Beak of the Week – American Kestrel

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)

Family: Falconiformes

The American Kestrel is the smallest yet most numerous and colorful of the North American falcons. It was once referred to as the sparrow hawk because of its small size and its occasional sparrow snack. Unlike many raptors, which may prove difficult distinguishing male and females, it is quite easy to discern male and female kestrels. Both sport a white face with vertical black stripes and a short hooked bill, but the female has rufous orange wings while the male has blue-gray wings and an unbarred tail.

Kestrels are found as far north as Canada down to South America’s Tierra del Fuego. In Texas, at least two subspecies occur as residents, F. s. sparverius and F s. paulus. Kestrels tend to avoid dense woodlands and can be found perching on power lines or fencing in open or lightly wooded spaces such as grasslands, deserts, parks, pastures, and urban/suburban areas. When spotted on a fence post or similar object you may be able to catch them bobbing their tail up and down for balance.

In the breeding season male kestrels will defend a territory. Kestrels are usually lifetime monogamous pairs and once a mate is chosen, the pair will begin hunting, courtship-feeding, and looking for a nest. These falcons do not make their own nest or use any materials, instead they are secondary cavity nesters. Males will seek out natural-made cavities, artificial cavities, or nest boxes. Females will typically lay a single clutch with 3 to 5 white eggs with brown markings.

Squirrels are not the only ones who you see hiding their food, Kestrels do it, too! These birds will hide food in any kind of hole or crevice for hard times or just to keep away thieves temporally. Unlike humans that see color in combinations of three color, birds can see color in combinations of four colors which includes ultraviolet light, a spectrum invisible to humans and other mammals. This ability makes it easier for them to hunt animals such as rodents. What do they see you ask? A urine trail! During the cooler months, American Kestrels can be found on power lines, fields, or forest edges.

Greg Lavaty
Greg Lavaty
Anthony Rathbun

Our Beak of the Week is one of 12 birds featured in Confluence, a public art installation along the Bayou Greenway trail at the confluence of White Oak and Buffalo Bayous. The 223-foot mural, created by artist Jane Kim, founder of Ink Dwell Studio, showcases the birds that call Houston’s bayous home. Confluence is commissioned by Houston Parks Board and hosted in collaboration with Buffalo Bayou Partnership. Houston Audubon is pleased to provide ornithological expertise and collaborate on programming and promotion of the mural. Learn more about Confluence here. 

 Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds! 

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