The American Kestrel, is our smallest and most common Falcon. It can be seen with regularity, during the winter months and throughout summer along the highways and county roads of the Midwest and Central Great Plaines. Traditionally this falcon would hover in mid-air over the open prairies using its keen eyesight to spot prey. However they have readily adapted to hunting from “high wires” and tree tops for mice and other small rodents along mowed ditches and other grassy spots. On occasion they can still be seen hovering in search of a meal.
Kestrels are “cavity” nesters and you may see nest boxes along many Interstate Highways where mowed right-of-ways provide easy hunting. Bluebirds Across Nebraska has installed kestrel boxes along I-80 at exit ramps. In the more natural areas they will use old Pileated Woodpecker or Flicker holes as their nesting spots. On occasion they will nest in populated areas. The nest defense may begin as early as February, but the actual egg laying and incubation normally occurs in April. They are solitary types and the male will start bringing food to his mate, long before the nesting time. She stays near the nest site as he brings her food, announcing his arrival with loud cries. If she is in the nest, she leaves and they fly to a nearby spot where the food transfer occurs. A normal clutch is four eggs which are incubated primarily by the female for about 30 days with the male sharing some of the duties during the daytime. When they hatch, the female will brood the nestlings for about nine days, after which she only returns to them during the night. The nestling period is about thirty days. The young birds will then venture out into the real world. If the nest is in a tree, the young will race around the branches, constantly checking their flight capabilities while being fed by both parents. This will last about two weeks and then they are seemingly on their own.
Young Kestrels will sometimes flock together in late summer for a few weeks. These groups eventually split up, either by migration, or mature birds driving them off their winter hunting territory. Many seem to migrate south, but a good number will remain here for the winter. These are beautiful birds, with their rusty body color and smart sideburns. The female’s body is all reddish brown, while the slightly smaller male has slate colored wings.
Make a habit of watching for these lovely little Falcons the next time you are on the Interstate or driving country roads. As one of my early mentors told me, “watch the wires”. Always look for something, that doesn’t belong there.
Contributed by Mr. Weir Nelson of Wildlife Habitat, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Published by The Wild Bird Habitat Store