American Kestrel Falco sparverius is a small, colourful falcon with a wide distribution throughout the Americas. In North America it is familiar to every birder, although its numbers have diminished substantially in recent years.
There is considerable variation in plumage in the various subspecies but nowhere have I found a greater contrast than on the island of Cuba. The literature refers to both colour morphs as being representative of the subspecies sparveroides but the difference is marked indeed.
Most frequently we observed individuals such as the male shown below with a pale, almost bright, white belly, rufous mantle and white cheeks.
However, in Marea del Portillo and the surrounding area we also saw birds displaying rich rufous underparts, a slate mantle, with the white cheek being absent.
Sometimes these two colour morphs were seen within close range of each other, making for fascinating study.
The diet of American Kestrel comprises mainly insects, with dragonflies and large orthopterans preferred. Many other insects are taken including beetles; also spiders, centipedes, scorpions, earthworms, small birds, amphibians and crustaceans. In some areas where lizards and rodents (especially in the winter in northern populations) form the greatest biomass of prey, these items comprise the mainstay of a kestrel's diet.
Dragonflies were abundant at the resort and kestrels were regularly seen hawking for them; their capture rate seemingly high.
This dark female was spotted atop a utility pole and it appeared to us that she was feeding on a small bird, although the angle of the picture does not show this.
The pale male at the right seemed to be paying her no attention and we wondered whether they were paired off. However, when a second male showed up all hell broke loose and we were witness to a mid air battle royal.
They sparred and grappled for at least five minutes, neither one initially seeming to gain the upper hand. Their aerial acrobatics were quite breathtaking at times. When the resident male finally drove off the intruder he discovered that the female had left her perch! A Pyrrhic victory perhaps?
Once again I am indebted to Franc Gorenc for allowing me to use his superb pictures to illustrate the daily life of the kestrels we witnessed during our stay on this enchanted isle.