American Kestrel Monitoring
The smallest falcon in North America, the American Kestrel is listed as endangered on Delaware’s Endangered Species inventory. In the Mid-Atlantic region, its population has declined 88% since the 1970s (according to data from the USGS Breeding Bird Survey).

In 2014, The Brandywine Zoo began working with the American Kestrel Partnership, a project of The Peregrine Fund, a nonprofit organization promoting research and conservation of birds of prey worldwide. What started in an attempt to better understand kestrel populations in Delaware has now grown into a multi-organizational partnership across the state. In 2016, the Delaware Kestrel Partnership was formed so that all partners could share information and to streamline efforts.

Our Mission

To determine probable cause of decline in Delaware’s American Kestrel populations by; conducting demographic studies which  utilize the guidelines of the American Kestrel Partnership, unifying citizen and professional science data, and educating the general public on American Kestrels and ways to help increase their population.

Why Study Kestrels?
Only long-term monitoring can provide a reliable picture on population trends; while bird counts can validate that there are fewer breeding kestrels in the northeast, they do not provide definitive data that would advance kestrel demographics and influence conservation planning. As top predators of their food chain, raptors are an indicator species of the overall health of their ecosystems; observing habitat alterations will enable scientists to determine avenues to stabilize the population.

The Brandywine Zoo is helping to study Delaware’s fragile population of kestrels in order to better understand their needs in the state. Data collected from studies done by the Zoo will help to better understand how to protect kestrels around the country.

Who’s Involved in the Delaware Kestrel Partnership?

The Brandywine Zoo’s American Kestrel nest box program started in 2014 and was the first in-situ field conservation project conducted by the Zoo in its 109 year history. To this day, while operating on a shoestring budget with one stipended research apprentice and 6-8 volunteer monitors, we are fully committed to learning as much about this small falcon as we can. From 2014-16, the Zoo operated primarily independently in installing and monitoring nest boxes, but in 2016 we formally formed the Delaware Kestrel Partnership (DKP) to include other resource partners in the state in this effort to study Kestrels. Today, the DKP is made up of The Brandywine Zoo, The Delaware Zoological Society, Delaware Fish and Wildlife, Delaware State Parks, Delmarva Ornithological Society (DOS), Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, Delaware Nature Society, and The Peregrine Fund’s American Kestrel Partnership (AKP), in addition to a number of public lands groups and private landowners. This Partnership has allowed the Zoo to develop protocols and knowledge sharing opportunities, investigate historic Kestrel research in Delaware, and work as a group to determine the underlying cause(s) to Kestrel population decline in the State.

What does the DKP do? 

To date, the DKP has installed and monitors, through a combination of volunteers, interns, and partners with DE Fish and Wildlife, 80 nest boxes across the state. This monitoring will provide insight into preferred nest sites as well as the Kestrel’s demographics in Delaware. In cases where nest boxes are used by Kestrels, the DKP will band adults and fledglings using USGS aluminum leg bands to further research this small falcon’s migratory movements, nest site fidelity, local territories, as well as taking biometric data and feather samples to evaluate disease and parasite loads, exposure to harmful chemicals, and contribute DNA to the Genoscape Project.

Nest Box Program

In response to state-wide and regional declines, the Delaware Kestrel Partnership (DKP) aims to create American Kestrel nesting habitat by installing and monitoring nest boxes to document and assess nesting activity, productivity, and success of breeding populations of this state-endangered raptor throughout Delaware.

We report our data annually for this project to the American Kestrel Partnership (AKP), a project of The Peregrine Fund. The Brandywine Zoo is the first AZA accredited zoo to work with the AKP, which is a North American monitoring program working with both citizen scientists and formal researchers to study Kestrels across the continent. The Zoo, along with our Delaware Kestrel Partnership program partners, is working with the AKP and many other researchers in an effort to better understand and protect this native species.

Read recent program updates in our Annual Summaries:

2018 Summary Report

2017 Summary Report.

2016 Summary Report

Taking feather samples from a chick for the Genoscape Project

The DKP  contributes feather samples from all banded juveniles to the Full Cycle Phenology Project: American Kestrel Genoscape, to build a “genoscape map” across the Kestrel’s breeding range. A genoscape map is “a map of genetic variation across the geographic range of a species. Once a genoscape has been created, it can be used to trace the breeding origin of a bird captured anywhere along its migratory pathway using DNA contained within a single feather” (UCLA IoES, 2017). American Kestrels are too small for currently available tracking devices, so the Genoscape Project will help researchers better understand the migration habits of Kestrels based on their DNA samples and may one day help to identify causation for this population decline.

UCLA IoES. (2017, May 26). Bird Genoscape Project. Retrieved May 26, 2017, from https://www.ioes.ucla.edu/project/bird-genoscape-project/

How you can help:

In addition to placing boxes on appropriate habitat where kestrels possibly could be found, the Zoo’s team of researchers also use citizen sightings of kestrels to determine nest box locations.

Help us identify kestrel nest box locations!

  • Log your kestrel sightings at eBird.com and document details about your sighting such as gender, location and any behaviors.
  • Fill out the Contact Us form to report sightings.
  • Think you may have an appropriate site for a kestrel box? Check out our Keys to Success for more information. Schools and private residents interested in participating in kestrel nest box monitoring at their sites should complete the Contact Us Form to inquire about the project.
  • Volunteer as a nest box monitor.

Have you seen this bird?

We’re looking for American Kestrels in Delaware- have you seen one recently? Download our “Have You Seen This Bird” flyer for more details and information on how to identify this little falcon, and how to get in touch with us.