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
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
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
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.
- 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