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)