Index of Species Information
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Falco sparverius
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Falco sparverius
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION :
Tesky, Julie L. 1994. Falco sparverius. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service,
Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer).
Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ .
COMMON NAMES :
The currently accepted scientific name for the American kestrel is Falco
sparverius Linnaeus [1,2]. It is in the family Falconidae . Four
recognized subspecies occur in North America and are listed below :
F. sparverius sparverius
F. sparverius guadalupensis Bond
F. sparverius paulus (Howe and King): southeastern American kestrel
F. sparverius peninsularis Mearns
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
OTHER STATUS :
Information on state- and province-level protection status of animals in the
United States and Canada is available at NatureServe, although recent
changes in status may not be included.
WILDLIFE DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Falco sparverius
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
American kestrels breed from western and central Alaska and southern
Yukon to northern Ontario, southern Quebec, and southern Newfoundland
south to Mexico. They winter from south-central Alaska, southern
British Columbia, and northern United States south throughout the
breeding range to Panama [1,2,13,15,25]. Specific distributions of the
four North American subspecies are listed below:
Falco sparverius sparverius- Breeds from east-central Alaska and the
Northwest Territories east to Nova Scotia and south to northern Mexico,
southern Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, northern Alabama, and northern
Georgia. This subspecies winters from southern British Columbia to
southern Ontario and New York, south to Nevada, the Gulf Coast of the
United States, Florida (to Key West), and the Bahama Islands; through
Mexico and Central America to eastern Panama .
Falco sparverius guadalupensis is a resident subspecies on Guadalupe
Island and in Baja California .
Southeastern American kestrels- This subspecies has now been extirpated
over most of its former range . The current range of southeastern
American kestrels was not described in the literature. Former breeding
range extended from Louisiana (except the coastal area), Mississippi,
central Alabama, and southern Georgia to southern Florida. Former
winter range extended from their breeding range south to the Gulf coast
of Louisiana and to Key West, Florida .
Falco sparverius peninsularis- Breeds in southern Baja California from
Santana south to Cape San Lucas and in the lowlands of Sonora and
Sinaloa. Winters south to Mazatlan, Sinaloa .
FRES10 White-red-jack pine
FRES12 Longleaf-slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly-shortleaf pine
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES22 Western white pine
FRES24 Hemlock-Sitka spruce
FRES26 Lodgepole pine
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES32 Texas savanna
FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES37 Mountain meadows
FRES38 Plains grasslands
FRES40 Desert grasslands
FRES41 Wet grasslands
FRES42 Annual grasslands
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
1 Northern Pacific Border
2 Cascade Mountains
3 Southern Pacific Border
4 Sierra Mountains
5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14 Great Plains
15 Black Hills Uplift
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
American kestrels probably occur in most Kuchler Plant Associations
SAF COVER TYPES :
American kestrels probably occur in most SAF Cover Types
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
PLANT COMMUNITIES :
American kestrels occupy nearly all open shrubland, grassland and forest
vegetation types [29,40,54]. In Montana, American kestrels prefer
cottonwood (Populus spp.) forests over sagebrush (Artemisia spp.),
shrubland, and pine (Pinus spp.)-juniper (Juniperus spp.) woodland .
In California, they prefer large tree stages of succession. For
breeding in blue oak (Quercus douglasii) savannah and gray pine (Pinus
sabiniana)-oak (Quercus spp.) types, they prefer 40 to 70 percent crown
The sandhills habitats apparently provide the most suitable habitat for
southeastern American kestrels in Florida . In north-central
Florida, southeastern American kestrels nest in longleaf pine (Pinus
palustris) flatwoods, old-growth slash pine (Pinus elliottii) and
longleaf pine-turkey oak (Quercus laevis) sandhills communities [26,50].
During a 1981 through 1982 nesting survey, southeastern American kestrel
densities were higher in former and existing areas of the longleaf
pine-turkey oak sandhills association (0.41 pairs/sq km) than in areas of
former and existing hardwood hammocks (0.14 pairs/sq km) .
Additionally, the sandhill communities, particularly the pine-oak
woodland habitats, provide quality foraging sites for this subspecies
BIOLOGICAL DATA AND HABITAT REQUIREMENTS
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Falco sparverius
TIMING OF MAJOR LIFE HISTORY EVENTS :
Age at sexual maturity - Both sexes of American kestrels are capable of
breeding as yearlings .
Breeding season - The breeding season varies depending on geographic
area. Pairs are sometimes formed from 6 to 14 weeks before laying
begins . In Ontario, laying begins in early April . In
California, American kestrels breed from early April to early September,
with peak activity between early June and late August . In Montana,
courtship begins in May  and in Nevada, the breeding season occurs
from April to July . In Florida, the southeastern kestrel generally
begins laying eggs in early or mid-April .
Clutch size and incubation - American kestrels generally lay three to
seven eggs [17,54]. They may raise two clutches in one season. The
second clutch size is generally smaller than the first. Yearlings lay
repeat clutches less often than do older birds. American kestrels may
lay an additional clutch if the first clutch is destroyed . The
eggs are incubated for 28 to 30 days [13,17,25,40].
Fledging - Nestlings fledge in 25 to 31 days [13,25,40]. Fledglings
continue to be fed by the parents until feather development is complete,
usually 12 days after nest departure [25,40]. The fledglings may
continue to stay with parents for 30 days or more .
Spring migration - Spring migration begins in February from northern
South America and Central America and begins in March in northern
Mexico. In California, most birds have begun leaving wintering areas by
mid-February. American kestrels wintering in Florida begin leaving in
February, and almost all have left by April. In southern states from
the Rockies east, migration occurs from early March through April, and
in northern states mid-March to mid-April. On the southern Canadian
prairies, most spring migration is in the last 3 weeks of April, but it
continues to about mid-May .
Fall migration - The juveniles leave the breeding range before the
adults  and mature female American kestrels generally arrive on
their wintering ground before males [46,47]. In warm climates some
adults stay on their breeding territories year-round .
Additionally, some American kestrels winter in northern urban areas that
have a year-round food supply and warm roosting places .
In Canada and the northern United States, fall migration begins in
September. Arrival in Florida begins in September and lasts at least
well into October. American kestrels arrive in southern Central America
south to Panama beginning in mid-October . Southeastern kestrels
stay on their territories year-round .
Longevity - American kestrels have been reported to live up to 11 years
. However, most do not live that long. Palmer  reported an
annual average survival of 12.6 months, the oldest bird being aged 9
years, 10 months. Captives at the McGill University colony live an
average of 5 years and 2 months .
PREFERRED HABITAT :
American kestrels occupy a wide variety of open to semiopen habitats,
including farmland and urban areas from sea level up to 13,000 feet
(3,960 m) elevation [29,40]. They generally occur in any habitat that
contains an adequate prey base, perch sites, and (during the nesting
season) nesting sites . In the Sierra Nevada, American kestrels
range up to alpine zones, mountain meadows, and other open areas in late
summer and fall, but winter at lower elevations . In Montana, they
breed at forest edges and in groves, ranging out over adjoining
prairies, croplands, and badlands . In Nevada, the highest
densities of both breeding and wintering American kestrels are often
located near agricultural areas or riparian vegetation that support an
abundant prey base. Nesting densities in these preferred habitats often
exceeds one pair per square mile . In British Columbia, American
kestrels commonly occupy quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) groves,
woodland edges, river bottomlands, wooded lakeshores, farmlands, burns,
meadows, orchards, marshes, and bogs .
Southeastern American kestrels inhabit mostly open pine forests and
clearings where snags occur . The decrease of isolated or scattered
pine snags in open habitats used by southeastern American kestrels was
closely correlated with the decline in the number of breeding pairs
Nesting habitat - Nest sites are usually located along roadways,
streams, ponds, or forest edges . Nests may be reused from year to
year. In Utah, twelve pairs used the same nest site for 2 consecutive
years and eight pairs used the same site again the third year .
Southeastern American kestrels often use the same nest site in
successive years . However, Hammerstrom and Hart  found that
American kestrels in central Wisconsin did not use the same nest site in
succeeding years even after having raised a brood successfully.
American kestrels prefer to nest in natural cavities with tight-fitting
entrances, or in cavities excavated by other bird species in both live
trees and snags [15,24,29,40]. The diameter of 15 cavity openings used
by American kestrels in British Columbia ranged from 2.5 to 14.1 inches
(6.4-36 cm) . Trees with a d.b.h. greater than 12 inches (30 cm)
are preferred . The species of trees used differs among geographic
regions [13,24,56,58]. Cavities excavated by northern flickers
(Colaptes auratus) and natural cavities located 6.5 to 35 feet (2-10.7
m) above the ground are commonly used as nesting sites . If
cavities are unavailable, American kestrels nest in a variety of sites
including niches in rocky cliffs, under the eaves of buildings, in old
black-billed magpie (Pica pica) nests, in cavities in cacti, in unused
chimneys, or in nest boxes [15,17,24,54].
Herron and others  reported that American kestrels in Nevada
generally nest about 20 feet (6 M) from the ground and seem to prefer an
Of 41 American kestrel nests in Utah, 28 were located in trees (19 in
old northern flicker holes, two in old magpie nests and seven in natural
cavities). The species and number of trees used were 18 cottonwood
(Populus spp.), 3 poplar (Populus spp.), 3 willow (Salix spp.), 3 maple
(Acer spp.), 1 elm (Ulmus spp.), and one apple. Two of the remaining
nests were located in rocky cliffs and the last 11 were found on
building tops . In southeastern Montana and northern Wyoming, most
American kestrel nests were in cavities of ponderosa pine (Pinus
ponderosa) and cottonwood or in sandstone cliffs. Other nests were in
fenceposts, under bridges, and in abandoned magpie nests. The greatest
number of nests occurred in ponderosa pine stands. The mean distance
between occupied nest sites on the survey plots was 0.4 miles (0.7 km)
In British Columbia, American kestrel nests were situated in woodpecker
holes or natural cavities in living and dead trees (73%), in man-made
structures (23%), and in holes in cliffs. Sometimes nests of other
species of birds were used, including those of belted kingfishers
(Ceryle alcyon), black-billed magpies, and American crows (Corvus
bachyrhynchos). Ponderosa pine (29%) and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga
menziesii) (10%) were the most often used species of coniferous trees;
important deciduous trees were black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa)
(19%) and quaking aspen (8%). Man-made structures included nest boxes
(17%), buildings, power poles, and fence posts .
Nests of southeastern American kestrels are commonly located in old
woodpecker holes in snags 12 to 35 feet (39-114 m) above the ground
. Most nest cavities have been excavated by northern flickers,
red-headed woodpeckers (Melanerpes erythrocephalus), or red-bellied
woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) . In north-central Florida,
southeastern American kestrels nested most frequently in longleaf pine
trees. Turkey oak and live oak (Quercus virginiana) were also occupied.
Natural cavities occurred solely in turkey oak, whereas all nest
cavities in longleaf pine were of woodpecker origin. The frequent use
of longleaf pine in this study indicates that this tree species is
particularly important for southeastern American kestrels nesting in
north-central Florida. Turkey oak snags may be important alternate nest
sites for southeastern American kestrels and may increase in importance
as longleaf pine becomes scarcer .
Foraging habitat - American kestrels generally forage in open habitats
that contain high perches . They probably use perch sites in tree
islands and along forest edges. They also hunt by hovering over areas
of short, open vegetation . American kestrels usually search for
prey from elevated perches such as fenceposts, utility poles and wires,
live trees, snags, and rock outcrops [15,36,40]. They prefer perches 16
feet (5 m) high or higher to perches over 8 feet (2.5 m) high .
Fischer and others  found that American kestrels wintering in
central Utah predominantly used wire perches. Poles and trees were used
less often. In Venezuela, 25 feet (7.6 m) tall poles were more
acceptable for perches than 6 foot tall (1.8 m) poles .
Winter habitat - Winter habitat for American kestrels is generally the
same as nesting habitat, except that high elevation areas are not used
[15,29]. Several studies have found
differential habitat use by male and
female adult American kestrels in the southern United States and
northern Mexico. In areas of winter segregation, females often occupy
the best habitats which often includes open areas covered with short or
sparse ground vegetation. Males are found primarily in woodland
openings, along woodland edges, or in other less open habitats. This
differential habitat use may be due to the males arriving on the
wintering grounds later than the females. The females therefore may
establish their winter territories in the best habitats before the males
COVER REQUIREMENTS :
American kestrels most often select cavities with tight-fitting
entrances for nests, probably to protect the nest from ground predators
. The need for cover does not seem to affect foraging behavior.
When foraging, American kestrels are commonly found on high, exposed
perches where they can look out over wide stretches of grassland or
pasture to watch for prey . They prefer to hunt in open areas
covered only by short and sparse ground vegetation [12,24]. During the
winter, the availability of shelters may be a limiting factor. The
distribution of American kestrels wintering in Ohio was closely linked
to availability of old buildings and other sheltered roosts .
The thick understory created by pine regeneration in cut or unburned
forests in Florida may have an adverse effect on southeastern American
kestrel populations .
FOOD HABITS :
American kestrels eat primarily insects during the summer, but also take
mice and other small mammals, birds, lizards, toads, frogs, and small
snakes. They sometimes eat carrion [15,40,60]. During the winter in
northern latitudes they eat primarily small birds and rodents [17,24].
Invertebrates eaten by American kestrels include earthworms, spiders,
centipedes, scorpions, and insects of seven orders, including both
larvae and adult forms of Diptera, Lepidoptera, and Coleoptera.
Reptiles include five genera of lizards and at least six species of
snakes. Over 30 species of birds are listed as prey: They range in
weight from under 10 grams to over 150 grams. About 30 species of
mammals have also been listed as prey, with a weight range similar to
that of the avian prey . About seven genera of bats are listed as
Some specific prey items of American kestrels include grasshoppers,
dragonflies, crickets, June beetles, weevils, crayfish, snails, small
ground squirrels (Spermophilus spp.), wood rats (Neotoma spp.), pocket
gophers (Geomys spp.), red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus),
chipmunks (Tamaia striatus, Eutamias spp.), least weasels (Mustela
rixosa), voles (Microtus spp.), cotton rats (Sigmodon spp.), house mice
(Mus musculus), and shrews (Sorex spp.). Many house sparrows (Passer
domesticus) are taken in rural and urban areas .
Some potential avian predators of American kestrels include great horned
owls (Bubo virginianus), golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), red-tailed
hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), and prairie falcons (Falco mexicanus) .
Other potential predators that have been reported preying on other
raptor species and their clutches include coyotes (Canis latrans),
bobcats (Lynx rufus), skunks (Mephitis mephitis and Spilogale putorius),
raccoons (Procyon lotor), and crows and ravens (Corvus spp).
MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Although most American kestrel populations are currently stable or
increasing, there are numerous land use practices that could adversely
affect them . Agriculture, wetland drainage, mineral exploration
and mining, recreational activities, and general urban development can
lead to nest site unsuitability and reduction of prey populations .
Additionally, the increased demand for firewood in recent years has
reduced the number of trees which are most suitable for nesting and
perching American kestrels. Nest cavities excavated by woodpeckers are
seldom present in young stands. There is also evidence that many of the
pesticides used for insect control adversely affect American kestrel
populations. Accumulation of pesticide residues in the American kestrel
can result in lowered reproductive success or death of the individual
The lack of suitable nesting cavities has been suspected to be the
limiting factor for southeastern American kestrels . In areas
formerly dominated by longleaf pine flatwoods in north-central Florida,
southeastern American kestrels have declined an estimated 82 percent
since the early 1940's. Nest-site availability has decreased
significantly due to widespread logging of longleaf pine, plus the
clearing of isolated longleaf pine trees from agricultural fields.
Along the central Florida ridge in Lake, Orange, and Seminoli counties,
southeastern American kestrels declined with the conversion of the
original longleaf pine-turkey oak communities to citrus groves .
Nest boxes can provide nest sites for American kestrels in areas of
declining availability of natural cavities. Nest box program goals
should include expansion and reestablishment of nesting habitat. Nest
boxes require continuous maintenance so a program of snag management to
promote natural nest sites should occur along with a nest box program
Nest boxes are not always the optimal management tool. Both predation
and parasitism can increase after boxes are installed. Predator guards
must be installed on wooden poles and trees. Annual cleaning and
replacement of wood shavings reduces parasite loads. A major problem
with nest boxes is that European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) also use
them. In Iowa, occupied boxes were used by starlings 62 percent of the
time. If starlings are controlled, American kestrels are more likely to
occupy the boxes .
American kestrels are fairly tolerant of human activity at the nest and
can be flushed from the nest and even caught on the nest without
abandonment . In Ohio, American kestrels used areas nearer centers
of human activity than did other raptors wintering in the same area
FIRE EFFECTS AND USE
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Falco sparverius
DIRECT FIRE EFFECTS ON ANIMALS :
Direct mortality in raptors due to fire is rare . Adults can
probably easily escape fire. However, fire could directly reduce
American kestrel populations if the fire destroys occupied nest trees.
American kestrels have been reported to be attracted to fire and smoke
in search of prey [30,51]. They have been observed dashing close to
flames, sometimes landing on stumps or fallen branches in thick smoke
[44,49]. Low-severity fires probably have little effect on American
kestrels. Landers  commented that light winter burning probably
does no substantial harm to raptors.
HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS :
American kestrels occur in the following 10 major fire-dependent plant
associations in the western United States: grasslands, semidesert
shrub-grasslands, sagebrush (Artemisia spp.)-grasslands, chaparral,
pinyon-juniper (Pinus spp.-Juniperus spp.) woodland, ponderosa pine,
Douglas-fir, spruce-fir (Picea spp.-Abies spp.), redwood (Sequoia
sempervirens), and giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) forests
. American kestrels occur in fire-dependent longleaf pine
communities in the eastern United States [26,58].
Although fire may reduce potential nest trees, it may also create snags
for nest and perch sites and enhance the foraging habitat of American
kestrels. In the Sierra Nevada, nesting American kestrels were two to
three times more numerous in a burned-over forest than in an unburned
forest nearby. This difference was attributed to the greater
availability of nest cavities in the burned forest . At Sagehen
Creek, California, American kestrels breed (but do not winter) in burned
forests and along edges between sagebrush and forest habitats. American
kestrels do not use areas of thick cover because they require an open
understory in which to maneuver and visually locate prey. American
kestrels often use fresh burns when foraging due to increased prey
visibility [16,32,49]. A decrease in the frequency of ground fires
leads to an increase in vegetative cover and, therefore, has a negative
impact on habitat quality for American kestrels [4,26]. In the Sierra
Nevada, Balgooyen  found that open areas created by a severe fire in
ponderosa pine and lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta)-red fir (Abies
magnifica) forests provided only temporary habitat for American
kestrels. Eleven to twelve years after the fire, brush vegetation
including deerbrush (Ceanothus integerrimus) and snowbrush ceanothus (C.
velutinus) formed dense cover in the burned areas .
American kestrels are favored by fires that open up or clear
pinyon-juniper woodlands . Raptors associated with pinyon-juniper
woodlands depend upon edges of openings created by fire and scattered
islands of unburned woodlands . In pinyon-juniper woodlands on the
Humboldt National Forest, California, American kestrels were observed
only on burned areas and only during the second season. Surveys were
conducted in only two seasons .
American kestrels congregate at both controlled and naturally occurring
fires to hunt along the edge (usually the windward side) for insects,
small mammals, and reptiles [40,49,57]. Howell  reported seeing 13
southeastern American kestrels feeding over a "raging" marsh fire.
During a January fire in scrublands near Immokalee, Florida, 15 American
kestrels were observed hunting along the approximate 492 feet (150 m)
windward edge of the fire. The linear concentration (1 bird/10 m) was a
hundredfold greater than that on utility lines in the area that same
winter. American kestrels preyed exclusively on insects which flew away
from the fire into the wind .
FIRE USE :
Prescribed fire can be beneficial to American kestrel populations by
enhancing habitat and increasing the prey base [16,32,33]. In the
sandhills communities of Florida, fire suppression has caused some sites
to have dense understories, particularly of fire-intolerant rosemary
(Ceratiola ericoides). Such sites may be unsuitable for southeastern
American kestrels and a program of prescribed burning in these habitats
is recommended . Several studies indicate that many prey
populations increase rapidly subsequent to burning in response to
increased food availability [16,32]. Fire suppression in grasslands was
detrimental to small bird and mammal populations due to organic matter
accumulation and reduced plant vigor .
Prescribed burning plans should strive for creation of maximum
interspersion of openings and edge, with high vegetative diversity.
Habitats should be maintained in a random mosaic of open areas and
standing trees and snags should be conserved. In most cases, burning
plans must be integrated with proper range management. Reseeding of
perennial grasses as well as a period of rest from livestock grazing may
be necessary to achieve desired goals. Burning should be deferred until
nesting is completed in areas where impact to breeding American kestrels
may occur. After logging, Benson  suggested broadcast burning rather
than piling slash to reduce high temperature fires which may be
destructive to soil organisms and small mammals. For more information
regarding the use of prescribed fire in specific habitats for the
benefit of raptors, see Dodd .
An extensive body of research has been published on fire effects on animals
in semidesert grassland, oak savanna, and Madrean oak woodlands of southeastern
Arizona, including the response of American kestrel to fire. See the
Research Project Summary of this work for more information on
American kestrel and more than 100 additional species of birds, small
mammals, grasshoppers, and herbaceous and woody plant species.
FIRE REGIMES :
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find Fire Regimes".
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Falco sparverius
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