Species Spotlight: American Kestrel

March 17, 2010, 8:10 am

The American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America and the second smallest in the world, often no bigger than a robin! Despite their diminutive size American Kestrels have one of the most far-ranging habits of any bird. They have been identified as far west as Alaska and as far east as Nova Scotia, as far north as the Arctic Circle and as far south as Chile.

One reason for the American Kestrels broad habitat is their adaptability. They can survive almost anywhere if they have access to hunting grounds (open fields) and place to perch. Because of this they are well suited to human environments, perching on telephone and cable poles to target their prey.

American Kestrels generally feed on grasshoppers, dragonflies, lizards, mice and voles, and have also been known to eat other small birds. The American Kestrel is believed to be one of the few birds that has thrived as a result of deforestation. The conversion of forest to open space for agricultural use has had the unintended consequence of creating a more suitable habitat for the American Kestrel, allowing it to easily hunt it’s prey.

These raptors weigh no more than 4 ounces and boast a wingspan of only 8 to 10 inches. But, despite their small stature, their distinct coloring and markings make them relatively easy to spot. Both the male and female have blue-gray feathers on their heads with two narrow vertical black markings on each side. Males have blue-gray feathers on their wings, while their underwings are white with black spots. Females are dark brown in color with distinct rust colored tails.

American Kestrels differ from many other avian species by their behavior— they are creatures of habit. After an initial period of having several different mates, they generally choose one mate and remain monogamous. American Kestrels typically return to the same nest once it has been established making them easy to find year after year. They are also one of the few falcon species that share incubating responsibilities; in most other birds of prey, the female incubates the eggs exclusively.


Species Fun Facts:

  • There are an estimated 1.2 million American Kestrels in North America. Only in the state of Florida, is the American Kestrel population classified as threatened.
  • It is thought that the two vertical black markings on the American Kestrels head serve the same function as the black grease athletes often wear. These markings absorb sunlight so that it does not reflect into the bird’s eyes, making it easier to spot prey.
  • The American Kestrel generally lays between four and six eggs per clutch and can lay two clutches of eggs in one season.
  • American Kestrels make a distinct klee klee sound when excited.