Falco sparverius
(American Kestrel)

Order: Falconiformes
Order Description: Vultures, Osprey, Hawks, Falcons
Family: Falconidae
Family Description: Falcons

Physical Description:
9-12" (23-30 cm). Male: Slate gray on top of head and wings; wings dotted with black. Rusty back dotted with black; breast tinged with rust fading to a white belly dotted with black. Two vertical black stripes descend the lightly colored cheeks. Light rust bill is tipped with black; light buffyClick word for definition yellow legs and feet with black talons. Tail rusty with black subterminal band. Female: Darker barring on back and wings; both of which are rusty; tail completely barred.

Similar Species- Sharp-shinned Hawk, Merlin

Clearly called klee-klee-klee-klee.

Breeds from central Alaska and most of forested Canada, south through most of North, Central, and South America, to Tierra del Fuego. Winters from northern U.S. (locally in southern Canada), south through breeding range to Panama.

Found in open or partly-open habitat such as shrub steppe, wooded streams, burned forests, cultivated lands, farmland with scattered trees, open woodlands, along roads, and sometimes in cities. In Idaho, found from low deserts to high mountain meadows.

In summer, feeds on insects and small vertebrates (e.g., snakes, lizards, birds, mice, and sometimes bats). In winter in northern range, feeds mainly on birds and mice. In Idaho, diet includes insects and small mammals.

Forages from conspicuous perch or while in flight (regularly hovers in flight while hunting). Hunts most actively in morning and late afternoon, rests during middle of day. Two western U.S. studies found average territory size to be 109.4 ha and 129.6 ha. Home range diameter during breeding season varies from 0.5-2.4 km. Nests in cavities (in Idaho, regularly nests in urban areas). Nesting densityClick word for definition varies greatly throughout range, depending on nest-site availability and probably food supply; may tolerate close nesting by other pairs in some regions. May be attacked by larger raptors. Year-round Idaho resident.


Female incubatesClick word for definition 3-7 eggs (usually 4-5, but 2-6 in Idaho) for 29-31 days. Southeastern Idaho study reported clutchClick word for definition sizes ranging from 4.5-4.7, during 1975-76, and average numbers fledged ranged from 3.7-4.0. Both parents tend young, which leave nest in about 29-31 days, but may stay with parents for 2-4 wks or more (no later than late summer in U.S.). Readily lays replacement clutchClick word for definition if first clutchClick word for definition lost. Most young first breed at 1 yr. MonogamyClick word for definition through successive breeding seasons seems to prevail.

Element Code: ABNKD06020
Status: Protected nongame species
Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5,NTMB
National Rank: N5B,N5N

Important State References:
Craig, T.H. and C.H. Trost. 1979. The biology and nesting density of breeding American Kestrels and Long-eared Owls on the Big Lost River, southeastern Idaho. Wilson Bull. 91:50-61.

Photos by Ed Dijak and C. Trost,© 1999-2002
Design by Ean Harker©1999, 2000.
Written by Jason Karl, 2000.