Across the world, citizens are helping scientists monitor changes in the environment and wildlife populations by becoming astute observers. Networks of these citizen volunteers help research scientists gather large volumes of information that they otherwise would not be able to collect. Audubon's annual Christmas Bird Count, which began in 1900, is the longest running citizen science project known. This spring, The Raptor Center is launching its own citizen science project called Kestrel Watch.
Why kestrels? Since about 2000, The Raptor Center has seen a precipitous decline in the number of kestrels admitted to the center; from 107 admissions in 2000 to only 22 last year (see chart in Statistics). At the same time, admissions of Cooper's hawks have doubled, from 54 admissions in 2000 to 114 last year. At this point, no one knows whether these findings are correlated, or even whether the reduction in kestrel admissions represents a decline of the species in the wild.
What we do know is that as an edge species, kestrels need both open hunting grounds, such as fields or meadows, and stands of trees to nest and roost. American kestrel numbers increased substantially as pioneers cleared the eastern forests. Today, however, kestrels face many challenges in the wild.
Information on kestrel conservation is sparse, however. Through Kestrel Watch, The Raptor Center hopes to decode the rapid decline in American kestrel admissions. To join Kestrel Watch, all you need to do is brush up on your observation and reporting skills. When you see a kestrel, record the day and time of your observation. Make note of what the bird was doing. Was it hunting? Perched? Feeding? How many kestrels were there? If you feel comfortable identifying the bird's gender, report that, too.
We would love to learn about your kestrel observations. Just click the link in the upper right corner to Submit A Kestrel Sighting.