Kestrel in Flight

Frequently Asked Questions

In My Backyard
 
1. What can I do to encourage kestrels to nest in my yard/area? What habitat do they need?
  Kestrels are an edge species. They look for places that have open areas (meadows, farmer's fields, etc) for hunting and on the "edge" will have trees, mostly deciduous trees. They need dead trees that have cavities in them for nesting. If there are no tree cavities available, kestrels will readily use human made nest boxes. Kestrels eat many small mammals, some small birds and many insects. Having native plants in your yard, not using pesticides/herbicides, having a water source will help attract kestrels to your yard or area.
 
2. How do I build a nest box? What do I need to know to maintain it?
  Kestrel boxes are easily made. Find the plans here. Kestrel boxes are easily maintained. Every spring, (early March in Minnesota), you should check the box inside and out. Clean out any old nesting material and replace the few inches of sawdust with new, check the attachment to the tree or post, the door, and all the wood for rot. Replace any rotted wood. You can do most of this maintenance in the fall after the kestrels are finished using it, but you will still want to do a quick check in the spring.
 
3. Why don't I see kestrels as often in the winter as I do in the spring and summer? Will they come back to the same area?
  American kestrels are migratory and most Minnesota and Wisconsin in September for the southern part of the United States, with the exception of some individuals. The males are generally the first to return in the spring. In Minnesota they are returning in March and April. Many birds, including kestrels will return to their natal area and radiate out from there.
 
4. How can I make sure that what I am seeing are kestrels?
  Become familiar with what kestrels look like and sound like. You can see and hear examples in Multimedia. Knowing what areas they like to frequent (see FAQ number 1) and what their normal behaviors are will help identify them in your area. Kestrels often are seen perched in trees or on telephone lines. They sit straight and often are seen "bobbing" their tails. When they hunt, they can hover and look like they are "floating" in the sky.
 
5. What do I need to know about making sure the kestrels stay safe in my yard?
  Even though kestrels are predators, there are many dangers for them especially in the urban world. If you have a cat, please keep it indoors. Adult kestrels may not have anything to fear from cats, however, the young in the nest box are very vulnerable. Kestrels can be affected by pesticides and herbicides (as can one of their main food sources are insects). Please take down Christmas lights in your yard after Christmas, and Halloween spider web decorations because kestrels as well as other birds can become entangled.
 
6. Will kestrels eat all of the songbirds in my yard/neighborhood?
  Kestrels are mainly eating small mammals, especially mice and voles and insects. They will catch insects right out of the air, or find them on the ground. They do occasionally take small birds but it is not a large part of their diet. Domestic cats on the other hand, have a negative impact on local songbird populations.
 
7. Will the kestrels bother my cat/dog/child?
  No. Cats are better left indoors as they can harass and kill young kestrels. Children should be supervised when the kestrel boxes are monitored, otherwise they should be encouraged to watch the kestrels at a distance (so not to disturb the kestrels). Unless the dog is too close to the nest box, the kestrels will leave the dog alone. They may dive at the dog if it gets too close, but the dog is in no physical danger.
 
8. What do I do if I find an injured kestrel?
  Make sure that the kestrel is injured. If you need help in that assessment, please see our website: www.TheRaptorCenter.org or call our front desk number at 612-625-0201
 
Kestrel Biology
 
9. What do kestrels eat, and what do they feed the young?
  Kestrels eat a wide range of things. Favorites include flying and terrestrial insects and many species of mice and voles. Occasionally they will eat small birds. They will feed their young what they catch. At first, they will tear the prey item into small pieces which they feed to the young kestrels. As the kestrels grow, the pieces are larger and larger so the young birds can practice using their feet.
 
10. How many babies/chicks do they have?
  Anywhere from 3-6
 
11. What do the eggs look like, and how many do they have?
  The eggs are round, light cinnamon in color with small brown-black spots scattered on the shell. They can lay anywhere from 3-6 eggs.
 
12. What is the incubation time?
  About 28 days
 
13. When do kestrels fledge (and what does that mean) What do the young look like?
  The word fledge means that the young bird is developed enough to fly (or try to). They will start to make short flights. Kestrels fledge when they are about 30-36 days old.
 
14. How long do kestrels live?
  Many young kestrels die in their first year of life. If they make it to their first birthday, wild birds may live 8-10 years, maybe longer.
 
15. Do kestrels mate for life?
  No. However during the breeding season they are monogamous. If they are successful they may both return to the same site next year.
 
16. What do they sound like?
  They have a higher pitched fast call. It is often described as 'kek kek kek kek kek'. You can hear an example in Multimedia.
 
17. Do they have predators?
  Yes. Although they are predators themselves, being small they can be taken by larger predator birds (cooper's hawks, peregrine falcons, and larger owls), domestic cats, larger snakes, wild mammals (fox, coyote etc).
 

 

Contact Us
kestrel@umn.edu
 
The Raptor Center
1920 Fitch Avenue
St. Paul, MN   55108
raptor@umn.edu
612-624-4745