American Kestrel

American Kestrel

Details About The American Kestrel

  • General Information

    The widespread American Kestrel is the smallest North American falcon and one of our most common and colorful raptors. It is one of the few raptors with different color plumages in males and females. The back of the female's wings and tail are rusty brown with fine dark barring. The male's wings are blue gray and the tail is red with a wide dark subterminal band and a white tip. Both sexes have two dark mustache marks (malar stripe) and markings on the back of the head, which gives the appearance of two dark eyes (called ocelli) and a beak. Immatures have a lot of barring on their back and more streaking and buffy on chest.

    Latin Name: Falco sparveris
    Class: Aves
    Order: Falconiformes
    Family: Falconidae
    Length: 8-11 inches
    Weight: 3.4-5.3 ounces
    Wingspan: 20-24 inches
    Common Name: Sparrow Hawk
    Etymology: falco (Latin) - refers to sickle-shaped talons or the shape of the wings in flight; sparverius (Latin) - "striped" - refers to underparts of immature wing

  • Flight, Voice & Habitat

    Their active flight is light and buoyant, and they are the only North American falcons to hunt by hovering. Will chase birds in direct rapid flight, but usually hunt insects and small mammals from a prominent perch.

    The American Kestrel call is a rapid, high klee klee klee or killy killy killy.

    American Kestrels prefer open country, mountains, moorlands, or grasslands.

  • Nesting

    The American Kestrel is a cavity nester (nest boxes should face east and in an open area), usually in old woodpecker holes. Pairs will nest in manmade boxes. There is 6-7 weeks of courtship before the female lays 4-6 eggs. Females do most of the incubating (male-4 hours per day), which lasts about 29-30 days. Both male and female have brood patches. The age at first flight is usually between 28-31 days.

  • Distribution

    Common throughout North America, the American Kestrel's northern populations are migratory; some move as far south as Central America. In the Carolinas, populations are highest in winter.

  • Food

    Included in the American Kestrel's diet are rodents, insects (especially grasshoppers in summer), birds, lizards and snakes. They use a tominal tooth in their beak (extra notch) to kill prey with just one bite.

  • Current Resident Birds

    You have to be a little older to know that, Dino, the American Kestrel, was named for "Dino," the dinosaur pet of Fred and Wilma Flintstone. A native of Greensboro, NC, Dino also lived briefly with the animals at Asheboro Zoo' Shindler Wildlife Clinic. Dino's colorful plumage marks him as a male American Kestrel. He has been a resident of the Raptor Trail since 2006.

    Ginger, named for the sultry siren of Gilligan's Island fame, displays the soft colors of an American Kestrel female for all to enjoy. She has been a resident at the Carolina Raptor Center since 2013.


    Our American Kestrel, Watson, joined the ranks of our Education Team in 2017. He is named for Sherlock's mustachioed partner, Dr. Watson, since the malar marks on American Kestrels are frequently called "mustache marks"

    The newest American Kestrel addition to our education team is Bell. She is named after a small jet that was designed after Falcons. Bell can be seen at our on and offsite programs, teaching kids about the smallest Falcon species native to North Carolina!

  • Fun Facts & Other Interesting Information

    American Kestrels are one of a few species of raptors that are sexually dimorphic- the males have a blueish gray coloring on their wings, while the females are brown. Kestrels have a unique hunting style; they hover over their prey before swooping down to grab it. American Kestrels can also see in UV light, which allows them to follow urine trails of their prey!