Raptor Research Programs

American Kestrels

Long-term study of American kestrel reproductive ecology

Build and place a kestrel nestbox 
Download the Adopt-a-Kestrel Nestbox Brochure
Kestrels of the World coloring book

Project Goals:

  • Long-term monitoring of American Kestrels near Hawk Mountain
  • Identifying factors that contribute to species recent declines
  • Work together with government officials, local residents, landowners, and local conservationists, to help to improve the conservation status of this species.

Background

Armenian graduate student Siranush Tumanyan and Spanish intern Eli Cinto Majia work with long-time local volunteer Sue Robertson who helps band the nestlings.

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary has been studying the breeding, wintering and migratory habits of American Kestrels for more than 50 years. Today more than 200 kestrel nestboxes have been placed within a 25-mile radius of Hawk Mountain, and each year, the boxes are cleaned and monitored for signs of activity. If successful, nestlings are banded at two weeks of age. Maintaining successful relationships with local residents, private landowners and volunteers is key to the project’s overall success.

This program provides outreach to the local community, and provides hands-on training for spring conservation science trainees, including building experience in data collection, banding, handling live nestlings and documentation.

Findings

A female kestrel receives colored leg bands
  • Productivity of American Kestrels from Hawk Mountain nestboxes has decreased during the past decade. Similar observations have been made in other areas across North America.
  • Autumn migration counts of American Kestrels at Hawk Mountain and elsewhere show similar declines.
  • Predation by Cooper’s Hawks in winter in eastern Pennsylvania is a leading cause of local mortality.
  • 95% of American Kestrels breeding in Sanctuary nest boxes have tested positive for West Nile Virus antibodies

The Future

Summer field experience interns monitor kestrel until the nestling disperse

The recent decline in kestrel populations makes the long-term data more important than ever. In the decade since the Acopian Center opened, the Sanctuary has taken action and launched a public service campaign to increase awareness about kestrels and to encourage rural landowners to build and erect a kestrel nest box to help boost populations. It also published a children’s storybook, The Return of Magic, and most recently, conservation science trainees have designed a children’s coloring book, Kestrels of the World. This type of grassroots outreach continues as does the long-term monitoring of nestbox breeding success

Today we also are expanding this work to include a scientific study of kestrel behavior, a project ideal for college undergraduates involved as a summer field experience intern. These North American undergraduates make daily observations, monitor the daily movements of kestrels at a designated box, record voice audio that describes the movement, and then transcribe the information until the nestlings have dispersed.

This work will allow Hawk Mountain to better assess the environmental factors that affect this ecological sentinel of the farmlands that surround the Sanctuary, and also will help prepare up and coming conservationists gain hands-on experience in raptor research.

Project Outputs

This project has had many outputs including lectures presented to local conservation organizations, an annual newsletter that is mailed to every "Adopt-a-box" supporter, and a full-color, fully-detailed informational piece on how to build and place a nest box.

Download Nestboxes for American Kestrels

Peer-reviewed publications on this project include:
Katzner, T., S. Robertson, B. Robertson, J. Klucsarits, K. McCarty, and K. Bildstein. 2005.  Results from a long-term nest-box program for American Kestrels: implications for improved population monitoring and conservation.  Journal of Field Ornithology 76(3):217-225.    This is Hawk Mountain Numbered Contribution #118. Link to the entire numbered contribution series now.

Farmer, G., K. McCarty, S. Robertson, B. Robertson, and K. L. Bildstein.  2006.  Suspected predation by accipiters on radio-tracked American Kestrels (Falco sparverius) in Eastern Pennsylvania, U.S.A.  J. Raptor Res. 40(4):297-300.    This is Hawk Mountain Numbered Contribution #145. Link to the entire numbered contribution series now.

Farmer, C.J. and J.P. Smith. 2009. Migration Monitoring Indicates Widespread Declines of American Kestrels (Falco sparverius) in North America. Journal of Raptor Research 43(4): 263-273.   This is Hawk Mountain Numbered Contribution #183. Link to the entire numbered contribution series now.

And another self-published, full-color, 36-page booklet was produced as well: A photographic timeline of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary’s American Kestrel nestlings, by J. R. Klucsartis and J. J. Rusbuldt (2007).

Help us to Help the Kestrel

Download the Adopt-a-Kestrel Nestbox Brochure 
You can help to support this important monitoring project through a nestbox adoption.
For your $100 adoption you'll receive:

  • Official Adoption Certificate
  • Report of nesting activity
  • Update on the Nestbox Program
  • Free kestrel gift for each box adopted

Nestboxes for American Kestrels
A nestbox is easy to build, erect and maintain. Use this handy instruction guide to build your own today and to learn more about the American Kestrel and its natural history.

Pennsylvania Farmland Raptor Project
This page has great resources on the kestrel but also three other species of grassland raptors that are in decline across the Commonwealth. If you are a private rural landowner and want to get involved, please send us your information using the easy-to-use online form.

National Penn