Return of the Falcons

After a long hiatus, I’m back to blogging! After the 3 or 4 people who read this post stop cheering (or groaning; as long as I get a response I’m happy), I’ll talk about what I’ve been doing over the last few months. Life has been crazy since I decided to go back to school after a six-year break. I’m pursuing a master’s degree in biology and am excited that I get to study falcons! I managed to convince my advisor, through relentless email spamming and crying outside his door, to allow me to do my research on American Kestrels.

American Kestrels are the smallest falcons in North America and are sometimes called “sparrow hawks”. Like most birds of prey, kestrels exhibit reversed sexual dimorphism, which means that the females are larger than their male counterparts. Males are easily distinguished from females by their blue wings, black-tipped rufous tails, and more buffy-colored underparts. Both sexes have striking black lines on the face, which act as eye black to reduce glare from the sun. I’m not 100% sure that’s true, but it seems like a reasonable explanation.

American kestrel pair, male (left) female (right)

Most American Kestrels prefer open habitats, such as farmlands, scattered woodlots, and pastures. Kestrels are well adapted to agricultural fields and will often spend their days perched on power lines, searching for tasty morsels to devour. Though they are small, kestrels have a fierce appetite and have been known to take down beavers and mountain goats. One time, a particularly aggressive kestrel in Boston killed a porcupine and used the quills to kebob a few mice. At any rate, kestrels primarily feed on insects and small rodents, but will also eat songbirds, snakes, lizards and an occasional dragon . . . fly.

The usual method of hunting for a kestrel involves sitting on a perch and scanning the area for potential prey. One cool exception to this is when a kestrel engages in “hover-hunting”. Basically, a kestrel “hovers” by facing into the wind and using outstretched wings and a fanned tail to stay in place. Below is a clip showing a kestrel hover-hunting. The kestrel in this clip is a European species because I couldn’t find very good video of American Kestrels. I normally can’t stand Europeans and their stupid metric system, but I do like kestrels. If you can’t sense the sarcasm, you should probably stop reading this post.

Kestrels really are beautiful birds and I’m happy to have the opportunity to study them. My research is going to focus on an interesting behavior called tail-pumping. In my next post, I’ll talk about potential explanations for why kestrels pump their tails and provide some information about the breeding behavior of kestrels. I’m hoping to use a video camera during my research to document the social life of kestrels and produce a new reality TV series. If people can become famous for acting like idiots on camera, why can’t kestrels become famous for being beautiful and smart? May you soar like a kestrel!

American kestrel male with wings outstreched


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