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American Kestrel
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American Kestrel

FACTS ABOUT THE AMERICAN KESTREL

 Family:  Falconidae
Length:  22 to 30 cm
Wing span: 51 to 61 cm
Weight:  The male weighs about 111g, the female 120 g


The falcon known as the kestrel is the most widespread of our daytime raptors.  The male is smaller than the female. 
 

Features of the American Kestrel

  • Piercing eyesight
  • Tail and back are rufous
  • Large, hooked, bluish bill contains a small «tooth»
  • Yellow feet armed with talons

As its name suggests, the American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) is found from North America to South America. Kestrels occur in a wide variety of habitats, especially in open country including urban areas.   

Hovering Flight

CrécerelleA distinguishing feature of the kestrel in flight is that it can look like the « Holy Ghost » as it hovers in midair, fanning its tail and beating its wings rapidly to remain stationary.

The kestrel can spot prey from more than 100 metres away.  

Nestlings

Kestrels build no nests of their own.  They move into disused nests in a natural cavity or a tree, sometimes also in a nest box, a cavity in a rock-face, on the ledge of a building or a cliff.  The babies are covered in white down at birth.  Their plumage appears when they’re about 20 days old.  Although the male brings the food, it’s the female who feeds the nestlings.

Plumage

CrécerelleThe male’s plumage is very colourful while the female is recognized by her rufous head, similar in colour to the rest of her body.  Kestrels spend a lot of time preening their feathers to keep them clean and flexible enough to perform their aerial feats.

Hunting

Kestrels hunt in open country.  They glide, hover or perch on high to spot their prey then swoop down and grab it.

Food

CrécerelleThe kestrel has a highly varied diet consisting of small mammals, small birds and insects. For the fledglings, learning to hunt isn’t easy.  6 out of 10 kestrels will die in the first year of their lives. 

 

 

THE AMERICAN KESTREL SEASON BY SEASON

Spring

When courting the female, the male turns on the charm by bringing her food, showing off his aerial prowess, and uttering several different calls.  In other words, he gives it everything he’s got. Courtship occurs long before the eggs are actually laid:  the birds can mate up to 15 times a day over a period of six weeks.     The female lays an average of 4 eggs.  Brooding lasts about 30 days.  Both the male and the female incubate the eggs, the female for 80% of the time, the male for the remaining 20%.  During the incubation period, the male also does the hunting.   Not long after the eggs hatch, the female’s plumage undergoes a complete moult which lasts right into September.

Summer

By the time they are a month old, the young kestrels have their full plumage and are ready to leave the nest. The fledglings have no trouble flying, but learning to hunt is far more difficult.  By summer’s end, they will have to fend for themselves without any assistance from their parents.
Six kestrels out of ten will die in their first year.  The stronger ones can live to 8 or 9 years of age. 

Fall

As summer ends, young and mature birds fly south to temperate zones.  Migration takes place right up until early October.

Winter
Depending on their range, kestrels are migratory or sedentary.  Kestrels living in more northerly areas head south in search of food.  In the warmer regions where prey is more readily available, kestrels are less likely to leave their territory.  Unlike other species of birds, male and female kestrels live apart during the winter.

Kestrels lay eggs at a rate of about one every 2 days.  Brooding only begins after the 3rd or 4th egg is laid.  That’s why baby kestrels don’t hatch all at the same time. Two weeks after the eggs hatch, the female helps the male with the task of feeding the starving babies.

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