September 2021
Bird of the Month
by
Russ Miller

American Kestrel

The American kestrel, sometimes referred to as the sparrow hawk, is North America’s most common and smallest falcon, about the size of a mourning dove.

John West

The male’s blue head and rust-colored back and tail, and the slightly larger female’s similar reddish wings, back and tail, contribute to the striking beauty of these colorful raptors. The wings are long, narrow, and tapered to points, and there are two black spots on each side of a white or orange nape, thought to confuse potential enemies by presenting a false set of ‘eyes.’

Despite their size kestrels are fierce predators, and can be seen perching on wires and poles or hovering into the wind as they forage. Their varied diet consists of grasshoppers, cicadas, beetles, dragonflies, scorpions, spiders, butterflies, moths, voles, mice, shrews, bats, small songbirds, small snakes, lizards and frogs.

American kestrels have three basic calls: a ‘klee’ or ‘killy,’ a ‘whine’ and a ‘chitter.’ The ‘klee’ is normally repeated in a rapid series when the bird is upset, excited, or courting. The male locates potential nesting sites and shows them to his mate, who makes the final decision. Since kestrels lack the ability to excavate nesting cavities, they use existing ones. Nests are usually in abandoned woodpecker holes, tree hollows, rock crevices and building nooks, as well as specially designed nesting boxes, such as those provided by your Prescott Audubon chapter. Nesting materials are not used, and if a site contains debris the female simply hollows out a shallow depression.

There are one or two broods per season, each with three to seven eggs. Incubation is up to 32 days with both parents participating. Born feeble, covered with slight amounts of light down and eyes closed, the young remain in the nest for about a month.

American kestrels rate 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating low conservation concern. However, if current trends continue they will lose half their population by 2075.

Always beautiful and exciting to watch, be sure you add this species to your Big List!

The Prescott Audubon Society is an official chapter of the National Audubon Society. Check it out online at PrescottAudubon.org.