A falcon's antics at a cold, rainy and uninspired Twins game kept the crowd cheering.
If it's rainy and cold at Target Field and the Twins aren't playing well, what's a fan to do?
Besides watching people try to stay warm and dry, there's a new sport at the outdoor stadium: bird-watching.
At Thursday night's lackluster 2-0 loss to the Orioles, many of the 38,000 fans were watching the antics of an American kestrel that swooped down from the right field foul pole to catch moths, prompting cheers louder than the Twins were getting.
As the game wore on, the falcon got even more face time because the camera crews kept showing close-ups of it, perched on the pole in the driving rainstorm as it ate moths and scanned the field. With the darkness in the background and the field's bright lights, even the moths were easy to see from all over the stadium.
"It's just part of the whole experience of outdoor baseball," said team spokesman Kevin Smith. "If a person were asked the top 50 things that they might see at an outdoor baseball game, I don't think observing an American kestrel dive-bombing moths out of the air and eating them on the right field foul pole would be among them."
The Twins also have spotted a red-tailed hawk family that's apparently living in the lights, and some Canada geese flew through recently.
But none fascinated as the falcon did. The winner of a "Name the Kestrel" contest over the weekend was Kirby the Kestrel, in honor of the late centerfielder Kirby Puckett. The falcon has even earned a spot on Wikipedia, which said that Kirby is quickly becoming the team's unofficial mascot.
The Twins said Kirby didn't reappear over the weekend.
But Julia Ponder, executive director of the University of Minnesota's Raptor Center, said it's likely that the food source will draw him back.
She added that it's somewhat unusual to see kestrels in such a noisy, heavily populated area. "But he's obviously not put off by thousands of people and is having quite a success hunting there," she said.
The foul pole was a good spot for him, she said. "The kestrel has exceptional eyesight and the food source is lit up so clearly, so it was a good perch for him," she said. "It's great that the whole crowd and cameraman were getting so excited about it. He's a good little ambassador for his species."
She guessed that the falcon, which she said was a male, lives in woods near the stadium. "Very possibly it was attracted by the food, and the bugs were attracted by the lights."
The Raptor Center has had a couple dozen calls from people wondering what kind of bird it was or just wanting to talk about the "star" of the game.
It appeared at times that the falcon was almost playing off the crowd's cheers. But Ponder said that while kestrels are very charismatic, its only mission was to catch and eat bugs, "regardless of the thousands of people cheering him on."
Smith said the falcon is welcome to come back anytime.
"It confirms to me that the American kestrels are obviously Twins fans and know where to get a good seat," he said. "I just hope he stays away from fly balls."
Suzanne Ziegler • 612-673-1707