America’s Smallest Raptor The American Kestrel

Male Kestrel

Male Kestrel Photo By Greg Hume

Female Kestrel

Female Kestrel Photo By Greg Hume

When its predator sees the spots on the back of the kestrel’s head, the black spots serves as false eyes and fools its predator into believing the back of the head is its face.

Identifying Them:

American Kestrels are the smallest of their falcon family also known as falconidae, in fact the American Kestrel is the smallest raptor in America.
As you can see up above you can tell the difference between the male and female easily, like the fact that the female has a whitish stomach but the male has a light brown stomach. Another difference is the female weighs more than the male. Kestrels are usually about 10 inches tall and their wingspan is twice their height (about 20-24 inches).


Kestrels stay year round in most of the United States, and the rest of the North American Continent is where they breed in the summer. American Kestrels prefer open woodlands and areas with a short amount of vegetation and scarce trees. You’ll probably catch them in meadows, grasslands, parks, farm fields, towns, and suburbs. You may also find them in places with people, like cities and towns or other habitats that are modified by people. If you are looking for them, scan fence posts, telephone wires, when driving through farms or country areas.


American Kestrels are very noisy and have a high-pitched chatter. You can listen to their song at
Listen for their killy-killy-killy call to be alerted when they are nearby.
American Kestrels are small but have a big personality and love to harass and pick fights with larger Hawks or Eagles.

Nesting and Nestlings:

Kestrels nest in already-made cavities which are usually holes that woodpeckers made. The Male will choose a few sites that he thinks might be suitable, but once he shows them to his female friend, she makes the final decision. Kestrels compete over cavities to nest in with other small mammals (mostly birds) and will sometimes successfully shoo away or evict bluebirds, squirrels, Northern Flickers and other woodpeckers and mammals from their chosen cavities.
You can find ways to attract them to your house by building a box for their nest and putting in in your yard, if you want to see more about this go to

Kestrels start breeding at about a year old. The female Kestrel will lay 4-5 eggs 24–72 hours apart. Most eggs turn out to be 1.3 in × 1.1 in and are a white-cream color with brown or brownish-grey splotches. Incubation usually lasts a month like most raptors and is mostly incubated by the female, but 15–20% of the time the male will sit upon and incubate their eggs. Nestlings are altricial and will take five days for them to sit up. They grow very quickly, reaching the weight of average adults after 16–17 days. After 28–31 days, they are able to leave the nest and can fly prettty well. The young adults kestrels usually live for about 10 years after leaving the nest.

Predator and Prey:

Even birds of prey have lots of predators. Because they are so small, Kestrels have many predators, their main predators being Great Horned Owls, Barn Owls, Northern Goshawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Corn snakes, rat snakes, even American Crows and Fire Ants.

There are dark spots on the back of the kestrels head that serve a different purpose than the ones below the eyes. When its predator sees the spots on the back of the kestrel’s head, the black spots serves as false eyes and fools its predator into believing the back of the head is its face.

American Kestrel Diving Photo By Kevin Cole

American Kestrel Diving
Photo By Kevin Cole

These small raptors hunt during the daytime and may look small but have their ways of capturing food. You may see Kestrels sitting on a perch looking for food all day long and scanning the area for prey. The kestrel pounces on its prey and grasps it with its talons, then the bird will feed on its catch and if it is a small catch it will eat the meal right there on the ground, but if the prey is a bit large, then it will take its prey back to a perch or nest and eat it there or feed it to its family or mate.


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