American kestrel: hawk or falcon?
Living in Balance
By Jenipher Appleton
During the summer months, plenty of hawks and falcons are on the prowl for rodents and smaller birds. Red-tailed hawks, the rough-legged hawk and goshawks are seen perched in dead limbs, on wires, or soaring over the fields. To identify a rough-legged hawk in flight, look for a large, dark patch on the underside of each of its wings. The red-tailed is very easy to identify because of its large size and the distinctive rusty tail feathers that stand out against its white underbelly. I have actually witnessed a red-tailed hawk swoop down on an unsuspecting black squirrel perched in a maple tree. The hawk then proceeded to sail away into the distance, squirrel in talons. You’ll also see Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks visiting back yards in hope of scooping up an unsuspecting songbird.
Giving the sparrow hawk a bad name
The smallest hawk in our area is the sparrow hawk, or American kestrel (Falco sparverius). The name is actually a misnomer because it is neither a hawk, nor does it consume very many sparrows. The sparrow hawk is actually a member of the falcon family. The American kestrel is a mere 9-12 inches in length, or about the size of a blue jay. It is the only small hawk with a rufous back and tail. The combination of the blue-jay wings and rust back makes for a very attractive bird. Both male and female have a moustached black-and-white face pattern. The little falcon would fit nicely into the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe or other medieval lore.
I often see kestrels perched on roadside hydro wires. They hover for prey on rapidly beating wings, much like a kingfisher. The voice is a rapid high “klee-klee-klee!” Foods include rodents, insects, bats, small birds, small reptiles and frogs.
The kestrel is a solitary nester and will readily nest in bird boxes built especially for them. During breeding season and courtship, the male gathers food and feeds the female in the air. Both parents nurture their single yearly brood, which consists of three to seven creamy to pale pink eggs, which are heavily blotched with brown, and measure 3.6 cm in length. Their population is common throughout North America. You can spot the American kestrel throughout the year in our region, but most likely in spring and summer months.
The fact that we have so many hawks and falcons in our region suggests that they are well fed. Therefore, the rodent population would appear to be in good shape as well.