The female kestrel lays 4-5 eggs in April or May and the chicks hatch a month later. They will spend five weeks in this stone cavity before fledgling. The young birds flex their wings, stretch out and flap to strengthen their muscles, wing-tips to the ground for balance. The nest is infested but instinct tells them to try to keep it clean. A chick shuffles forward, turns, lifts its tail and ejects a squirt of white. The dominant chick, portly and puffed up, teeters near the edge its wing over the drop, pulls back, turns to show the barred tail of a female, tail up and squirts shit over the stonework which is dribbled with it. Their body plumage transitions between down and feathers, mottled and muted colours, ripples of brown. Dark moustaches on each chick. A barring of the tail of the young females. Piercing eyes and a sharp raptor bill that shows white from the shadows, guiding the adult to the chick's gape. Three hungry chicks to feed and on the second day the adult kestrels visit the nest more frequently, fast in and out to deliver prey. At this stage of their development the adult female will hunt too, not far from the nest. Once the young fledge and leave the nest they will return to their stone chamber to roost and the adults will be with them for a month, teaching them to hunt.
What a privilege to visit Smardale on two consecutive days, to look deep into a kestrel’s stone breeding chamber. If all goes well she may use this site again.