What Kind of Bird Was That?

by Larry on October 7, 2007

American Kestrel

American Kestrel (male) photo by Clive Emary

Yesterday my wife and I were relaxing on the back porch, as we like to do whenever we get the chance, listening to the myriad of songbirds in our backyard.  Out of nowhere, I see out of the corner of my eye, a medium sized flash of a bird, rolling and tumbling with the greatest of ease across my pond.  I saw the flash of a striped tail and barred under-wings as she banked before my eyes and disappeared into a smallish scrub oak next to my pond in the midst of my feeding stations.

“Wow Brigitte, did you see that,” I said, excitedly astonished by the shear quickness of the bird’s movements.  “What,” she said.  “I think a Kestrel just flew into that tree.”  We located the bird in the tree and sure enough it was an American Kestrel.  Of course by this time all of the songbirds were long gone but I wanted to concentrate on viewing the Kestrel.

I had not seen a Kestrel on our property for quite awhile.Large Birdhouse for Kestrel  I had recently decided to build a Kestrel nest box (birdhouse) to see if I could attract a pair of American Kestrels to breed on our property.  I placed the box about 25 feet up in a Grey Pine and hoped for the best.  I have not seen any activity so far but it is late in the season.  I hope to see that diving, rolling, hovering Kestrel in the spring with a mate using my new birdhouse.

Do you want to know why I would love to have a breeding pair of American Kestrels on my property?  Here are the facts about this amazing species:

American Kestrel –  Falco Sparverious –  The smallest and most common falcon in North America.  They are 9-12 inches tall with a 20-24 inch wingspan.  Females weigh about 4 1/2 ounces, males 3 1/2 – 4 ounces.  Identified by russet back and tail, double black stripes on white face.  Male has blue-gray wings, female has russet wings and back with narrow bands on tail.  They have excellent vision and an acute sense of hearing.

American Kestrel female

American Kestrel (female) photo by Dan Walters

The American Kestrel is found in open country, farmland, cities, wooded canyons and deserts.  They are able to live in desert habitat because of their tolerance to extreme heat and their ability to obtain moisture from a carnivorous diet of insects small reptiles and mammals.  They hunt mostly in morning and late afternoon by hovering over prey, rapidly beating their wings then plunging down to capture the prey.

Kestrels will nest in a natural site such as a tree or cactus or a man made cavity preferably with pine shavings added to the nest box (see birdhouse link in right side panel).  Pairs are monogamous, the female laying 4-5 white or pinkish eggs, blotched with brown.  The female does most of the incubating and is fed by the male.  The male calls as he nears the nest with food; the female flies to him, receives the food, and returns to the nest.  After the eggs hatch, the male continues to bring most of the food.  The young stay with the adults for a time after fledging and it is not uncommon to see family parties in late summer.

Watch the video below by clicking on the arrow to see the kestrel’s hovering behavior.  Notice how the bird’s head never moves?  Amazing!

You may see an American Kestrel hovering near the roadside on any warm sunny day.  Stop and watch them for awhile and you will see some amazing acrobatics.  And the best part is that they eat primarily insects and rodents!  A bonus for any gardener.  Thanks to Clive Emary and Dan Walters for the great photos.  You can see Clive’s photos by following the link to his gallery in the blogroll.

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