The American Kestrel, a Tiny Killer Built for Speed

A small falcon, hovering over a field...it must be a kestrel.

This story is brought to you by BirdNote, a show that airs daily on public radio stations nationwide.

True to the name “falcon,” this species is built for speed, with long pointed wings, often bent back at the tip. If a suitable perch isn’t available, American Kestrels will hover above an open field. Facing into the wind, they flap their wings and use their tails to hold their position. From aloft, kestrels watch for insects, small mammals, and reptiles, which they overtake and capture. Don’t be fooled by their small size—equal to that of a robin—these are fierce hunters. Using their notched beaks, kestrels quickly subdue their prey by severing the spinal cord at the neck.

The lack of suitable nesting cavities limits kestrel populations in some areas.  And this has lead people to install wooden nest boxes. Many states now have kestrel nest box programs, placing boxes along interstate highways. On I-35 in Iowa, there’s a kestrel box nearly every mile, from Minnesota to Missouri.
The kestrels readily adapt to these boxes and return each spring to do a little housekeeping. You can find more about kestrels—including photos and plans for a nestbox—on our website, birdnote.org.

Bird sounds are provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by R.C. Stein. 
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

Writer: Frances Wood

© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org     February 2015     Narrator: Michael Stein

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