Kestrel Nestlings in Oregon Have Startling Eating Habits

The Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society recently posted a series of photographs showing some adorable kestrel nestlings in Oregon with remarkable appetites (scroll down for an explanation of how these young birds are capable of eating such big meals).

This small nestling doesn't mind that its meal is longer than itself! (Photo by Janet Eschenbaugh, 2005, Wisconsin).

This nestling is eating a western fence lizard, likely delivered by a parent. (Photo by Don and Diana Roberts, 2013, Oregon).

The American kestrel is the only kestrel found in North America. (Photo by Don and Diana Roberts, 2013, Oregon).

They are also the smallest falcons in North America. (Photo by Don and Diana Roberts, 2013, Oregon).

Marilynne Keyser examines a nestling before putting it back in the nest. (Photo by Don and Diana Roberts, 2013, Oregon).

Not only are they cute, but they're demonstrating a remarkable eating habit. Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society's Chuck Almdale posted this description of the photographs:

Kestrel Team Leader, Don McCartney, provided the following comment on Kestrel chick meals, which sheds light on some of the pictures.
We have documented some of the rather amazing eating habits of nestling Kestrels. One photo, taken in Wisconsin in 2005, shows an approximately 18-day old female slooowly devouring a snake. Another photo shows a little glutton on the Crooked River Ranch, who was being retrieved for banding from its nestbox by volunteer Marilynne Keyser. Several photos show close-ups of the bird as it devours a western fence lizard. It’s too bad that we didn’t have the time to check on the progress of the nestling/lizard situation a day or two later.

How do they do this? Once the chicks reach a certain size, the adults drop the intact reptile in the box rather than tearing them to pieces. Specialized mouth parts, including the median ridge, keep the prey progressing inward while allowing the nestling to breathe. It is very often interesting to check the remains of prey in the boxes to discover the animals on which the Kestrels have been dining.

Photographers Don & Diana Roberts live in the small town of Prineville, northeast of Bend, Oregon, just east of the central Cascade Mountains. Don is a professional fly fisherman, photographer and writer; Diana is an avid birder and photographer, as is Marilynne Keyser, the intrepid bird-handler in many of the photos.

For more photos, be sure to check out the original blog post by clicking here!


While kestrels aren't endangered, they are declining in parts of their range. However, they take well to nest boxes, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. For a PDF file that details how to build a nest box for American kestrels, click here.


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