An exhausted kestrel which found itself 25 miles out to sea hitched a ride back to shore – on a yacht sailor’s shoulder.
Carol Raffe, 57, was sailing to the Suffolk coast from Holland with husband Max Raffe, 55, when she felt a tapping on her neck.
She turned to her left and saw the large bird of prey – normally only found on dry land – staring back at her.
The kestrel, which they nicknamed Lucky, then hopped onto the deck of the boat before becoming spooked and taking off again.
But the flagging creature could only circle the mast once before it dropped into the water out of exhaustion.
But Lucky managed to clamber onto the yacht where it happily sat with its new sailing mates for four hours, until they reached the shore.
The obliging kestrel eventually left the 30ft Cornish Pilot Cutter as Carol and Max came into the mouth of the River Deben, Suffolk.
It is believed the wayward animal had been blown off course by strong easterly winds.
Carol, an occupation therapist of Crowfield, Suffolk, said: “There was nothing in sight except the nearby wind farm.
“So I was completely stunned when the bird landed my shoulder. We just could not work out how a land bird was so far out at sea.
“My shock must have made it decide to move off and it then settled among the coiled main sheet by my side.
“We tried to give her food as she looked absolutely famished but it seemed to spook her and she took flight – weirdly landing on the water.
“As she is a land bird we became terrified that she might drown as she would have no natural swimming skills.
“But she managed to regain herself before landing on my husband’s shoulder and then settled down on the boat and stayed with us for four-and-a-half hours.
“She was like a seasoned sailor and just pottered about the boat and did seem to care about us at all.
“She must have realised we posed no threat and were her only chance of survival. The kestrel eventually left us when we reached the River Deben.
“She then flew top Ramsholt Church which overlooks the river, perhaps for a quick prayer of thanksgiving or more likely a hunt for a long awaited meal of Church mouse.”
Max, who is a local Scout leader and works as a technical designer for BT, said he was completely amazed when the bird landed on his wife’s shoulder.
He said: ”I could not believe it. It is odd to see a bird of prey so far out to see but for it to land on my wife’s shoulder completely out of the blue is just incredible.
“There was a strong easterly wind at the time so we think it must have been blown out to sea from the Suffolk coat.
“It would have died if our boat was not there. You hear about these stories out at sea but you never think they will happen to you – it was really fascinating.”
Kestrels are usually found in open farm land or near uncultivated grassland.
They are a a bird of prey and tend to eat field voles, mice, shrews, moles, rats, frogs, and lizards.
The magnificent bird is currently in decline due to habitat and food supply losses in farmland areas.
Their numbers are also seen to be decreasing across the whole of the UK.