Drive along any country road and you are bound to spot an American
Kestrel perched on a power line, watching and waiting for its next
meal. Often called "sparrow hawk", this little bird of the raptor
family is actually a falcon and is closely related to the Peregrine
What Does a Kestrel Look Like?
Kestrel males sport beautiful blue-gray wings, a rusty back and tail
with a black terminal band, and black "whiskers" below each eye.
Females have a rusty back, tail, and wings, all marked with black
barring. The tops of their heads are blue with a rusty cap. Usually,
the males have brighter colors than the females. Like other falcons,
kestrels have long, pointed wings and an elongated tail to allow
them to maneuver easily in the sky. American Kestrels are the
smallest falcons found in North America with sizes similar to that
of a blackbird. Despite their size and colorful markings, American
Kestrels are fierce predators.
The American Kestrel is Maryland's most common falcon. Kestrels are
common, year-round residents throughout the state. However, they are
seen more often during the winter months. Kestrels are found in a
variety of habitats including parks, suburbs, open fields and forest
edges. Kestrels can easily adapt to urban environments, and
sometimes, sports fans are treated to shows from these colorful
birds attacking moths in the glow of stadium lights. In Maryland,
males and females predominantly use open areas and edge habitats.
Because of their preference for edge habitat, there are many places
to nest in the Maryland area.
Nesting begins in late March and extends through late August. Males
establish a territory and attract females with flight displays and a
song. The voice of the kestrel sounds like a shrill "killy-killy-killy."
Kestrels nest in cavities selected by both the male and female.
Since they are unable to construct their own cavities, kestrels rely
on those excavated by woodpeckers, or they find nooks in buildings.
Kestrels will also use artificial nest boxes. Once a site has been
selected, kestrels lay three to five white eggs with small brown
spots directly on the floor of the cavity. The eggs are incubated
for about 30 days. During this time, the female relies on the male
to supply food for her while she incubates the eggs. The young leave
the nest about 30 days after hatching. Normally, only one brood is
raised each year. Kestrels are considered good parents and
diligently care for their young.
Kestrels feed on insects, small birds, lizards and rodents. Because
they need a high perch for spotting their prey below, kestrels are
commonly seen perching on telephone poles and wires. Once prey is
spotted, kestrels usually hover before diving down to make the kill.
Unlike other falcons, kestrels tend to capture their prey on the
ground rather than in the air. They hunt primarily during the
morning and late afternoon hours. Interestingly enough, kestrels
receive most of their fluid intake from their diet, enabling them to
live in the dry, arid conditions of the desert. Kestrels, like other
birds, can also see ultraviolet light which allows them to see urine
trails left by rodents. This enhanced eyesight helps lead them to
How to Attract American Kestrels
American Kestrels require open space for hunting as well as cavities
to nest in. They are found in a wide variety of areas, from
farmsteads and woodland borders, to suburban areas and city parks.
It is the kestrel's ability to adapt to such varying conditions that
has enabled it to remain one of the most abundant raptors in North
Since kestrels are cavity nesters, they need tree cavities in which
to nest in. However, the numbers of dead or dying trees are
declining in many areas and as a result, kestrels, as well as other
cavity nesters, have been faced with the problem of finding suitable
nest sites. Solutions to this problem include leaving snags for
wildlife and erecting nest boxes. For more information on snags and
their benefit to wildlife, then check out the Wild Acres page on
Snags and Logs. If you are interested in a building a kestrel nest
box, then click on the link below.
The Maryland Bird Conservation Partnership is collaborating with Calvert County Natural Resources Division and Maryland Department of Natural Resources on a Maryland Farmland Raptor Program. To volunteer to help build and/or monitor nest boxes, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Invite Wildlife to Your Backyard!
For Additional Information, Contact:
Wildlife and Heritage Service
580 Taylor Ave, E-1
Annapolis, MD 21401
- American Kestrel, photo by USFWS
- Young American Kestrel, photo by Steve Hillebrand, USFWS
- American Kestrel in flight, photo by Robert Burton, USFWS