The kestrel feeds on large insects, for the most part, and small mice and voles. It occasionally will also catch and eat a small bird (chiefly the House Sparrow in urban areas) or a reptile. Unlike the other falcons, it captures its prey on the ground, rather than in the air. A kestrel may perch in a tree, watching for its prey, and then fly down and hover in the air directly over a grasshopper, waiting for the proper moment to seize it in its talons. Then it flies up to its perch to eat it.
Kestrels may be attracted to birdhouses, as they do not excavate their own holes, and large woodpecker holes are hard to find. This may be a more important factor in controlling the size of the kestrel population than the food supply.
The kestrel is a jay-sized bird, 9 inches to 12 inches long with a 21 inches wingspan and a striking appearance. It is recognized by its rusty tail and back, and the double black stripes on its white face. The adult female has brown wings, while the male's are pale steel-blue.
They are comfortable with people and live in rural areas and open country as well as in towns and cities, if food and habitat are available. Kestrel populations have been threatened by loss of habitat, due to such practices as cutting hedgerows, the loss of hay and old fields in favor of row crops, and by pesticides which contaminate their food.
Once a male and female have paired off in the spring and chosen a nest site, the female remains near the nest and the male brings her food to her. When he comes near the nest, he calls her, and she flies to him to receive her food away from the nest.
The female lays 4 to 5 whitish eggs with small brown dots, which are incubated for 30 days by only the female, the male bringing her food throughout this period and into the nestling phase. The young fledge in two weeks, and after leaving the nest they perch together in trees, waiting for their parents to bring them food. It is not uncommon for families to be together into the late summer. Kestrels raise one brood per year.
Coveside's Kestrel House is unique in that it provides a perch for the mother just inside the entrance hole. Being a bird of prey, she sits and watches for the next meal to appear for her little ones.
The American Kestrel prefers open country, especially parks, farmlands, and open areas adjacent to woodlands. Place the box on a tree or tall cactus near an open area, between 10 and 30 feet above the ground. Keep branches away from the box opening.
They will readily use a nest box placed in an open area, even along a highway, and the more that are put up, the more kestrels will live in the area. Because of the bird's tendency to sometimes eat other small birds, you may wish to place the box away from those for other species. Placing the house in fields or orchards may benefit crops, as the kestrels will eat harmful voles and insects.
The kestrel does not line its nest, but some experts recommend providing wood chips (not sawdust, which can hurt the baby kestrel's eyes).
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