If you see a bird around the size of a Mourning Dove with a rusty back and blue-gray wings sitting on a pole or hovering above the fields, it is likely that you are seeing a male American Kestrel.
Females have rust-colored wings rather than blue-gray. From below, American Kestrels have light wings, a rusty breast, a black stripe across the tail (more distinctive in males) and 2 black stripes on their white faces.
They are small falcons, formerly known as Sparrow Hawks, and are frequently perched on fenceposts or hovering above the Open Space in search of their next meal. They are carnivorous birds of prey, eating mostly insects, along with some birds and small mammals.
American Kestrels are extremely adaptable, found in open pastures, shrublands and fields up to an elevation of 10,000 feet.
They are in the Falconiformes Order, which includes diurnal raptors (active in the daytime) such as vultures, hawks, falcons and eagles. Most birds in this order have a heavy, sharp, hooked bill and strong curved talons to take their prey.
How to Recognize an American Kestrel
American Kestrels are about 9-12″ long with a wingspan of 20-24″. They have a streamlined body, pointed wingtips and a long tail.
In flight, they can be hard to distinguish from Mourning Doves, but when they land, the Kestrels always bob up and down.
Their call is a shrill “killy killy killy”
They are in the Falconidae family (falcons), of which there are only 5 species in the U.S. including the Peregrine falcon, which is often cited as the fastest animal in existence.
Falcons are distinguished from other birds of prey by having narrow, pointed wings swept back with an angle at the “wrist” and a notched beak for crushing their prey’s neck.
Through the Seasons – mating, nesting
American Kestrels form monogamous pairs, often staying together for several years.
They begin nesting in April. They do not build a nest, but will nest in a woodpecker hole, natural tree cavity or even in nest boxes when placed near their food source.
The female lays about 4-5 eggs which are about 1 1/2″ long. The female primarily incubates the eggs with some help from the males for a short time each day for 28-35 days, and the young leave the nest when they are 30 days old.
The parents feed them for the first 2 weeks after they leave the nest while they are learning to hunt on their own.
Where to find in Willow Spring Open Space
They are most easily spotted when they are perched on fence poles and in tree tops on the East side of the Open Space.
Did You Know?
Kestrels have specially adapted eyes which enable them to see ultra violet light. This allows them to see the urine trails of their prey.
- Wild About Rocky Mountain Birds: A Youth’s Guide to the Rocky Mountain States, by Adele Porter, 2012
- Peterson First Guide to Birds of North America, by Roger Tory Peterson, 1986
- The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America: Second Edition, by David Allen Sibley, 2016
- National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America: Seventh Edition, by Jon L. Dunn and Jonathan Alderfer, 2017
- Great Courses, The National Geographic Guide to Birding in North America, Course 7782, James Currie
- Snowmass Village Wild at Heart: A Field Guide to Plants, Birds & Mammals, by Janis Lindsey Huggins, 2008