American Kestrel

 

Common Name: American Kestrel

Class:  Aves

Order: Falconiformes

Family: Falconidae

Genus: Falco  

Species: Falco sparverius

Photo: Ivan Andrijevic

 

TAXONOMY

 

The American Kestrel is part of the Falconiformes order, its name comes from the Latin “falco,” which refers to the sickle shape of their talons or shape of their wings in flight and “sparverius” which means “striped” referring to the underside of their wings. Roughly the size of a Robin, they are the smallest falcon in North America with a length of 20-29cm (8-11in), mass of 111-120g (3.9-4.2oz), and wingspan of 51-61cm (20-24in).  Males are smaller than the females and they are sexualy dichromatic.  Males have blue-grey wings while females are rufous wings.  Both have a blue-grey head, rufous tail and back, and “moustache” marks on the face indicative of all falcon species.

 

Photo: M. Noonan

HABITAT/DIET

American Kestrels live in many different habitats such as parks, suburbs, open fields, forest openings, grasslands, marshes, plains, and deserts.  They need to have open space in order to hunt as well as perching areas which they use to scan the area for potential prey. Their diet consists of large insects, such as grasshoppers and dragonflies, as well as mice and voles.  American Kestrels have also been known to eat other small birds.  They hunt in a multitude of ways such as hovering until is sees its prey, and hunting from from perches, then diving to catch them.  If the Kestrel will cast pellets of indigestible material such as fur and bones and they also have been seen to cache uneaten food outside of the nest for later use. They will sometimes even harass larger birds such as hawks from their territory which is called mobbing.

Photo: M. Noonan

 

BEHAVIOR

 

American Kestrels form strong pair bonds and have been known to reestablish previous pair bonds.  They nest in cavities, such as hollow trees, rock cavities, and man-made nest boxes. Females lay between 4-5 eggs that are incubated for 29-31 days. When hatched young are downy, immobile with closed eyes. Both the male and female take turns caring for the eggs and chicks bringing back food and tearing up the food for the chicks to eat. The young fledge in 26 to 31 days after they hatch.

 

WHERE TO FIND THEM

 

They can be commonly seen all over Western New York in all year round. American Kestrels are mainly found near grasslands and other habitats where their prey are found. Many have been seen in suburban and city areas where there is an abundance of insects and small mammals and tall buildings they use for perching and nesting sites.

 

Birds of Western New York is brought to you by the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.