I was playing cricket the other day in Devon and, having hit a full toss down square legs throat, I got talking to a spectator by the pavilion.
John Chappell works a farm in Dorset and he was recently ploughing up a stubble field to plant turnips, when he saw a breathtaking display of aerobatic warfare. The first thing I noticed was that the field was alive with skylarks, he said, which was a wonderful sight in itself. The tractor and plough were stirring them up and they flicked about in front of the wheels. A team of four kestrels had also seen the movement and they used me as a beater to drive the skylarks into the air.
John watched the hunt unfold from his cab, as the raptors swooped time and again in the hope of snaring a songbird, but to no avail. Their prey was always too nimble. The older skylarks were cannier, choosing to stay close to the ground, almost creeping along on their bellies, said John. The youngsters were more naïve, flying higher and jinking about to avoid the kestrels. Whether it was a pair of adult kestrels with two young, I don’t know, but they certainly worked in a team, co-ordinating their attacks.
Eventually, one of the kestrels managed to get underneath a young skylark, forcing it to fly ever higher in the air, like a pack of dolphins pushing a school of sardines towards the surface. Once the skylark had been pushed high enough, the kestrel flew above it and dropped down with its talons outstretched to catch the little bird in mid-air. It then flew off to a nearby round bale to feed. It was fascinating to see how the kestrel instinctively changed tactics to such devastating effect.