OTHER NAMES: American Sparrow Hawk; Grasshopper Hawk; Rusty-crowned Falcon.
STATUS: Breeder. Common in winter, common to fairly common in spring and fall, and rare in summer in inland regions. In Gulf Coast region, common in winter and common to uncommon in spring and fall. MODERATE CONSERVATION CONCERN.Southeastern American Kestral (F.s. paulus): Breeder. Rare and local in all seasons in Inland Coastal Plain and Gulf Coast regions. HIGH CONSERVATION CONCERN.
DESCRIPTION: The American kestrel is the smallest North American falcon and ranges from eight to 11 inches in length. Both sexes are very colorful and distinctly marked. The adult male’s head is topped with a cinnamon brown crown that is encircled about the head to the level of the eye with bluish gray. The throat and sides of the head are white with a black streak below the eye and a black border at the back of the white on the sides of the head. The back is darker brown with evenly spaced black barring. The wings and wing coverts are slate gray with wedge shaped spots of black. The tips of the primaries have a yellowish tint. The breast and upper abdomen is light tan with the lower parts having black spots. The lower abdomen is white. The central tail feathers are rufous. The outer tail feathers are white with black bars. All of the tail feathers have a distinct black band near the end and are tipped in white. The thighs are feathered in white. The lower legs and feet are covered with yellow scales. The talons are black. The adult female is marked similar to the male with the following exceptions. The wing coverts will be rufous instead of grayish. The tail will have some pale barring on the upper shafts.
DISTRIBUTION: The American kestrel is widely distributed and abundant over much of its range. It is found in all of the contiguous 48 states northward into western Canada to southern Alaska. It ranges south through Mexico, Central America and South America.
HABITAT: The American kestrel’s natural habitat is open land including fields, meadows, pastures, prairies, and deserts. It is sometime seen in towns, but rarely in cities. It is seldom seen in the interior of a forest.
FEEDING HABITS: The American kestrel employs two types of feeding techniques. The most common is to remain perched in a location that provides a good view of the surrounding landscape and watch for prey. At other times kestrels will face into the wind and hover by flapping its wings as it surveys the terrain below. Its eyesight has been estimated to be approximately eight times stronger than humans. When prey is spotted it attacks by partially folding its wings making a swooping dive. Just before impact it will spread its wings and tail to brake grasping the quarry in its talons. American kestrels employ a kicking motion as it seizes its prey, which serves to increase the velocity of the actual attack, making it more lethal. Kestrels will return to their perch to consume their prey. The kestrel is considered an opportunistic feeder. It will eat what ever is easily caught. This includes crickets, beetles, grasshoppers and other insects, small reptiles or amphibians, mice, voles, or rats and small birds. Researchers have discovered that the young of other birds appear to be the choice food for feeding fledging kestrels. At other times during the warm months insects and mice are key food items. During the winter their diet is predominately small rodents. The kestrel’s diet benefits humans because it utilizes insects and small rodents that are generally destructive.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: American kestrels use natural cavities and those excavated by other birds, nest boxes, and building crevices. In Alabama, eggs are laid mid March to late June in a hollowed out depression on the floor of the cavity. No nesting material is usually found in the nest. Females normally lay one clutch of four to five white to cream colored eggs with brownish-purplish blotches that are laid every other day. In southern latitudes, they may lay two clutches.