Birds usually line their nest with the softest material they can find – just like a baby's cot.
But the kestrels of Belfast Lough might find their new nest a bit uncomfortable this year. Because if they settle down for the night in this spectacular, purpose-built abode, they might just feel the prick of a thistle in their nether regions.
They have Scottish-born environmentalist Andy Graham to thank for that – because as you can see in this picture, after erecting the sturdy home, he placed handful of thistles inside as a housewarming gift from his home nation.
And not only will the rare birds of prey be resting on Scotland’s national flower, they’ll also be looking at the bonnie isle – because Andy pointed the entrance of the nestbox towards Scotland!
“It’s recommended they face northeast anyway,” Andy told Dúlra this week, “and luckily enough that’s exactly where Scotland lies on the horizon!”
Andy – a joiner by trade who spent many years working on North Sea oil rigs – designed the box to kestrel specifications with the finest materials, most expensive weather-resistant paint and with every joint leak-proofed with sealant.
It then took engineering genius to design it so it would sit security like a cap on top of a pole down at the docks.
It might look precarious up there on its own, but it’s as solid as a rock.
“It’ll be there long after I’m gone,” Andy said.
A pair of kestrels have taken up residence at Belfast’s docks, and they can be seen every day hunting for birds and mice among the abandoned wasteland here. Kestrels, pocaire gaoithe in Irish, are spectacular birds of prey which have been decimated in recent years thanks to poison we leave for rodents which they feed on.
There was a time when they hovered above every motorway verge – indeed a pair once bred in a nestbox in the Bog Meadows just beside the M1.
But from being our most common raptors, the crimson-backed beauties have become rare.
Good nest sites are always at a premium. The pair at the docks breed on Cavehill, commuting to the coast countless times every day in spring and summer to get food for their young. The windswept docks have no cliffs – but this box, on top of an old metal pole along the coast – which perhaps had once been a lamp to guide boats into the lough – will be a saviour.
It's a good time to put up a nestbox. Just like in our own housing market, the post-Christmas period is the most popular with young couples looking to set up home.
The kestrels will hopefully nip inside one stormy winter’s night and realise that this has all the makings of a perfect home – once they toss out those thistles!
* If you’ve seen or photographed anything interesting, or have any nature questions, you can text Dúlra on 07801 414804.