Urban Kestrels, New York

I think of kestrels as rural birds because I often see them perched on wires above fields.  In fact, they’re cavity nesters so if they find a good hole to nest in and plenty of food they’ll set up shop anywhere that affords them a long sight line to the next meal.

American kestrels are our smallest falcon, only the size of robins, and they capture small prey: grasshoppers, mice and small birds.  This earned them the nickname Sparrow Hawk so I shouldn’t be surprised that they hang out in cities where there are plenty of house sparrows.  In our biggest city?  Yes, kestrels nest in New York.

For many years a small group of dedicated New Yorkers has been studying the city’s kestrels and keeping tabs on their nests.  Three years ago they realized the task was too big for them alone so they published a poster (Have You Seen This Bird? in 14 languages!) and “Birding Bob” DeCandido began emailing a Kestrel newsletter.  The group has grown as people discover kestrels, begin monitoring their nests, and rescue the fledglings who land in unsafe places. 

Monitoring kestrel nests can be fun.  The birds often choose nest sites in the damaged cornices of old buildings.  What a surprise when they poke their heads out of the holes!  The challenge comes when the young fledge and land on the street.  Fortunately people rescue the birds and they get excellent rehab care.  I was hooked when I read Jim O’Brien’s blog about the release of the rescued kestrels in Central Park last June.  Too bad I don’t live in New York.  I’d have been there!

Overall, American kestrels seem to be doing well but the count of kestrels at eastern hawk watches has declined for the past 20 years.  This is worrisome, so anything we can do to help kestrels is a plus.  Thanks to these folks — Robert DeCandido, Jim O’Brien, Deborah Allen, Bobby Horvath, Cathy St. Claire, Chad Seewagen and K.A. Peltomaa — and to those who’ve learned from them, New York City’s kestrels may be the most successful breeding population on the East Coast.

If you live in New York and want to help, click on the poster link above for more information or contact Robert DeCandido 718-828-8262 (rdcny<AT>earthlink.net), Jim O’Brien (YoJimBot<AT>gmail.com) or Deborah Allen (DAllenyc<AT>earthlink.net).   Just change the <AT> to an @ sign to send them email.


p.s.  I love how this urban kestrel is perched on a wire… razor wire.

(photo by Robert DeCandido, PhD)

8 thoughts on “Urban Kestrels, New York

  1. Yes, we have kestrels in Pittsburgh but they are often overlooked. I’ve seen them at The Waterfront, on South Side and in Oakland. Keep your eyes open for these little falcons.

  2. There was a nesting pair of kestrels in Blawnox near my nursing school. They offered me hours of amusement during hours of dull classes!

  3. My sweetheart and I had the pleasure of discovering a kestrel nest two years ago on 15th St on the west side of Manhattan. It was in the corner of an old cornice that was itself a wonder. We promptly reported it to “Birding Bob” DeCandido, who we know from Central Park. More recently, I heard a lecture about the drop in kestrel numbers around the country. I discuss this in my most recent post at Backyard and Beyond.

  4. kestrel caught a songbird NYC 145 street and Amsterdam Ave. pursued by a loud thrush/blackbird (I believe Americans call it a robin) of equal size it landed on a roof clumsily, spreading banded wings and tail, and flew on, leaving its prey.

  5. I personally have seen a female that spends the winter catch 3 starlings eat most of it on the roof of the projects and store the rest on a square metal cover that’s on the roof

  6. We have a family of kestrels on West 157th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam. I don’t know where they nest, but one morning we saw 5 of them on a TV antenna on the next building.

  7. Outside of my window I have seen and witnessed kestrel feeding off their catch .I have seen them staying still, so as to be mistaken for a Robin or other small species of bird. I am currently spying on one who has left its perch for over an hour. My phone doesn’t have the power to catch a close up . Though my eyes do not deceive me. Thanks for your website, so that I may relate to you my observations. Thank you so much. Nathan.

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