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10 Fascinating Facts About the American Kestrel

The American Kestrel, also known as Falco sparverius, is a small-sized bird of prey that belongs to the family Falconidae. It is a commonly seen bird throughout North and South America, with a distinctive appearance and impressive hunting abilities.

In this article, we will explore the identification, similar species, plumages, and molts of the American Kestrel.


The American Kestrel is a small bird of prey that measures about 8-12 inches in length and weighs around 3-5 ounces. It has a distinctive appearance, with a rusty-colored back, tail, and wings, and a white or cream-colored belly.

The male American Kestrel has a blue-gray head and wings, a rufous-colored tail, and two black mustache marks on its face. In contrast, the female American Kestrel has a brown head and wings, a brownish tail with black bands, and a spotted belly.



The American Kestrel is a bird that is commonly found in open grasslands, prairies, and deserts, and can also be seen in cities and suburban areas. It is a fast and agile hunter that preys on small birds, insects, and rodents.

The American Kestrel can be easily identified in the field by its distinctive coloration and markings, as well as its hovering flight pattern and high-pitched call.

Similar Species

The American Kestrel can sometimes be confused with other small falcons, such as the Merlin and the Sharp-shinned Hawk. However, the Merlin has a darker back and tail, and the Sharp-shinned Hawk has a longer tail and a barred underbelly.


The American Kestrel has three main plumages: adult male, adult female, and juvenile. The adult male American Kestrel has a distinctive blue-gray head and wings, a rufous-colored tail, and two black mustache marks on its face.

The adult female American Kestrel has a brown head and wings, a brownish tail with black bands, and a spotted belly. The juvenile American Kestrel has a brown back and wings, a brownish tail with dark bars, and a streaked belly.


The American Kestrel undergoes two molts each year: a complete molt and a partial molt. During the complete molt, the American Kestrel replaces all of its feathers, while during the partial molt, it replaces only some of its feathers.

The complete molt occurs after the breeding season, and the partial molt occurs during the winter months. During the molting period, the American Kestrel may appear scruffy and disheveled, with a mixture of old and new feathers.


In summary, the American Kestrel is a small bird of prey that is commonly found throughout North and South America. It has a distinctive appearance and impressive hunting abilities that make it a fascinating bird to observe.

By understanding its identification, similar species, plumages, and molts, we can gain a greater appreciation for this incredible bird and its role in the ecosystem. .

Systematics History

The taxonomy of the American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) has undergone significant revisions over the years, reflecting improvements in molecular and morphological analyses. Originally, the bird was classified as a member of the Falconidae family, which also included Peregrine Falcons and the Prairie Falcon.

Geographic Variation

American Kestrels exhibit significant geographic variation in size and coloration. In general, birds from more southern regions tend to be larger and darker than those from more northern regions.

However, there is considerable overlap in these characteristics, which has led to debate over the number and definition of subspecies.


There are currently 17 recognized subspecies of the American Kestrel, which exhibit primarily subtle differences in coloration. Some of these subspecies include F.

s. sparverius from the eastern United States, F.

s. paulus from the western United States, and F.

s. cinnamominus from South America.

However, some ornithologists have proposed lumping some of these subspecies together due to their similarities and geographical overlap.

Related Species

Recent molecular studies have shown that the American Kestrel is more closely related to other small falcons, such as the Eurasian Kestrel, than to larger falcons like the Peregrine Falcon. This has resulted in the reclassification of the kestrels into the family Falconidae, which includes other small falcons such as the Merlin, the Aplomado Falcon, and the Pygmy Falcon.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The American Kestrel has likely undergone significant range changes due to habitat loss and changes in land use patterns. In the 19th century, the bird was more widespread and numerous throughout North America.

However, the conversion of grasslands into cropland and urbanization has led to significant declines in populations in some regions. In addition, the use of pesticides has impacted the reproductive success of the American Kestrel by reducing the availability of its prey.

Despite these challenges, the American Kestrel remains a familiar and charismatic species in many areas. The construction of nest boxes has been successful in increasing populations in some areas, and conservation efforts continue to focus on habitat restoration and reducing the use of pesticides.


In conclusion, the American Kestrel is a unique and fascinating species of falcon that has undergone significant changes in classification, geographic variation, and historical distribution. Its taxonomy has been revised numerous times over the years, and our understanding of its genetic relationships with other species continues to evolve.

Although the American Kestrel has faced significant challenges due to habitat loss and pesticide use, ongoing conservation efforts offer hope for the future of this charismatic bird. .


The American Kestrel is a highly adaptable species that can be found in a wide range of habitats, from urban and suburban areas to grasslands, deserts, and forests. The bird’s preference for open habitats with low vegetation makes it well-suited for agricultural and suburban areas.

However, it requires nearby hunting areas, such as fields or meadows, to provide enough food to thrive. American Kestrels tend to prefer nesting sites with a clear view of the surrounding area, such as nest boxes, tree cavities, or rock crevices.

Movements and Migration

Some populations of American Kestrels are sedentary and remain in the same area throughout the year, while others migrate seasonally. Migration patterns are often influenced by food availability and changes in weather conditions.

Birds that breed in northern regions, such as Canada, typically migrate to the southern United States, Mexico, and Central America for the winter. However, some populations in the southern United States may be partially migratory, with individuals moving to areas with more abundant food resources during the winter months.

Recent studies using satellite tracking devices have shed new light on the migratory behavior of American Kestrels. Researchers have discovered that individual birds can take vastly different migration routes and wintering locations, with some birds traveling as far south as South America.

This variability in migration behavior suggests that populations of American Kestrels may be influenced by a range of environmental factors, such as local weather patterns and availability of suitable hunting areas. In addition to seasonal migration, American Kestrels also engage in dispersal movements during non-breeding seasons.

Dispersal movements are often triggered by competition for resources, such as territory or mates, and may result in individuals traveling long distances to establish new breeding sites.


The American Kestrel is not currently listed as a threatened or endangered species, but population declines have been documented in some regions. The species faces a range of threats, including habitat loss, pesticide use, competition for nesting sites with non-native species such as European Starlings, and collisions with vehicles and structures.

Conservation efforts have focused on both habitat restoration and outreach programs to raise awareness about the species and promote the installation of nest boxes. The American Kestrel Partnership, a collaborative effort between government agencies, scientific researchers, and conservation groups, has been established to increase understanding of the species and coordinate conservation initiatives.

The partnership focuses on habitat management, education and outreach to landowners, and research to better understand the American Kestrel’s biology and ecology.


In conclusion, the American Kestrel is a highly adaptable species of bird of prey that can be found in a range of habitats and engages in both seasonal migration and dispersal movements. While not currently endangered, the species faces a range of threats that require ongoing conservation attention.

Efforts to promote habitat restoration and raise awareness about the species represent important steps towards ensuring the survival of this charismatic bird. .

Diet and Foraging


The American Kestrel is a skilled predator that feeds primarily on small vertebrates and invertebrates. They typically forage from perches, trees, poles, or wires, from where they make quick flights to catch their prey.

They also hover mid-air and scan the ground for prey with their keen eyesight. Their hunting techniques are diverse, and they are known to catch prey both in flight and on the ground.


The primary food sources for American Kestrels are small mammals, such as voles, shrews, and mice, as well as insects, reptiles, and birds. They have been known to consume a wide variety of prey species depending on availability, ranging from grasshoppers to songbirds.

American Kestrels are also known to supplement their diet with carrion or other food that they may find in urban or suburban areas.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The American Kestrel has a high metabolic rate and requires a steady supply of food to maintain its energy levels. They also have a remarkable ability to regulate their body temperature in response to external conditions.

The bird has an effective thermoregulatory system, which enables it to maintain its body temperature within a narrow range despite changes in ambient temperature. This is essential for their survival in cold environments, such as the northern regions where they breed.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The American Kestrel has a distinctive vocalization that is described as a high-pitched, rapid series of “klee” or “killy” notes. The male’s call is often used as a territorial display, to deter other males from entering its territory and to attract females.

The female’s call is similar to that of the male, but it tends to be less frequent and softer. American Kestrels also engage in body language displays such as wing-waving, head-bobbing and tail-fanning as a means of communication, particularly during courtship.

The species’ vocalizations have been the subject of numerous studies aimed at better understanding their communication and social behavior. For example, some research has suggested that the spacing of calls may play a role in territorial defense by signaling the bird’s presence to potential competitors.


In conclusion, the American Kestrel is a skilled predator that feeds on a wide variety of small vertebrates and invertebrates. Their high metabolic rate and efficient thermoregulatory system enable them to thrive in a range of environments, including cold northern regions.

The species also has a unique vocalization and body language display, which play a role in their communication and social behavior. Further research in these areas will be crucial for a better understanding of this charismatic bird and its ecological significance.




The American Kestrel is an agile and active bird, able to achieve high speeds during flight. They can also hover in place as they hunt, an ability that is rare among birds.

During flight, the bird flaps its wings rapidly and powerfully, pushing itself through the air. Its wings are pointed and slightly curved, which allows for precision and maneuverability in tight spaces.


Like other birds, American Kestrels engage in regular self-maintenance behaviors to keep themselves clean and healthy. They groom their feathers with their beaks, removing dirt, parasites, and other debris.

They use dust baths to help control feather mites and other ectoparasites and may also bathe in water.

Agonistic Behavior

American Kestrels are territorial birds that engage in aggressive behavior to defend their space and resources. They may chase intruders or use vocalization and body language displays to warn others away.

During courtship and mating, they also engage in agonistic displays, such as wing or tail-fanning, head-bobbing, and posturing.

Sexual Behavior

American Kestrels mate monogamously and exhibit a range of courtship behaviors to attract and bond with a mate. These behaviors include mutual preening, vocalization, and displays of agility and hunting ability.

Once pairs have formed, they may remain together for consecutive breeding seasons.


American Kestrels reach sexual maturity at around one year of age and typically breed once per year.

Breeding typically occurs between late winter and early summer, varying depending on geographic location.

During breeding season, American Kestrels construct nests in tree cavities, crevices, or human-made structures such as nest boxes. Female American Kestrels lay between 3 and 7 eggs, which hatch after approximately one month of incubation.

Both parents participate in feeding and caring for the chicks until they fledge, which typically occurs between 28 and 30 days after hatching. After fledging, the chicks continue to receive support and care from their parents for another two to four weeks before becoming independent.

Demography and Populations

American Kestrel populations have experienced declines in some regions in recent decades. These declines have largely been attributed to habitat loss and fragmentation, pesticide use, and competition for nest sites with non-native species such as European Starlings.

However, the species remains widespread and numerous throughout much of its range.

Conservation efforts have focused on habitat restoration, outreach and education programs to raise awareness about the species, and the promotion of nest box installation to enhance nest site availability. In recent years, the use of satellite tracking devices has also provided new insights into the migration and dispersal behavior of American Kestrels, which could inform targeted conservation efforts.

In conclusion, the American Kestrel is a fascinating and adaptable bird of prey that is found throughout much of North and South America. This agile and skilled hunter preys on a range of small vertebrates and invertebrates, using a variety of hunting techniques.

The species’ distinctive vocalizations, body language displays, and territorial behavior have also been the subject of much research. Understanding and conserving this important species is essential not only for its ecological role, but also for its value as a charismatic symbol of wildness and freedom in our natural world.

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