wild things

A female American kestrel. Photo by James Taulman.

This is the smallest and most common North American falcon. It is 9-12” in length and has a wingspan of about 2 feet. It occurs throughout the United States and its breeding range extends throughout most of Canada. This is a very colorful little bird, with rusty, black spotted back and wings in the female and wings that are slate blue-gray in males. A gray head is offset by two black marks down the side of the face with a white cheek patch between, and a rusty cap. The breast is light with an orange wash and black spots or rusty stripes.

Kestrels hunt from perches or while hovering, where they pounce on prey on the ground, may also capture small birds, insects, and bats in flight. They are secondary cavity nesters, finding natural tree dens or holes in trees or large cacti that have been excavated by other animals. They will also nest in artificial boxes.

Males perform courtship flights in which they climb and then dive while vocalizing. They also pass food to the female while flying. Kestrels may produce two broods in a year with 4 to 5 eggs in each clutch. Nestlings fledge after about one month, and the parents continue to feed them outside the nest for up to two weeks.

The kestrel population in New Mexico and most of the United States is considered stable at present but is declining in the lower Midwestern states and west central Texas, according to the Audubon Society. Photos here were taken along old Highway 41 south of Moriarty, using a Nikon P900 camera.