photo by Bill Harris

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

Fun Fact

American Kestrels cache food items to save for later when times are tough or when they are trying to hide their meal from another predator.

Etymology

"Kestrel" is an old English name for F. Tinnunculus, the common kestrel. Falco meaning "a falcon," sparverius is latin for "pertaining to a sparrow."

Conservation status

IUCN Least Concern. Although certain areas have seen a decline in population. If this is the case in your area, you can help by putting up a nest box. Instructions on this project can be found here.

Lifespan

The average lifespan of wild kestrels is 12 months, but 9-11 year old birds have been documented. Average lifespan in captivity is 5 years.

Identification

A small, compact, colorful raptor and the smallest falcon in North America. Reddish-orange on the back, grey and blue wings, and a distinct black and white striped pattern on the head. Females and juveniles are more barred and duller than males. Short bare legs. Perches openly and upright on branches, posts and telephone wires and often seen pumping its tail. Wingtips much shorter than its tail.

photo by Irene Greenberg

photo by Irene Greenberg

Length

22.09-31 cm (8.7-12.2 in)

Wingspan

51- 61 cm (20.1-24 in)

Weight

80-165 g (2.8-5.8 oz)

Juvenile American Kestrel with mouse. Photo by Dan Dzurisin.

Juvenile American Kestrel with mouse. Photo by Dan Dzurisin.

Distribution

Found throughout North and South America. Widespread but more common in some areas than others. Uncommon in the southeast. Populations found in extreme north and south regions will migrate between August-September to warmer areas. (Range map below)

Habitat

Kestrels prefer all open and semi-open areas with suitable nest sites, perches and prey. They are absent from northern tundra and dense forest, and are found at elevations from lowlands to tree-line in mountains.

Prey

Hunt mostly insects, small mammals and reptiles with small birds and carrion a rare occurrence. Typically hunts from a perch while overlooking an open area and once prey is sighted will bob head and tail before taking off. When windy, they will hover in the air in search of prey.

Behaviors

Solitary or in pairs generally, with larger groups on migration or when gathering at rich food sources. Aerial display is noisy and most frequent early in the breeding season. Male climbs in altitude and at height gives 3-5 calls before making a steep dive very quickly before stopping to rise again. May repeat sequence up to six times. Females who lose a mate may do the display as well. Aerial food passes and cart wheeling can also be seen.

Breeding

March-July in North America and varies elsewhere. Nest is a small unlined scrape in a natural cavity or woodpecker hole. Nest boxes also accepted in urban areas. An average clutch of 4-6 eggs with an incubation of 26-32 days. Fledging occurs 28-31 days after hatching and young are dependent on parents for up to a month.

This is one of the species affected by the Poo-Poo Project; they have been found trapped within vault toilets looking for a suitable nest site in the ventalation pipe.

Copyright Notice

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Citation

InfoNatura: Animals and Ecosystems of Latin America [web application]. 2007. Version 5.0 . Arlington, Virginia (USA): NatureServe. Available: http://www.natureserve.org/infonatura. (Accessed: October 24, 2012 ).

Photo by Bill Harris

Photo by Bill Harris

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