A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

The American kestrel: A little dynamo, most common falcon in North America

By Gayle Pille
Special to the NKytribune

American kestrels are the most common falcon in North America. They are also our smallest falcon, about the size of a blue jay.

Swift and erratic flyers, kestrels are often seen hovering along the interstate and roadsides. Frequently called sparrow hawks, they will sometimes eat sparrow-sized birds, though more frequently it’s crickets, grasshoppers, snakes and mice.

A kestrel male feeds a chick. (Photo by Mike Hollan)

It is easy to spy kestrels sitting on power lines, and they can be distinguished from other birds by their tail pumping.

Like most other bird species, male kestrels are more striking in appearance than the drabber female. The handsome males are rufous above with blue-gray wings and a black and white-tipped rufous tail. Females lack the striking gray wings.

Both sexes have the black and white mustachio stripes typical of falcons. Like other birds of prey, females are larger than males. Nicknamed the killy hawk, kestrels emit a call of “killy, killy, killy.”

Perfect habitat for kestrels includes perches and open space for hunting, and cavities for nesting. They are secondary cavity nesters, nesting in holes excavated by other birds or in naturally occurring cavities and fissures.

Kestrels often suffer from lack of suitable nest sites because of our propensity to take down the dead, hollowed trees they would normally use for nesting. They will, however, readily use nest boxes.

Pair bonding among kestrels is strong and they are excellent parents. They nest in the spring from April through June. Kestrels lay three to five eggs with incubation lasting about a month.

The male will feed the female as she is on the nest and help feed the young after their eggs hatch. A month after hatching, the young are ready to take their first flight.

Kestrels are fantastic birds and easily observed, especially with a well-placed nest box. A nest box takes no more than an hour to build and, if properly constructed, will last a good 10 years.

Once you attract these birds, you realize your good return on investment. They are a joy to watch.

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One Comment

  1. Chrisula Stone says:

    It’s jaw-dropping to learn that such amazing birds live so close to where we are!

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