COMMON NAME: American kestrel
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Falco sparverius
The American kestrel is the smallest falcon found in North America, and with the exception of the Seychelles kestrel, the world. Like all members of the genus Falco, American kestrels have dark eyes, a notched beak, and unfeathered legs. Males have a rusty back, blue wings, and a rusty-colored tail with a black terminal band. Females have rusty wings, back, and tail, all marked with black barring. Both sexes have a dark vertical line running through the eye with white cheek and chin patches. The top of their head is blue with a rusty cap, usually brighter in males than females.
American kestrels are widely distributed throughout the New World. Their breeding range extends as far north as central and western Alaska across northern Canada to Nova Scotia, and extends south throughout North America, into central Mexico, Baja, and the Caribbean. They are local breeders in Central America and are widely distributed throughout South America. Most of the birds breeding in Canada and the northern United States migrate south in the winter, although some males are year round residents.
American kestrels are found in a variety of habitats, including parks, suburbs, open fields, forest edges, alpine zones, and deserts. In addition to requiring open space for hunting, American kestrels seem to need perches to hunt from, cavities for nesting, and a sufficient food supply. In Minnesota they can be found in both urban and rural areas, hunting along roadsides from telephone wires or trees or hovering over fields.
A cavity nester, the American kestrel uses holes in trees, artificial nest boxes, or small spaces in buildings. Both males and females incubate the eggs, which hatch about 30 days after being laid. Three to five young are often hatched. They grow very quickly, assuming adult weight in about two and a half weeks and fledging about a month after hatching. They will nest again if the first nest fails and have been reported to raise two broods per year in some of the southern states.
In summer, kestrels feed on insects that they catch either on the ground or in the air. They will also eat small rodents and birds. Wintering birds feed primarily on rodents and birds.
The kestrel is an extremely common falcon. Estimates of up to 1.2 million breeding pairs have been made for the North American population (T. Cade, Falcons of the World), with an equal number thought to breed in the Neotropics. One of the more common raptors in the Midwest, the American kestrel is afforded no special status in this area. In Florida, however, the southeastern sub-species is listed as threatened.