The Colorful American Kestrel
The American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) is a mesmerizing species of small falcon that is native to the Americas. These birds are incredibly adaptable, often found in a wide variety of habitats, including grasslands, farmlands, open woods, deserts and even city parks. In the United States, they are perhaps the most visible of all falcons—making them an ideal representative of birds of prey.
On average, these birds measure between 8 to 11 inches in length and may weigh 2 ounces up to 9 ounces. American Kestrels have distinctive physical features, including a multicolored body, spotted feathers, and a long, strongly furrowed tail. Males have rusty-orange backs, while female and juvenile birds will have more muted brown tones. The face and crown have prominent black markings, and the wings and tail have bold, black and white barring with violet, salmon, blue, and reddish-orange spots. The tail of the bird is also tipped with a broad, black band, making it easy to distinguish from other raptors.
Behavioral Characteristics of the American Kestrel
As mentioned previously, American Kestrels are very adaptable, and can be found across a wide variety of habitats. However, this species does prefer open spaces, and is often seen perched atop utility poles, fence posts, and other high perches, as they survey their surroundings for potential prey. Additionally, these birds are also quite vocal—particularly in the morning and evening hours. They often produce a lilting, whistling call that can be heard up to a mile away.
When hunting, American Kestrels have impressive vision, with up to eight times better visual acuity than humans. This allows them to spot prey quickly, and they will often hover in a stationary position above or along the ground when searching for food. When their target is identified, they will swoop down swiftly to take their prey. Additionally, these birds will also engage in “kiting”—where they will hover above their target and rotate their wings as if tossing bait. This helps lure unsuspected prey out into the open.
What Do American Kestrels Eat?
Typically, American Kestrels feed on small rodents, amphibians, reptiles, and insects. They have also been known to take birds smaller than themselves, as well as fish, berries, and other plant material. In addition to their impressive hunting skills, they have also been known to occasionally scavenge leftover food from other predators.
Migration Habits of the American Kestrel
Although American Kestrels may travel shorter distances in order to avoid harsh weather conditions, they are generally non-migratory birds, and remain in the same area all year round. However, in more northern climates, these birds may migrate more extensively—usually for areas as far south as Mexico, Central America, and northern South America.
Reproduction and Nesting Behavior of the American Kestrel
American Kestrels are generally monogamous, and breeding pairs often form during the winter months in preparation for nesting season. During this time, males and females will court each other with short flight displays, often accompanied by a churring call. The courtship involves males continuously circling and diving in front of the female in order to prove their strength and skill.
Once paired, the couple will usually build a nest in a cavity, such as a tree or old building, or on a cliff or a ledges of a building. The female will lay typically lay 4 to 5 eggs per clutch, and both parents will share responsibilities of rearing the chicks. Once hatched, the nestlings stay with the parents for up to a month, and eventually fledge at 30 to 35 days old.
Threats to the American Kestrel
Sadly, this beautiful species is in decline due to a variety of factors, from destruction and degradation of their habitat to competition from invasive species. One particular concern is the loss of suitable nesting sites. Additionally, American Kestrels are also vulnerable to pesticides, which can lead to a decrease in food sources. Additionally, collisions with vehicles and power lines, as well as window strikes, can also take a toll on populations.
Fortunately, in recent years, environmentalists and other conservationists have been working hard to protect this species, by creating and preserving appropriate habitat, and providing nesting boxes in areas of suitable habitat. This has resulted in a gradual increase in their numbers throughout the US, and a resurgence in their population.
Conclusion: The American Kestrel’s Unmatched Beauty
The American Kestrel is truly a remarkable species, with its impressive aerial acrobatics, vocalizations, and colorful plumage. These birds are an iconic part of the American avian landscape, and it is important that we all do our part in preserving their populations by creating and protecting suitable habitat and by increasing our awareness of threats such as pesticide use and window strikes. With the right combination of habitat protection and conservation, we can ensure that these amazing birds remain a part of our landscape for many years to come.
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