American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) is the smallest and most common
of our falcons. It was formerly called the Sparrow Hawk, and has
sometimes been known as the Killy Hawk because of its call, a high
killy-killy-killy. It is found in all states, but spends only warmer
months in northern states and Canada.
kestrel feeds on large insects, for the most part, and small mice and
voles. It occasionally will also catch and eat a small bird (chiefly
the House Sparrow in urban areas) or a reptile. Unlike the other
falcons, it captures its prey on the ground, rather than in the air. A
kestrel may perch in a tree, watching for its prey, and then fly down and
hover in the air directly over a grasshopper, waiting for the proper
moment to seize it in its talons. Then it flies up to its perch to eat
may be attracted to birdhouses, as they do not excavate their own holes,
and large woodpecker holes are hard to find. This may be a more
important factor in controlling the size of the kestrel population than
the food supply.
kestrel is a jay-sized bird, 9" to 12" long with a 21" wingspan and a
striking appearance. It is recognized by its rusty tail and back,
and the double black stripes on its white face. The adult female has
brown wings, while the male's are pale steel-blue.
comfortable with people and live in rural areas and open country as well
as in towns and cities, if food and habitat are available. Kestrel
populations have been threatened by loss of habitat, due to such practices
as cutting hedgerows, the loss of hay and old fields in favor of row
crops, and by pesticides which contaminate their food.
male and female have paired off in the spring and chosen a nest site, the
female remains near the nest and the male brings her food to
her. When he comes near the nest, he calls her, and she flies to him
to receive her food away from the nest.
lays 4 to 5 whitish eggs with small brown dots, which are incubated for 30
days by only the female, the male bringing her food throughout this period
and into the nestling phase. The young fledge in two weeks, and
after leaving the nest they perch together in trees, waiting for their
parents to bring them food. It is not uncommon for families to be
together into the late summer. Kestrels raise one brood per
Kestrel House is unique in that it provides a "perch" for the mother just
inside the entrance hole. Being a bird of prey, she sits and watches for
the next meal to appear for her little ones.
Mounting a Nest Box
American Kestrel prefers open country, especially parks, farmlands, and
open areas adjacent to woodlands. Place the box on a tree or tall
cactus near an open area, between 10 and 30 feet above the ground.
Keep branches away from the box opening.
readily use a nest box placed in an open area, even along a highway, and
the more that are put up, the more kestrels will live in the area.
Because of the bird's tendency to sometimes eat other small birds, you may
wish to place the box away from those for other species. Placing the
house in fields or orchards may benefit crops, as the kestrels will eat
harmful voles and insects.
kestrel does not line its nest, but some experts recommend providing wood
chips (not sawdust, which can hurt the baby kestrel's eyes).
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