American Kestrel: The Smallest and Most Colorful Falcon in North America
The American kestrel (Falco sparverius) is a small bird of prey that belongs to the falcon family. It is also known as the sparrow hawk, although it is not closely related to hawks. It is the smallest and most common falcon in North America, and can be found in a variety of habitats, from open fields and grasslands to urban areas and forests.
The American kestrel has a distinctive appearance, with a rufous back and tail, a slate-blue head and wings, and black spots on the chest and belly. The male and female have different plumage patterns: the male has a blue-gray head and wings, while the female has a reddish-brown head and wings. Both sexes have two black stripes on the face, one above and one below the eye.
The American kestrel is an agile flyer and hunter, capable of hovering in mid-air or perching on wires and poles. It feeds mainly on insects, such as grasshoppers and beetles, but also takes small mammals, reptiles, birds, and even bats. It hunts by scanning the ground from a high vantage point, then diving down to catch its prey with its sharp talons. It can also catch insects in flight by snatching them with its beak.
The American kestrel nests in cavities, such as holes in trees, cliffs, buildings, or nest boxes. The female lays three to seven eggs, which are incubated by both parents for about a month. The young fledge after another month, but remain dependent on their parents for food and protection for several weeks more. The American kestrel is monogamous and may mate for life.
The American kestrel is widely distributed throughout the Americas, from Alaska and Canada to South America and the Caribbean. It is a migratory bird in the northern parts of its range, moving south for the winter. It is not endangered, but faces threats from habitat loss, pesticides, collisions with vehicles and windows, and predation by larger raptors.
The American kestrel is a fascinating bird that deserves our admiration and conservation. You can help this species by providing nest boxes, avoiding pesticides, planting native plants that attract insects, and supporting organizations that protect its habitat.
The American kestrel is a member of the falcon genus Falco, which includes about 40 species of raptors. However, it is not a true kestrel in the phylogenetic sense, as it is more closely related to the larger American falcons, such as the peregrine and the prairie falcons. It has evolved to fill a similar ecological niche as the true kestrels, which are found mainly in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
The American kestrel is one of the most colorful raptors in the world, with a striking contrast between its rufous and blue-gray feathers. The coloration serves several purposes: it helps the bird blend in with its surroundings, it signals its sex and age to other kestrels, and it may deter predators by mimicking the venomous coral snake. The black stripes on the face also help reduce glare from the sun and enhance vision.
The American kestrel is a popular bird among falconers, especially beginners, as it is easy to train and handle. It can be taught to hunt small game, such as sparrows and starlings, or to perform aerial tricks and maneuvers. It can also form a strong bond with its human handler, and may even show affection by preening or nibbling. However, it requires careful weight management and regular exercise to stay healthy and happy.