Patient of the Week: American Kestrel

By Ashley Lema, Wildlife Rehabilitator

In mid December we received an adult American Kestrel (a personal favorite) from a good Samaritan who stopped to help him after noticing him sitting in the road. The bird did not fly away when approached, and had a bloody face. The good Samaritan also noticed the bird’s involuntary head ticking, which is a sure sign of head trauma, and immediately brought the bird to our Wildlife Care Center.

Our staff did a full exam that day and took x-rays of his body once he was stable to make sure the bird didn’t sustain any other injuries we couldn’t see or feel. We found that he was in overall good body condition and we didn’t see any fractures. However, he was still showing neurological symptoms, like hind limb weakness. In head and spinal trauma cases, it can sometimes take many months before we know whether the bird will regain full function, but in this case we saw steady improvement over the first few days. Soon the bird was standing and perching! With pain medication, fluids, and cage rest, we were hopeful he could recover! 

After two weeks of cage rest, he was able to fly, but still lacked some coordination. We moved him into one of our larger flight enclosures with another recovering kestrel to rebuild muscle strength and exercise for physical therapy. 

X-ray of the American Kestrel.

This past Saturday, I was happy to release him back to his home territory in Hillsboro. After flying out of the carrier, he remained perched for a few minutes, taking in his surroundings, bobbing his little head and tail. 

American Kestrels are the smallest falcons in North America–just slightly bigger than a robin. Most raptors aren’t sexually dimorphic, but kestrels are–meaning you can tell an adult female and an adult male apart by the color of their feathers! Males have blue/gray wings and black spots on their chest and wings. Females have rusty colored wings and brown streaks on their chest.

These birds can be seen soaring and hovering over open fields, or perching on wires or poles, scanning for small prey below. They have a wide selection for prey, including: insects, small birds, small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.

While kestrels are a common sight in some areas around Portland, their species is actually in decline. Because so much of their diet consists of insects, extensive pesticide use reduces food availability and, depending on the pesticide, secondary poisoning can also be a problem. But habitat loss is the greatest threat to our native birds and other wildlife, including kestrels. Every year there are just fewer and fewer places to live, hunt, and nest successfully. Kestrels are secondary cavity nesters, meaning they cannot excavate their own cavities and rely upon cavities already made by primary cavity excavators like woodpeckers. As people take down snags and dead/dying trees, this type of suitable nest site is becoming scarcer, and kestrels have a lot of competition from other native and invasive wildlife. Here’s how you can help!

Four Ways to Support our Kestrel Populations

  • Increase the available nest sites in your area by installing a kestrel nest box: 
  • Protect their habitat by signing up and speaking out as a Bird Alliance of Oregon activist.
  • Start in your own backyard by creating wildlife friendly habitat; leave logs and snags to decay naturally. Learn more at the Backyard Habitat Certification Program.
  • Don’t use rodenticides, and avoid pesticides like paraquat and neonicotinoids, as these substances can harm kestrels and other unintended victims.
American Kestrel, photo by Mick Thompson

What to Do If You Find an Injured Animal

  • The best thing you can do is contain the animal in a securely closed (but ventilated) box and keep the animal quiet and undisturbed until you can transport it to your closest wildlife rehabilitation facility. Do not offer food or water.

Here at Bird Alliance of Oregon’s Wildlife Care Center, we accept new patients from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day. You can also leave a message on our Wildlife Hotline at (503) 292-0304 or email and one of our solutions counselors will get back to you and provide advice for your specific situation. 


Unfortunately due to COVID-19 we had to operate our Wildlife Care Center this past year with about 20% of our normal staffing and with about a 25% increase in our annual patient admissions. We were left with the difficult but necessary decision to discontinue providing follow-up updates on patients brought into our center so that we could focus on the daily care of the animals. And while we simply cannot write a story about each animal, our goal for this fresh and bright new year is to show you what we can: in the form of a weekly patient update! 

Check in every Thursday for our “Patient of the Week”; with information on the species, the circumstances that brought the animal in, and preventative advice so you can be a better steward for our wildlife!

If you’d like to contribute to the Wildlife Care Center, please consider making a donation here. Your work helps us to save lives.