Range & Habitat
The American Kestrel ranges across North and South America. They can be found in the United States including locally in Delaware. American Kestrels occupy a wide range of habitats from alpine meadows to grasslands to deserts. They are most likely going to be seen perched on top of telephone wires along the road in open country with few trees and short vegetation.
The American Kestrel is one of the most colorful raptors and the smallest North American Falcoln. They are approximately the size of a Mourning Dove, but have a larger head and longer, narrower wings. A Kestrel is 9-12 inches in length and has a wingspan of 21 inches. Males can be identified by their blue head and wings and their rusty-red back and tail, as well as their pale spotted belly. The females have the same reddish brown wings, back, and tail, but lack the blue coloring found in males. The female also has streaks on her breast rather than spots. Both sexes have identifiable pairs of black vertical slashes on either sides of their faces, sometimes referred to as a "sideburn" or a "mustache". Additionally, the square-tipped tail has a black band near the tip. American Kestrels have a short hooked beak, white cheeks, and pointed wings.
American Kestrels are diurnal and normally hunt during the day. Sometimes, they will stay in the same perch all day looking for prey or they will change perches every few minutes. American Kestrels pounce on their prey with both feet and either finish off a small meal on the ground or carry larger prey back to their perch. Males advertise their territory during breeding season by repeatedly climbing and then diving, uttering a short series of "klee" calls at the top of every ascent. Males in a courting pair may offer a gift to the female, usually in the form of food. American Kestrels compete over the limited number of nesting cavities and will attack and fight off other cavity nesting species including bluebirds, Northern Flickers, and small squirrels.
Depending on its geographic location, the American Kestrel will mate from March to April to early June. They will nest in cavities usually made by other animals or that occur naturally, such as woodpecker holes, rock crevices, or nooks in buildings. The male searches for the nesting sites, and then shows all the viable options to the female who ultimately makes the final choice. Females may mate with two or three males before deciding on a single mate. The female does most of the incubation, and will lay approximately three to seven eggs that will hatch in about a month. The male, at first, will bring food to the female who then feeds the chicks, but later that male will also feed the chicks. In about 30 days, the chicks will fledge but stay with their parents for a few weeks after fledging.
The diet of the American Kestrel consists of insects, small mammals, small birds, reptiles, and amphibians. This includes grasshoppers, beetles, dragonflies, butterflies, crickets, and sparrows. Unlike other falcons, they will often catch its prey on the ground. American Kestrels perch on telephone poles and trees looking for prey. They will hover over their prey and then drop down on it.
The American Kestrel is the most common and widespread falcon on the continent. Apart from the Central United States, American Kestrels have been declining everywhere. Because the species is so widespread, however, they do not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. American Kestrel decline is linked with continued clearing of land and the felling of dead standing tress that these birds use for their nesting sites. Additionally, there are losing prey sources due to the clearing of hedgerows, trees, and brush for "clean" farming practices. Pesticides and pollutants can reduce clutch sizes and hatching success as well as destroy the insects and other prey the birds feed on. Nest box programs across the country including Delaware are being set up to provide alternate nesting sites for the birds.