Kestrels returning to Heath is photographer’s dream come true

A young kestrel is rescued by a photographer. Picture: Ron Vester

A young kestrel is rescued by a photographer. Picture: Ron Vester - Credit: Archant

Kestrels are a regular sight on Hampstead Heath, often seen wind-hovering while searching for their prey.

An adult kestrel who has just fed its chicks. Picture: Ron Vester

An adult kestrel who has just fed its chicks. Picture: Ron Vester - Credit: Archant

Now though, a breeding pair and the young have returned to a once-abandoned nest for the first time in a decade.

Some 10 years ago I was on one of my regular Hampstead Heath walks taking photographs and, on hearing bird calls, I looked up and on a bough above me saw four young kestrels nesting.

Sadly, not long after my close encounter, the sturdy bough they had nested in broke off.

Those particular birds were big enough to survive but I thought that would be the end of an era of nesting in this tree.

Baby kestrels nesting in the boughs of a Hampstead Heath tree. Picture: Ron Vester

Baby kestrels nesting in the boughs of a Hampstead Heath tree. Picture: Ron Vester - Credit: Archant


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This is because kestrels are very choosy, they don’t build their own nests, preferring to re-use old ones or make use of hollow branches.

Later, the City of London Corporation’s staff secured a box high in the same tree in an attempt to entice the kestrels back to the nest.

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But year after year nothing happened. Until, this spring, a new pair arrived with four chicks.

City of London ecologist Adrian Brooker explained: “This box had not been used until this year, but a few years ago some small refinements were made adding some nesting materialand this seems to have done the trick!

“Several pairs of kestrels breed on the Heath yearly and they can be seen hovering over Heath meadows throughout the summer.”

This particular nest is near the Sanctuary pond in Highgate and there, three of us were lucky enough to be watching the nest just as a parent returned with a dead mouse for the young.

Dramatically, the kill fell to the ground, and an eager young kestrel dove out after it.

This was his first flight and a privilege to see. Even if the young bird landed on a bench without much idea what to do next.

We had to use innovative methods to help the little kestrel back to his nest — it travelled on the end of a photographer’s tripod!

The baby kestrels are transfixed by a camera. They stare intensely when they hear the clicking noise it makes, but, thankfully, these new Hampstead residents aren’t scared off easily.

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