How to Identify Southeastern American Kestrels

Learn more about what Southeastern American Kestrels look like and how to distinguish them from migratory kestrels that winter in Florida. Help the FWC by reporting sightings of Southeastern American Kestrels during breeding season.

Female SE American Kestrel
Female

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Male SE American Kestrel

 

 

 

 



Male

Photo Credit:
Jessi Brown

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Male American Kestrels have blue-gray wings, while females are slightly larger and have brownish wings. Both sexes have brownish backs and buffy-white, or off-white, undersides with a black flecking, and have distinct black marks extending downward below the eyes. A high-pitched call, "klee-klee-klee" or "killy-killy-killy," is frequently given in flight.

The northern kestrel subspecies (Falco sparverius) occurs throughout most of North America but is only found in Florida during the winter (September through March). Our resident kestrel subspecies (Falco sparverius paulus) is called the Southeastern American Kestrel because it is a year-round resident of open habitats in the southeastern United States. Once widely distributed throughout seven southeastern states, the Southeastern American Kestrel today occurs primarily in Florida but can be found elsewhere in patches distributed in the coastal plains of South Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana.

The Southeastern American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in the United States, slightly larger than a Florida Scrub-Jay and slightly smaller than a Mourning Dove. The Southeastern American Kestrel is most often confused with the slightly larger migratory subspecies of American Kestrel. Some biologists have reported that male Southeastern American Kestrels have fewer spots and markings on the underparts (breast and belly) than do northern male kestrels, but this is highly variable. Recognizing the difference between the two subspecies solely by physical characteristics is nearly impossible with the naked eye as the two birds are so similar. The most reliable way to determine the subspecies is by documenting the time of the year that the sightings occur. If a kestrel is seen in Florida from May through July, it is almost certainly a Southeastern American Kestrel because the northern migrants are not present during this time.

Within Florida, the Southeastern American Kestrel was once distributed as far south as Dade County but now breeds no farther south than Highlands and Lee counties.

American Kestrel species account and distribution map (PDF file-359 KB)

The FWC needs your help in mapping the current distribution of Southeastern American Kestrels in peninsular Florida, where it has abruptly declined.

Please report your sightings of breeding kestrels at FWC's Rare Bird Registry.



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