American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

Photograph of the American Kestrel


Other Names
Sparrow Hawk
The American kestrel is a beautiful, robin-sized falcon. This tiny raptor has the typical falcon body shape, a short neck, and a small head with a black and white pattern and dark, vertical, black stripes on the sides. It is a rust-colored falcon. The male is distinguished by having blue-gray wings and an unbarred tail, while the female sports a barred tail and lacks the blue-gray wings. The kestrel has a sharp, hooked bill and large, talon-tipped feet that are ideal for hunting. In flight, pointed wings and rapid wingbeats help to identify this raptor.
Life History
American kestrels are apt and able hunters. They hunt large insects, bats, mice, birds and small reptiles. Kestrels usually hover before dropping on prey from above, pinning victims to the ground. They rarely chase prey, such as flying insects or bats, through the air.

Pair bonding among kestrels is strong and usually permanent. A pair is established after the male takes over a particular territory. Thereafter, a female will begin to hunt and associate herself with the male. The major components that will strengthen the bond between the two kestrels include courtship feeding of the female by the male, aerial displays and the search for a nest site. Kestrels nest in the spring from April to early June in woodpecker holes, natural cavities, niches in cliffs or buildings and in nest boxes that are specifically set up for them. The female is the main incubator of three to five whitish eggs that are heavily blotched with brown for approximately 30 days. During the nesting period, the male provides the family with food. Later, both will hunt as the nestlings mature and eventually leave the nest some 30 to 31 days after they hatch.
Although American kestrels are found from alpine zones down into desert habitats, they generally prefer savanna-like areas with few trees, farmsteads, woodland borders, city parks and suburban areas.
The American kestrel is distributed very widely throughout North America. During migration and winter months, they are common throughout Texas. They also breed in northern and western portions of the state. Certainly, the kestrel's ability to adapt to such varying conditions has enabled it to remain one of the most abundant raptors of North America.