American Kestrel: Falco sparverius
As engaging a bird as you'll ever see, the kestrel is the smallest and most common of the falcons.
The back and tail of the kestrel are russet, the wings blue-gray. Two lines of onyx tears mark the sides of its white face.
Two subspecies of American kestrel (Falco sparverius) occur in Florida: a northern subspecies (Falco sparverius sparverius) that winters here between September and April, and a resident, non-migratory subspecies, the southeastern American kestrel (Falco sparverius paulus). Kestrels seen in Florida during May-June are resident southeastern American kestrels.
American kestrels nest in cavities that they do not excavate. Instead, they must depend on woodpeckers and natural processes to create holes in trees. Kestrels nest predominantly in dead but standing longleaf pine trees, called snags, usually in the abandoned cavities of pileated woodpeckers.
American kestrels often perch on telephone wires at the edge of a field or other open area. From this vantage they hunt for insects (especially grass-hoppers and dragonflies), lizards and small mammals. Sometimes they are seen hovering like helicopters above their prey.
Kestrels nest between mid-March and early June, raising about four chicks during a season. However, kestrels are short-lived birds. For those surviving their first winter, life span averages between 2.3 - 2.8 years.
The southeastern American kestrel has undergone a marked population decline and a contraction in its range in recent decades. It is currently listed as threatened in the state of Florida. Once widely distributed throughout 7 southeastern states, the southeastern American kestrel occurs today primarily in Florida, the coastal plain of South Carolina, and the Mississippi Gulf coast. It is patchily distributed elsewhere in small, fragmented populations.
Loss of nesting snags, especially longleaf pine, appears to be the main reason for the decline. In addition, since kestrels avoid pine plantations and hardwood stands, the loss of open foraging habitat has been a contributing factor.
What You Can Do To Help
- Promote kestrel-nesting habitat by maintaining large dead trees (snags) on your property. Southeastern American kestrels remain nest-site limited because of the loss of tree cavities that serve as natural nesting sites.
- Build a kestrel nest box using a simple design and install them in sandhills, on a ranch or farm, in pastures, on golf courses, and on other open areas with suitable foraging habitat.
- Maintain kestrel foraging habitat by regular burning of longleaf pine/turkey oak sandhills. Kestrels prefer to forage in landscapes with herbaceous vegetation no more than a few inches tall.