This week, we’d like to introduce you to the American Kestrel, the smallest raptor in North America. Here at KWEC, we have a male American Kestrel. Pippin was brought to Prairie Park Nature Center in 2011 with a broken wing. Once he was healthy enough to place, he came to KWEC to be a program bird. His wing never healed enough for him to fly, but Pippin is still very active. He is not generally on public display, but you can occasionally see him in the classroom learning to adjust to people.
Adult American Kestrels range from 5-11 cm in length from beak to tail, and have a wingspan between 20 and 24 inches. They only weigh between three and four ounces! American Kestrels are very widespread, ranging from the Arctic Circle to the southernmost tip of South America. Male and female Kestrels look very different – the male can be identified by his lovely slate blue wings and head, while the female is reddish brown all over.
Kestrels are exceptional predators. They wait patiently on a tall object, such as a fencepost or telephone line, watching carefully for a small rodent, large grasshopper, lizard, or small snake to come into view. Then they dive from their perch, grabbing the prey in their talons. Kestrels can see in the ultraviolet spectrum, which means that they can actually see the scent trails of urine that mice and other rodents leave as they travel. They can also snatch prey from the air! Kestrels have even been recorded at sporting events, catching moths and other large insects attracted to the lights!
While American Kestrels are commonly used in the sport of falconry, not just anyone can go get one of these birds! Keeping any North American raptor is strictly controlled by the federal government, requiring special permits and approved facilities.