Monday, March 2, 2009

American Kestral watches and swoops

By Lorraine McFarland

Past President

Ozark Rivers Audubon

On a windy day recently, I spotted an American Kestrel Falco sparverius (aka Sparrow Hawk) which normally uses a “watch and swoop” foraging behavior, taking advantage of the strong updrafts to hover over a field, hunting for a large insect or small rodent to satisfy its appetite. It was a treat to watch because it is not often you get such a good look at this bird in flight. The best looks at this colorful raptor are usually when they are perched. Even then they are a beautiful sight and fun to watch with their tail busily bobbing up and down. The smallest of our birds of prey, and possibly the most colorful raptor in the world, the Kestrel is about 9 inches in length, with a 22-inch wingspan. The female is a little bigger than the male. Her back and wings are reddish-brown with black bars. The tail is also rufous and has black bands. The under parts are buffy and heavily streaked with brown. The crown is grey. The male is more colorful with his blue-grey wings and orange and grey crown. His rufous tail has just one broad black terminal band. Both sexes have black “eyespots” on the nape of the neck and a dark “moustache”. In flight, the Kestrel silhouette is streamlined, with long pointed wings, and a long tail. The sound they make is a loud “klee-klee-klee”.

Kestrels will breed in open or partially open habitats with scattered trees, farmland, and sometimes even in urban areas. They will often use an old woodpecker cavity, a natural tree cavity, or will nest in the eave of a building. They will even use man-made nest boxes. They do not add any materials to the nesting site and the female will brush aside wood chips before laying 4-5 pinkish-white eggs with small brown splotches. Kestrels will vigorously resist intrusion at the nest site; researchers have found it necessary to actually lift the bird from the nest to check the eggs, and the nests were never subsequently abandoned.

The young hatch after about one month of incubation by both parents and leave the nest about one month after hatch. The male is a very good father, taking care of the fledglings and feeding mom while she incubates a second clutch of eggs. He will often store prey in a hidden cache, usually a grass clump.

If you would like to attract some Kestrels to your neighborhood, check out the nest box plans available from the local Missouri Department of Conservation office. The plans are also available on line at

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