With a flash of ruddy brown in the sky, a sharp “klee” sound in the wind and possibly a stray feather on the ground, the kestrels have returned to Mace Ranch Park. They have resumed their residence in the oak tree near Korematsu Elementary.
Kestrel falcons are cavity nesters. Instead of building their own nests to raise a clutch of eggs, they take over an abandoned nest from some other animal or seek out a hollow spot in a tree, under the eaves of a roof or in a nest box specially hung to encourage the presence of kestrels and other raptors.
Raptors such as kestrels and barn owls, of which Davis is home to many, can be some very useful wildlife to have living in close proximity with human communities. Not only do raptors feast on rodents and other small animals that people generally consider pests, kestrels in particular can also help keep the summer insect population in check by munching on grasshoppers and beetles.
Kestrels have adapted well to living near people. They can frequently be seen hunting along roadways or sitting on phone wires. And due to their small size, they are not a threat to neighborhood pets.
But kestrels can only thrive in suitable habitats with open space for hunting and a selection of suitable cavities for nesting. Old growth trees like the oak in Mace Ranch Park typically have a good nest cavity or two high enough off the ground to be appealing to kestrels.
But a few well-tended nest boxes can go a long way to ensuring the kestrels return spring after spring. Nest boxes are easy to assemble and require very little maintenance. Basic instructions can be found at www.peregrinfund.org.
Boxes should be hung at least 10 feet off the ground. Cleaning out the box once a year in late winter is the only necessary maintenance.
Explorit’s summer science campers have enjoyed observing the Mace Ranch kestrels while learning about how people can support local wildlife. They’ve been able to study the remaining owl boxes in the park and discuss not only how such nest boxes foster raptor activity, but also how the boxes can be used by other species in other parts of the year for shelter as well as breeding.
Our campers are discovering their responsibilities to the animal world through observations and creative activities that simulate animal behavior and foster empathy for the other creatures that share our neighborhoods. You can share their enthusiasm by taking a stroll through Mace Ranch Park to visit the kestrels and consider supporting their return to Davis and our other local raptors with a nest box.
* Saturday, June 29, from 1 to 4 p.m.: Linda Merchant returns to Explorit to demonstrate realist painting with oils and pastels. She uses a layered process to achieve detail and precision in her work on wildlife, still life, portraiture and more. Free with paid admission to the museum.
— Explorit Science Center is at 3141 Fifth St. For more information call 530-756-0191 or visit http://www.explorit.org. You can also “like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/explorit.fb or follow us on twitter at @ExploritScience.