An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Falcons

American Kestrel Chicks Fledging

 

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The American Kestrel is the smallest, most numerous, and most widespread North American falcon. Roughly two months ago these birds (formerly known as Sparrow Hawks) were mating and laying eggs in nesting cavities (natural tree cavities, woodpecker holes, nest boxes), most of which are located near open fields with low growth (to facilitate finding insects to eat).  The female kestrel does most of the incubating of her four to five eggs (one month), and all of the brooding (one month).  The male rises to the occasion and feeds the newly-hatched chicks for the first 7-10 days, and then the pair shares the feeding.

After 26 – 28 days in the nest, American Kestrel chicks are ready to fledge.  Their first flight, consisting of alternate fluttering and gliding, can be quite short or as long as 200 yards, and typically ends with an awkward landing.  After the chicks have fledged, the parents continue to feed them for up to 12 days. During this period young American Kestrels have been observed returning to their nest cavity to roost.

(Photo:  Male American Kestrel nestling, roughly 22 days old. Note feathered “eye” spots on back of head (serve to ward off predators) are already showing. Thanks to Joan Waltermire, John Douglas, David Merker, and Sebastion and Carter Lousada for photo op.)

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American Kestrel

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The American Kestrel, formerly known as the Sparrow Hawk, is about the size of a Mourning Dove, making it the smallest falcon in North America.  It typically perches on tall trees, or telephone lines and poles, surveying surrounding fields in hopes of finding insects or small mammals to eat.  This female American Kestrel (her wings are rusty colored, males’ are slate-blue) flew down to the ground, captured an insect and returned to its telephone pole perch where it consumed its meal.  If you look closely at the perched kestrel, you’ll see a notch in its upper bill.  Many falcons have this notch which is thought to be an adaptation for severing the spinal column of vertebrate prey.