A focus on Kestrels at Rye Meads

Rye Meads has had many years of success with kestrel nest boxes, with pylons proving to be popular, if sometimes a bit problematical, locations. Traditionally used is the box at the kingfisher hide, with National Grid workers adding another box as the initial one became dilapidated. So, two boxes can now be seen in this location and bizarrely Tawny Owl decided to nest there in 2017 and were successful!


But it is the box in the car park again situated on a pylon I wish to focus on in this article. It was first used in 2010 with a bit of a dramatic breeding season as the male obtained an injury to his wing that became swollen and infected, so had to be taken into care. This left the female on eggs to fend for herself and sadly while she was out hunting the eggs were predated, but in some good news she found herself a new male soon after.


Sine this initial use the box was used again the following year (2011) fledging 3 young. There then followed a 4-year break with the box at the kingfisher hide used instead. But the car park box was used once again in 2016 fledging 2 chicks, again in 2017 fledging 4 chicks and 2018 fledging another 2 chicks. Then last year (2019) a staggering 6 chicks were fledged. Fledging day was quite entertaining with the clumsy first flights and young hanging round the car park, sitting on cars, the ground, picnic tables, all being enjoyed and well photographed throughout the day by visitors, volunteers, staff and members of the ringing group.


In august we dissected some of the kestrel pellets found around the visitor centre, under some favourite perching spots. Amongst the pellets we found various signs of the kestrel’s prey including beetle wing casings, vole and rat bones and teeth, but also remains of birds including a leg with a BTO ring on and a further 3 BTO rings.  We passed the rings, each marked with a unique code on to the Rye Meads Ringing Group who got back to us with some results. All four birds were ringed at Rye Meads and were quite varied in species. First, we had a reed bunting, this was a surprise to me I had never envisioned a kestrel catching a reed bunting. This bird was ringed in the nest in May of 2019, there was also a dunnock juvenile ringed 2017, then a couple of great tit  one ringed in the nest June 2016 and the other also ringed in nest May 2018.


As you may be aware, we have been preparing for the National Grid to undertake some major work on the pylon this summer, replacing the insulators. As part of this work they have had to clear some vegetation underneath the pylon and remove the kestrel box to prevent disturbance to breeding birds as well as for access and safety.  In expectation of this we installed two new boxes in early January away from the pylon. We looked for sites where we could erect something high enough to suit the kestrels whilst ensuring they would not be disturbed by passing people but also allowed everyone to continue enjoying the antics of the kestrels. One is located on top of the visitor centre and the other on the bank next to the lapwing hide. The male had been seen using both boxes before lock down started.


Once the kestrel box was removed a member of the Rye Meads Ringing Group rummaged inside and found some more BTO rings giving us some further insight into the avian species kestrels prey on. The results of 12 birds from 9 species are listed in the table below.  The data shows a couple of phases of activity with the early phase 2009, 2010 and the later phase 2016 to 2019, which lines up quite well with the phases of use. Amongst these results, even more surprising to me, than the previous record of reed bunting (although there was record of another reed bunting caught) was the records for a garden warbler and a chiffchaff, kestrel catching warblers! Or a stonechat for that matter.




Great tit

Ringed 11 May 2019 as a chick in one of the reserve nest boxes near the visitor centre


Reed bunting

Ringed as a nestling on the meadow 25 May 2018



Garden warbler

Female ringed 29 May 2016


Great tit

This male was ringed on 23 January 2016




Ringed on site as a fledged juvenile 8 August 2015 and was re trapped a further 6 times, with the latest September 2016



Great tit

Fledged juvenile ringed on 22 June 2014 re trapped a further 3 times and final fourth record in April 2016



Ringed on 17 October 2010 as a fledged juvenile, female



Great tit

Ringed as a nestling, 16 May 2009 and re-trapped a further 4 times to the last in April 2010 (male)



This female was ringed on 7 November 2009



This fledged juvenile female was ringed 15 October 2009


Blue tit

Fledged juvenile September 2009



Ringed on 1 January 2009



Well I hope that has provided you with a window into the activities of kestrels at Rye Meads. Once the site is open again do have a look at the boxes and let us know what you see. On a recent visit it looks like stock dove may have taken over the box near the lapwing hide but kestrel have also been seen hunting over the meadow. Thanks to the Rye Meads Ringing Group for their assistance with the records, you can find out more about their activities here www.rmrg.org.uk


Please share any kestrel photos you have from Rye Meads in the comments below.