The American kestrel is the most common and smallest North American falcon, only the size of a large songbird. Despite its diminutive size, however, this colorful bird is a favorite among birders for its distinct plumage and hovering flight.
American Kestrel, Sparrow Hawk, Grasshopper Hawk
- Bill: Black, hooked, yellow cere
- Size: 9-12 inches long with 23-inch wingspan, pointed wings
- Colors: Slate blue, rufous, white, black, brown, yellow
- Markings: Dimorphic species. Males have a slate blue forehead and white cheeks bordered by thick black vertical lines. The cap is rufous, and the back is rufous with black barring. The wings are slate blue, also with black barring. The chest is light rufous with variable black spotting and fades to white on the lower abdomen. Wingtips are black, and the tail is solid rufous with a thick black band and white tip. Females have similar facial markings but the back, wings and tail are all rufous or brown with black barring. The chest is light and has brown streaky spots. Both genders have yellow legs and feet.
Rodents, large insects, amphibians, small birds, bats
Habitat and Migration:
The American kestrel is relatively common in open country including agricultural areas, fields and plains. The birds' year round range includes most of the continental United States and north central Mexico, as well as most of South America except rainforest habitats. In summer, the breeding range expands to include nearly all of Canada and Alaska except the extreme north, and in winter the birds can also be found along the Gulf Coast.
These are noisy birds that use a high pitched, rapid "ki-ki-ki-ki-ki" alarm call, as well as a slightly longer "klee-klee-klee" call. The pitch can remain constant or may alternate high and low on consecutive syllables.
These raptors are frequently seen perching alongside roads and highways on wires or signs, and they often pump or bob their tails when perched as they search for food. While hunting they hover with rapid wingbeats before diving on their prey.
These cavity nesting birds are monogamous and mate after a courtship display of midair feeding when the male drops prey to the female. The pair will both incubate the clutch of 3-7 eggs for 29-31 days. After hatching, the female is the primary caregiver for the chicks for 30-31 days. Pairs raise 1-2 broods annually, with the second brood most common in southern populations.
Attracting American Kestrels:
In appropriate habitats, American kestrels will readily nest in birdhouses with the appropriate dimensions. They may also visit feeders to prey on small birds, but they are more likely to hunt in areas with no pesticide or insecticide use that would eliminate large insects and mice that are their preferred prey. Leaving plenty of perches such as wire fences and dead trees with good visibility for hunting can also attract American kestrels.