Friday, April 10, 2009

In the countryside... American Kestrel

American KestrelAmerican Kestrel, Tualatin River NWR, Sherwood, Oregon on 7 February 2009 by Greg Gillson.


One of the frequent open country roadside birds in the Pacific Northwest and, indeed, most of North and South America, is the American Kestrel. These small falcons perch on isolated tree tops, telephone lines, and roadside signposts adjacent to grassy fields, prairies, and even the grassy meridian between Interstate freeways.

In the Pacific NW they are found throughout the region, but are typically scarce along the immediate coastline, in heavy forests, and in extensive grasslands that lack elevated hunting perches. In winter they move out of the mountain clearings and are much reduced in the Great Basin, but then move to the interior valleys in larger numbers. They nest in old flicker holes and will readily use nest boxes.

Like other falcons they have pointed wings and a fairly long tail. The male American Kestrel, as pictured above, has bluish-gray wings and rusty red tail ending in a black band, tipped narrowly in white. The female has rusty wings matching the back. The rusty tail of the female is barred throughout its length with thin black bars and a black terminal band as the male.

Unlike other North American falcons, the American Kestrel hovers in place while hunting, then drops to its prey. These birds are easily spotted hovering in place over fields, summer or winter. Their preferred food is grasshoppers, supplemented in winter with small mammals (mice, shrews, voles) and occasionally small birds. They are not too proud to eat angleworms, either.