Watch as this American kestrel uses incredible speed and reflex to snag a notoriously hard-to-catch whiptail right on a front porch.
It’s the quick moments like this that can feel small or insignificant out of context. But for any wild predator, to hunt is to live. This particular hunt is over in a matter of seconds, yet this is about as remarkable a capture as a stationary camera could ever film.
Provided by Henry Huang to popular Instagram page Nature is Metal, the Blink outdoor cam is set low on the porch. The first thing we see is a western whiptail, or tiger whiptail lizard, darting from left to right in the shadow. With equally impressive speed, this American kestrel appears as if out of thin air. With a couple of lightning-fast talon maneuvers, she secures the whiptail, then flies off. The entire hunt takes less than five seconds:
Few other predators can hunt prey with this sort of accuracy. It’s worth noting first, however, that if you click through to the Nature is Metal video or see it there as it goes viral, that they have both species listed wrong.
This is, without a doubt, an American kestrel (Falco sparverius) and not a red-tailed hawk. Red-tails are one of the largest hawk species and employ entirely different hunting tactics that rely on their size. Their wingspan can approach five feet in large females (which are larger than males).
American kestrels, on the other hand, have a wingspan of under 2-feet. They are dwarfed by red-tails. This does, however, make them capable of the incredible speed and agility seen in the clip above.
American Kestrel vs Tiger Whiptail Lizard
As for our unfortunate lizard, this is no gecko (as Nature is Metal captions). Instead, it is definitely a whiptail species – most likely the western or tiger whiptail lizard (Cnemidophorus tigris) by the patterning.
American kestrels have excellent eyesight, capable of spotting prey from a remarkable distance. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact distance, as we’re not kestrels, but their vision is estimated to be eight times more acute than that of humans.
Kestrels can also see ultraviolet (UV) light, allowing them to detect urine trails left by prey. Chances are, this raptor knew where this wily reptile had been every step of the way. Once it engages, we see brilliant execution of all the species’ hunting tactics/abilities.
When an American kestrel spots prey, it initiates a swift and precise dive. During the dive, it folds its wings tightly to reduce drag and increases its speed significantly. This diving technique, known as a stoop, enables it to close in on the prey with remarkable accuracy.
The species is also highly maneuverable in flight. They’re capable of making quick turns, twists, and adjustments in mid-air, and can change direction rapidly. This allows for chase and capture with great agility. Fascinatingly, kestrels can also hover – almost like a hummingbird. They can hold a tight position as they beat their wings rapidly, which helps them pinpoint prey like the tiger whiptail before striking.
Alongside lizards of the whiptail’s size, kestrels also prey on insects, small mammals, other small birds, and amphibians. And once that prey is locked on, they’re all but done for.