OUR early spring lockdown lulled kestrels into Belfast to nest on a rocky slope just off one of the main artery roads. It's a place that is normally thronged with people walking and driving past, but it had been almost totally abandoned during lockdown.
 
But just as the eggs hatched a couple of weeks ago, the city opened up once more. And now these spectacular falcons find themselves surrounded by people walking by just feet away, unaware the birds of prey are nesting above them.
 
Dúlra spent an hour at the site one evening this week, huddled under a tree so they wouldn’t spot him. Of course, it’s disingenuous to think that a hawk can’t see us – we don’t say 'hawk eyes' for nothing. Their eyesight is the best in the animal world and they can see eight times more clearly than we can.

 

But there’s a simple trick for birdwatching: Staying still. We’re a fidgety species who finds it almost impossible to stay in one place for any length of time. Birds – including hawks – wait for us to move, and when we don’t, they lose interest. It works every time!

It was an amazing experience, to be in full view of nesting kestrels just off the Antrim Road. When she left the nest and disappeared across gardens, you could tell her route by the terrified screams of every bird she passed.

And so Dúlra stayed as still as was humanly possible under the tree and waited for the kestrels that he’d been told were nesting here. 
 
Twenty minutes later he held his breath as a bird wheeled overhead and landed like a falling comet on the small cliff-face. Dúlra focused his binoculars on the beautiful mother, who is much bigger than the male and hasn’t got his grey head. She wasn’t taking any chances, scanning the surrounding area for any sign of danger. Dúlra knew she could see him, but considering he wasn’t moving, she soon ruled him out as a danger.
 
Dúlra had no idea where exactly the nest was on the small rock-face – there were no clear signs of a nest or even scattered droppings. But the chirps of her chicks as soon as she moved across to an area behind whin bushes – which were growing from the loose rocks – gave it away.
 
It was an amazing experience, to be in full view of nesting kestrels just off the Antrim Road. When she left the nest and disappeared across gardens, you could tell her route by the terrified screams of every bird she passed.
 
Dúlra waited a while longer until the father arrived with a mouse in his beak, and the chicks called even louder.
 
Of course there’s a reason why birds like kestrels try to avoid humans – because we’re so dangerous.
 
And that was proven just the following night when a car was set alight on waste ground not far from the nest. Fire terrifies birds and they could easily abandon their nest – smoke from the car would have blown across the slope. But thankfully, they remained.
 

2Gallery

Also this week Dúlra noticed kids using scramblers around the old Sirocco site near Short Strand. Last year snipe (above) and meadow pipits were nesting here among the grass. Of course the kids have no idea they are doing harm, but if we wonder why birds are so frightened of us, the burning car and roaring scramblers are two examples in just one week.

The population of kestrels, pocaire gaoithe in Irish, which means ‘rider of the wind’ because of their incredible ability to hover no matter what the weather, has more than halved in recent years.
 
But a handful of pairs are still holding on in rocky outcrops across the Belfast Hills – and now breeding in the city itself, where this extraordinary bird can enrich the lives of everyone. It certainly enriched Dúlra's.
 
• If you’ve seen or photographed anything interesting, or have any nature questions, you can text Dúlra on 07801 414804.