our owls do like to soak up the sun (that’s the advantage of watching little owls (as opposed to other owl spp) – little owls like to sunbathe and can (and do) hunt at any time of day or night.


The trail camera clearly has trouble “triggering” during periods of low light (or no light) – probably because the owls themselves at 20-odd cm tall (only) do not represent a big enough moving heat source to trigger the trail camera’s passive infrared detector. That and the fact that these wee owls are nippy little errr…. beggars.


That’s a shame however, as I’ve spent quite a few dawns watching them catch the first orange rays of the rising sun and I assume they perch on their cattle shed at night also – but it’s a part of their daily (or nightly) routine that I will not be able to record with the trail camera in its current setup.

(Trail cameras in general are designed and marketed for large animals such as deer for hunters in America rather than wildlife-watchers in the UK, although some amateur naturalists have managed to modify their cameras in order to record small animals or birds at much closer range (a  few cm rather than a few metres)).


It’s a drawback to UK wildlife watchers that I’m told Bushnell (my trail camera manufacturer) have acknowledged at least and I would certainly welcome a more “small wildlife trail camera” rather than the model I have at present.


Not to worry – with my current trail camera I am managing to record some marvellous footage from a reasonable distance (about 7 feet in my current set up) so I can hardly complain.



This week, the owls have clearly been (still) battling both stock doves (not so much of an issue) and kestrels (much more of a problem) for ownership of the nest box. This problem is hardly improved by both owls’ tendency to roost and sunbathe in or on the cattle shed roof, rather than in the tree nest box itself, 20m or so away.


It’s strange really. There I am, watching the little owls battle with a pair of kestrels and a pair of stock doves for box-nesting rights – I’m very much “on the owls’ side” but I shouldn’t be really.

Kestrels are native birds that have declined in numbers over recent years (buzzards are now allegedly our most common bird of prey here) and stock doves are a native bird also – yet I’m siding with the french interlopers (little owls) that wouldn’t even be here at all (in the UK) if they weren’t accidentally introduced in the 21st century….


(It actually feels very strange to me sometimes, when watching the owls. I’m sat at the edge of their field, often in the car (used as a hide) watching red-legged partridge shuffle through the long grass or coughing pheasants do the same, whilst rose-ringed parakeets screech overhead and rabbits flash their cottontails whilst disappearing into the hedgerows.

NONE of the above are native animals in this country, yet they all feel normal and native to us these days.


Anyyyywaaay…. I digress.


The owls clearly are still battling hard over rights to their box. I have watched the tiercel (male kestrel – only the females are strictly speaking “falcons”)  enter the owl nest box a number of times - only to be chased off by one of the owls (I assume the male owl, but I could be wrong) and yet the clip below (which I am so incredibly fortunate to have recorded) shows the female kestrel at least is not taking the owls’ presence lightly.


I have watched this female kestrel mobbing the local pair of buzzards also, but until looking at the clip below, really thought the owls had the upper hand in this particular kestrel versus owl battle.


Watch the clip below and you’ll see the pair of stock doves fly by first, followed by one of the owls at high speed, followed by the female kestrel – in angry mood.

You’ll do well to see anything though really – it’s all over in (quite lidddderally) a fraction of a second, so I’ve slowed the footage down at the end of the normal speed clip, to 10% speed, just so you get an idea of what you’ve just seen.



Please bear in mind also that these trail cameras have a response time of around 3 seconds (not good for quick-moving small wildlife) and the only reason I managed to record the owl and kestrel at all was thanks to the slower moving stock doves triggering the camera a few seconds before the birds of prey screamed into shot. How lucky am I?!


I should maybe point out here that the kestrel should not kill the owl(s) – rather like the owls, the faster raptor’s diet mainly consists of small mammals (voles etc) and insects, rather than large prey.

Both little owls and kestrels occupy similar ecological niches, although I might expect kestrels to take more small mammals and little owls to take more worms and moths.


This female kestrel seems like she’s just mobbing the little owl and is quite possibly a little “owl disappointed” in her mate, who seems to be bossed by the little owls…


NB. As usual (for smooth, judder-free playback of these clips) please enlarge the embedded video player by clicking on the box and arrow at the bottom RHS of the player, after pressing "play".


Owl watch - 25th March - kestrel mobbing owl


As I said at the start of this (long) update, I have managed to record quite a lot of footage last week of the owls, which I’ll upload during this week – a spliced clip a day if I get the time…, because it won’t be long before the owls mate and the female disappears into the box for long periods, to properly lay claim to the nest spot and start to think about laying a clutch of eggs (I hope!)


More about a provisional, expected timetable for the owls season ahead - later this week or next…..





quite a show my friend.... its almost surreal in the slow motion.... (I tend to think that the observation of the kestrel "mobbing", the owl is probably the correct one... as they are in competition for much of the same food) thanks for the footage and your never ending enthusesium for these wildlife observations.
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