Lenawee County Bird of the Month: American Kestrel
The American Kestrel, Falco sparvarius, is North America’s smallest falcon and is a commonly observed raptor this time of year in Lenawee County. If you are not familiar with this feisty little member of the Falconidae family, look for a small, Mourning Dove shaped bird perched precariously on a telephone wire along a road with a grassy ditch. Many of the ebird sightings that are posted on Cornell’s website at http://ebird.org/ebird/ were along M-50 and the Lenawee-Monroe County Line Roads. The rusty colored tail and black “sideburn and moustache” are unmistakable identifying characteristics. Kestrels can also be seen hunting ditch banks and fields by hovering and flapping ecstatically before diving after their prey. These birds generally eat small rodents, insects and birds and will break the spinal cord with their hooked beak and store their meal for later. The Kestrel is named for its famous beak where Falco comes from “falcate,” meaning “hooked beak” and Sparverius means “pertaining to a sparrow”.
Chances are you have driven past many Kestrel’s on your daily commute without giving them a second look unless you needed to add them to a check list. For the most part, we don’t give Kestrel’s a second look but recent studies and counts have suggested that American Kestrel numbers are on the decline. For an in-depth look at the facts and figures of Kestrel populations in Lenawee County, you can view information through Cornell University’s website ebird at http://ebird.org/content/ebird/ under the “View and Explore Data” tab.
In Lenawee County, the Kestrel populations are stable, however, certain areas in the United States especially the North and Eastern seaboard according to the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) has noted a decline in population. The All About Birds website (http://www.allaboutbirds.org) states that “land clearing during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries probably raised American Kestrel numbers substantially.” In North America the American Kestrel is classified as a “Species of Least Concern” by the IUCN. However, in some places, like New England, parts of the Pacific Coast, and Florida, they are declining and listed as threatened. All About Birds lists the following reasons for these declines: continued clearing of land, felling of standing dead trees needed for nest sites, so-called “clean” farming practices, which remove hedgerows, trees, and brush, which contributes to a loss of prey sources and nesting cavities, and exposure to pesticides and other pollutants, which destroys insects and spiders and can reduce clutch sizes and hatching success.
One of the biggest problems for American Kestrels is lack of good nest sites. If you live in one of the areas where kestrels are listed as threatened and want to help, one great way is to put up nest boxes. Plans for a one-board box can be found at http://www.birdwatching-bliss.com/american-kestrel-nest-box.html. In Lenawee County, we can also urge our local farmers to keep natural fence rows and vegetative buffer strips along ditches. This not only cuts down on soil erosion by wind and water but creates hunting and nesting habitat for Kestrel’s as well. Next time you spot an American Kestrel perched atop a telephone wire or along the road side, don’t just add it to your list as another number but take some time to observe their fierce personality and unique features that makes them one of my favorite little falcons.
• American Birding Association. Bird of the Year. 2011. http://www.aba.org/boy/
• Birdwatching Bliss! 2006-2011. http://www.birdwatching-bliss.com/american-kestrel-nest-box.html
• Ebird. Cornell University. 2012. http://ebird.org/ebird/GuideMe?cmd=quickPick&speciesCode=&bMonth=01&bYear=1900&eMonth=12&eYear=2012&getLocations=northAmerica&reportType=species&speciesCodes=amekes&continue.x=15&continue.y=15&continue=Continue
• Journal of Raptor Research. 2009. http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.3356/JRR-08-83.1?journalCode=rapt