American Kestrel

Hey guys, welcome back! Today, one of my favorite raptors, the tiny, fluffy, very cute yet murderous American Kestrel! The American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America. Barely bigger than a Mourning Dove, the American Kestrel is one of the more colorful of all raptors. Both males and females are heavily spotted, and sport a bright rusty colored back. Males have slate grey on their head and wings. Although they are dove-sized, their silhouette is typical falcon-like; large head, long pointed wings, and a long tail.  They are also one of the most widespread falcons in North America. They are found throughout much of the country year round, spending summers in the northern plains and Canada, and winters stretching down to Central America.

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American Kestrel, Forest Park, St. Louis, MO

I remember seeing my first American Kestrel. It was in a tree that has since come down, near Turtle Pond in Central Park. I was roving with a colleague, and happened to see a bird perched at the top of the tree. I thought it might have been a Mourning Dove, but it didn’t quite look right. I looked through the binoculars, and sure enough, it was a Kestrel! There were a couple of pairs that lived in/near Central Park. One near the Great Lawn, and another pair at the northern end of the Park near Harlem. It was up there that I saw one in a tree going to town on a large dragonfly! So ferocious!

Getting to know their call is helpful too, as often you’ll hear them before you see them. The call is a rapid series of short calls, almost like “kil kil kil kil kil kil.” The first time I heard it, i was like “what the hell is making that sound?” It was almost constant. Finally I saw the culprit. Since then, the call has been burned into my memory, and when I hear it, I get excited to see a kestrel!

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American Kestrel, Forest Park, St. Louis, MO

I’ll wrap things up with one of my favorite sightings of one ever, actually one of my favorite bird sightings period. A sighting that couldn’t be duplicated if I tried. During warmer months, I often rode my bike to work. To get to the Park from my house in Queens, I rode over the Triboro Bridge. The bike path of the bridge is elevated above traffic, and at it’s highest point, there not much of a fence. Riding home one afternoon, I looked off to my right, over the East River, and there, keeping pace, was a Kestrel flying right along side of me at eye level! It lasted only a few seconds, but it is without a doubt one of the coolest sightings of any bird I ever had, and probably ever will have! And with that, I’ll sign off for today. Join me next time for a bird that is a staple in the summer, and the mascot of the Audubon Society; the Great Egret.

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