By Steve Bryant, Wildlife Biologist
The American kestrel, commonly called the sparrow hawk, is more accurately described as a falcon. Falcons are distinguished from other birds commonly called hawks in that they have relatively large heads, broad shoulders, long pointed wings and long tails. The American kestrel is the most widely distributed and numerous of the falcons on the American Continent, ranging from southern Alaska through western Canada, throughout the contiguous 48 states and south through Mexico, Central American and South America.
American kestrels begin pairing for mating in February in the southern states, around April in the middle states and progressively later as latitude increases. Kestrels in the southern states usually raise two sets of young per year, while those in more northern latitudes attempt only one nest. The male will make short flights in search of a receptive female. After a female is located, courtship begins. Courtship behaviors include mutual preening while perched, touching of beaks and nibbling the mate’s toes. Kestrels also engage in courtship flights or chases where they touch beaks or grasp feet while in flight. Sometimes they will fly circles around each other. The female also does a flutter glide that stimulates the male to offer her food. During courtship they can be heard making the call kille, kille, kille.