Species group: Birds of Prey
Other common names: Sparrowhawk; Sparrow Hawk; American Sparrowhawk
Scientific name: Falco sparverius
The smallest of the North American falcons, the captivating American Kestrel is a somewhat controversial bird. Perhaps because of its size and its natural tameness, it was once considered a beginner's bird, listed as a possible species for the apprentice falconer. However, it can represent some significant challenges, and most experts today advise against starting with this falcon.
Because of the licensing and expertise required to be a responsible owner of a bird of prey, the following information is offered only as a hint of what you will need to learn to work with American Kestrels. There is no substitute for hands-on training, which we strongly recommend that you pursue before trying to acquire any bird of prey.
The American Kestrel is the widespread, highly visible kestrel of the New World. The most abundant falcon in North America, it also holds a large range in South America. Some populations migrate, so if you have ever noticed that you see a lot more Kestrels in your area in the winter, then now you know why. Females tend to migrate first so that they may claim more open territories. Males come later and, being smaller, may find themselves pushed into more wooded areas. You might find the name Sparrow Hawk in older literature, but don't use the name yourself. It's rightfully falling into disuse, since the name Sparrowhawk properly refers to a group of unrelated species – and the American Kestrel is more of an insectivore than a bird predator anyway.
These beautiful longwings have two black moustache marks accenting bold white cheeks. The males are smaller and especially well-marked, with a rufous back and tail. Females are a larger, faded version of the theme.
Male - 109 grams (3.8 oz.)
Female - 123 grams (4.3 oz.)
Male - 24 centimeters (9 in.)
Female - 25 centimeters (10 in.)
7 - 10 years
Behavior / temperament:
American Kestrels have powerful feet for their size, and well-trained birds are highly regarded for being willing to pursue their quarry under cover and to grab on. A skilled suburban falconer, without access to open country, can fly an American Kestrel in places where a Merlin or another falcon wouldn't work. If you have ever observed a wild Kestrel kiting -- hovering in the sky in search of prey – then you can understand why some falconers value this species for its ability to learn to “wait on” quarry while hovering.
However, be warned: This slimmer species seems to like to conserve its energy, and some tame individuals have proved to be unwilling to hunt. In his classic, A Falconry Manual, Frank L. Beebe expressed some exasperation when he wrote, “Kestrels are less of a beginner falcon than a delightful pet falcon for an eight to twelve year old.” Of course, we don't recommend the species to eight year olds. But it's always possible that you might find yourself with a rather lazy bird.
Although a smaller falcon, the American Kestrel is still a longwing and should not be shortchanged on space to spread its wings. A good pen, aviary, or mews will provide shade from direct sunlight in the summer, protection from extremes of winter weather, and good security to lock out thieves. A roof that completely covers the structure is stronger and offers more protection from high winds. Like most birds of prey, they will enjoy some clean, shallow water for bathing.
The American Kestrel is a carnivore that needs to consume some whole prey in order to allow its digestive system to work properly. In the wild, this species is quite insectivorous, pursuing a lot of large insects like grasshoppers and dragonflies. Falconers tend to train them to pursue small birds like House Sparrows or European Starlings, and they have been kept successfully on a diet that includes such items as mice and small birds, supplemented by grasshoppers. With smaller falcons, you need an excellent scale and the training to understand what their weight should be and what to do about it – something you should get from hands-on experience with a more advanced falconer or rehabilitator, not from a short article. They should also be provided with water.
Written by Elaine Radford
good beginner bird, wildlife rehabilitator, limber fliers, master falconer, vivid feather patterns
The best falcon for beginners, beautiful birds and limber fliers
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..
From vintners Aug 6 2015 11:19PM
American kestrels are raptors, and as such are protected federally in the United States and most other countries where they naturally occur. To even consider owning one, a person has to first inquire whether or not they are permitted to do so in their municipality and also whether or not they can commit to the level of training needed to become a falconer or a wildlife rehabilitator. To become a falconer, one must study with a master falconer as an apprentice. Kestrels are often selected as a good "first bird" for falconers. Do not attempt wildlife rehabilitation on your own unless you are licensed to do so and have experience with the species. It is illegal in most jurisdictions and raptors can inflict serious injuries.
I am not a falconer, but I do have experience with American kestrels both in a zoo setting and as a wildlife rehabilitator. It is this aspect of their care on which I will focus, and not on falconry.
I worked with one American kestrel that was at least 27 years old (had been in the zoo's care that long, as a non-releasable wild injured bird used for education). He was missing a wing and had only one functioning leg, and yet was more than capable of getting himself around in his cage and he ate well.
I have also raised two nestling kestrels, one whose nest was destroyed in a hurricane and one which was removed from its nest illegally. Both of these were later released. One of them was released near his nest (he was quite mature when found) and another was released in my yard, where he still lives 3 years later.
The fourth is a rehabilitation bird -- a kestrel who somehow lost one of his legs and therefore can't feed himself. He will be a permanent captive and used for education.
Housing depends on the bird's abilities -- a non-flying bird need only be housed ina low, large cage such as a rabbit cage, preferably with a hide box and different thickness rough branches on which to perch. A large dog carrier with rough towels on the bottom can work well for rehabilitation birds.
Feed American kestrels a diet of one (dead, thawed) mouse or day-old chick per day, with one day per week of fasting. They can also be fed chicken or turkey canned cat food in a pinch. Be sure fresh water is available in a small bowl that is heavy and not easily tipped.
Kestrels with permanently incapacitating injuries should be trained to perch on a glove, if possible. This will take considerable training time and it is recommended that anyone partaking in it consults a wildlife rehabilitator or master falconer. They can also be fitted with anklets and jesses if they have full use of both legs and wings, but have another incapacitation (such as partial or full blindness or nerve damage).
Kestrels will be very vocal at meal times, and will also be vocal when interacting with other kestrels. The one I raised from a nestling that still hangs around after three years tends to allow himself within about 10 feet of me but no longer tolerates close proximity. He will often follow me around the yard (perched high above in trees) scolding and demanding a hand-out. They are very responsive to their handlers. I had to hack this particular kestrel (hacking is the process of teaching them to be wild and feed themselves) because he was not damaged and was releasable. This involved training him how to hunt using first young, then progressively mature live pigeons and lizards, and progressively larger fight cages.
Again, do not try to keep a kestrel that you find as a fallen nestling or injured bird. Contact a wildlife rehabilitation centre or an accredited zoo, or your local department of environment (depending on your location) and allow them to use their experience to nurse the bird back to health. The ultimate goal of wildlife rehabilitation is release, and there are special techniques that have to be followed to ensure the bird can feed itself and be safe from danger..
From bnaqqimanco Jun 18 2013 10:26PM