Saturday, January 26, 2013

American Kestrel: The Small But Colorful American Falcon

A few years ago when I first started rekindling my childhood interest in birds I was browsing through a field guide to the birds of North America and came across a bird called American Kestrel. I had never heard the word "kestrel" before and I had no idea where such a bird would exist. I remember reading that it was the "most colorful falcon" in North America. The picture I was viewing was certainly colorful, especially the male. I remember thinking I would love to see one of those guys. Little did I know I simply needed to become aware that the bird existed and then point my eyes in the right direction when I took my usual walk along the canal near my home a couple of days later. I saw my first-ever Kestrel sitting on a power line and was awestruck by its colors. I'm sure I've seen a thousand since that first time, but I still take time to admire them. I remember once pointing out an American Kestrel to my wife as we were driving from Utah down to Arizona. I said something like, "You can tell it's an American Kestrel by where it is..." And before I could finish my sentence my wife said, "Like in America?" We laughed. My wife and children occasionally poke fun at my nerdy bird hobby when I try to share factual tidbits and we all enjoy some laughs.

As I was driving near my home yesterday I noticed a female Kestrel perched on a corn stalk on the side of the road. I parked on the shoulder of the road and took some photos of her. They turned out okay despite the low-light conditions created by the persistent fog and haze we've had in northern Utah for the past few weeks. After a few minutes she flew up to a speed limit sign and did some preening. At one point she seemed to be examining her nails and I joked with myself, "How do they look?" The short series of photos below captured that moment.

Female American Kestrel in Pleasant Grove, UT (Photo by Jeff Cooper)
Female American Kestrel in Pleasant Grove, UT (Photo by Jeff Cooper)
Female American Kestrel in Pleasant Grove, UT (Photo by Jeff Cooper)
Female Kestrels show brown streaking on their chests.  Males have cleaner chests with a soft salmon color above and a few spots on their sides. The females have rufous (rusty) and black barring on their wings and back. Males have distinctive blue upper wings with black markings. Both males and females have distinctive face patterns that include two black stripes. Both sexes also show "false eyes" on the backs of their heads. This is believed to help deter possible predators that may be approaching from behind. Here are some images showing the differences between the two sexes.

Female American Kestrel in Pleasant Grove, UT (Photo by Jeff Cooper)
This male was photographed on a beautiful, sunny day as I took a drive around a place local birders refer to as the Provo Airport Dike in Provo, Utah.

Male American Kestrel in Provo, UT (Photo by Jeff Cooper)
The photos below show some of the differences between the two sexes when seen from below. The male's tail feathers show a broad dark terminal band. The female shows banding throughout the tail feathers. Again, the male has a cleaner chest with a few spots where the female shows streaking in the chest.

Male American Kestrel in Davis County, UT (Photo by Jeff Cooper)
Male American Kestrel in Davis County, UT (Photo by Jeff Cooper)
Female American Kestrel in Pleasant Grove, UT (Photo by Jeff Cooper)
This final image shows a male as it was hover-hunting. These birds will flap their wings to suspend themselves mid-air as they scan the field below them for prey. They are excellent mousers and will also eat small birds, insects, and reptiles.
Male American Kestrel  Hover Hunting in Davis County, UT (Photo by Jeff Cooper)

10 comments:

  1. Wonderful pictures! Thank you for this very helpful comparison. I love the "vain nail-admiring" ones!

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    1. Thanks, Kiirsi. I hope you are able to get out for some fun birding with your children.

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  2. So how would you have completed the thought, "You can tell it is an American Krestel by where it is"?

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    1. I was going to tell them "by where it is perched and how it is pumping its tail down and up." Kestrels are similar in shape to Merlins (another small falcon the visits Utah during the winter months), but Merlins do not perch on power lines as Kestrels do and they don't do the tail pump. Kestrels have a unique habit of pumping their tails, especially right after they land.

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  3. Great series there Jeff! Enjoyable read too.

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    1. Thanks, Robert. I hope things are going well in Idaho.

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  4. Great photos as always, Jeff. I especially appreciate how you note comparisons and field markings--very helpful for me :)
    Felicia

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    1. Thanks, Felicia! Writing posts with comparisons probably helps me more than anyone because I have to carefully consider what I share. Learning by doing, I guess. I always enjoy hearing from you. I hope to see you in the field again soon.

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