Thursday, September 1, 2011

American Kestrel - Fun Facts & Viewing Tips

For details on The Great Kestrel Count 2011, please click on the logo-link in the right side bar!

American Kestrel - Photo by Mia McPherson - used with permission
Fun Facts from and Birds of North America Online:

1.  North America's smallest falcon.
2.  One of the most colorful of all raptors.
3.  Generally hunt for insects and small prey.
4.  Often seen perched on wires or poles and regularly pump their tails to maintain balance
5.  Often seen hovering facing into the wind or hovering over potential prey.
6.  Kestrels are declining some parts of their range.
7.  Kestrel seem to readily nest in appropriately sized nest boxes.
8.  Sports fans in some cities get an extra show during night games: kestrels perching on light standards or foul poles, tracking moths and other insects in the powerful stadium light beams and catching these snacks on the wing. Some of their hunting flights have even made it onto TV sports coverage.
9.  When nature calls, nestling kestrels back up, raise their tails, and squirt feces onto the walls of the nest cavity. The feces dry on the cavity walls and stay off the nestlings. The nest gets to be a smelly place, with feces on the walls and uneaten parts of small animals on the floor.
10.  It can be tough being one of the smallest birds of prey. Despite their fierce lifestyle, American Kestrels end up as prey for larger birds such as Northern Goshawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Barn Owls, American Crows, and Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, as well as rat snakes, corn snakes, and even fire ants.
11.  In winter in many southern parts of the range, female and male American Kestrels use different habitats. Females use the typical open habitat, and males use areas with more trees. This situation appears to be the result of the females migrating south first and establishing winter territories, leaving males to the more wooded areas.
12.  Unlike humans, birds can see ultraviolet light. This enables kestrels to make out the trails of urine that voles, a common prey mammal, leave as they run along the ground. Like neon diner signs, these bright paths may highlight the way to a meal—as has been observed in the Eurasian Kestrel, a close relative.
13.  Kestrels hide surplus kills in grass clumps, tree roots, bushes, fence posts, tree limbs, and cavities, to save the food for lean times or to hide it from thieves.
14.  Formerly known -and still colloquially known - as the Sparrow Hawk.
15.  Most numerous and most widespread North American falcon.
16.  There are 13 species of Kestrels in the world, but the American Kestrel is the only one in the western hemisphere.  There are however 17 sub-species of American Kestrel between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.
17.  First falcon to be produced by artificial insemination and the first to be produced from frozen semen.
American Kestrel with vole - Photo by Mia McPherson - used with permission
Viewing Tips:

American Kestrels occupy habitats ranging from deserts and grasslands to alpine meadows. You’re most likely to see them perching on telephone wires along roadsides, in open country with short vegetation and few trees.  Scan fence posts, utility lines and telephone poles, particularly when driving through farmland. Or catch them by the hundreds at coastal migration sites—such as Cape May, New Jersey, or Kiptopeke, Virginia—in September or early October. Particularly in summer, listen for their shrill killy-killy-killy call to be alerted to when they're around.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology Range Map - and eBird sightings map, limited to Aug-Sept sightings:

For more wonderful Kestrel photos from one of Utah's most talented bird photographers - Mia McPherson - check out her online gallery and follow her blog On The Wing Photography.


  1. Wonderful treatise on this beautiful little raptor. Very interesting to read that they can see the urine trails of voles!

  2. Amazing info and photography! Don't know if I will be able to kestrel count this weekend as my son is arriving on Saturday but we will see! I hope it all goes well for you!

  3. UPDATE: I added a post with links to this story on my blog. we are headed to NH this afternoon so perhaps I will see some there!