Acquired: Worked with pet (didn’t own)
Posted Aug 06, 2015
The American kestrel is often the bird that teaches an aspiring falconer the skills necessary to train more difficult birds. Kestrels are small, cute, and have beautiful, vivid feather patterns; making them the falcon that most closely resembles a household pet - but you must always remember that they are not. Despite their "beginner" status, kestrels are still not easy. They need to be flown every day, and you need all of the basic falconry equipment to train and maintain your bird.
When I first started falconry, the kestrel hooked me. After days of training, I finally got my kestrel, Sparv, to come to me when I whistled, and after weeks, I managed to train Sparv to bring me his prey before eating it. These seemingly minor achievements offer massive satisfaction. Even more thrilling was watching Sparv hover in midair (kestrels are the only falcons that can hover in place), then swoop down with lightning speed and tear a starling or sparrow from the sky. Kestrels are often used in urban areas, because they eat the 'pest' birds starlings & sparrows. In fact, I once worked on a project to install large amounts of kestrel boxes (artificial nests) in a park, to reduce an epidemic of invasive starlings. It worked extremely well. Part of the reason kestrels are a good beginner bird is because they are smaller and can do less damage to you (that's actually a major concern), but this same small size makes them more fragile to disease and starvation and more likely to be caught by dogs and cats. This means they need lots of maintenance and protection.
Kestrels can be used for a variety of types of hunting, from walking in the fields with the kestrel perched on a pole you carry, so it has more height to catch the prey; to hunting in parking lots and abandoned buildings in urban environments. This makes them more versatile to a variety of places - I know falconers with kestrels in both New York City and a tiny town in South Dakota, and both love their birds and hunt them successfully. Overall, kestrels are excellent for the novice, but still need exhaustive maintenance.