Seven Young American Kestrels Return to the Wild

By Ali Berman, Communications Manager

In 2016 seven baby American Kestrels, North America’s smallest falcons, were brought into our Wildlife Care Center. Each has its own unique story, but almost all share a common and easily avoidable theme: human interference.

American Kestrels released back into the wild. Photo by Tom Schmid

After leaving the nest these young raptors, like many birds, stay on the ground for a number of days before taking flight. To an untrained eye it may look like they have lost their parents or are in need of help, but really they are being well cared for. That’s why if people see a young kestrel and are concerned, we urge them to call us so we can help them assess the situation. Or, if they have removed the bird from the wild, it should be brought to a rehabilitator right away to avoid imprinting, diet related illnesses, and other issues. In a best case scenario, we can reunite the young birds with their parents. However, often with Kestrels that have been removed from the wild, too much time has gone by for a successful reintroduction, leaving them to be raised in the Wildlife Care Center.

In one instance this past summer, a three week old bird was discovered after a large field was mowed. Due to the disturbance, there was no way to tell where in the large open space the baby originated, making it impossible to attempt a reunion.

Thankfully, our Wildlife Care Center is a safe place for a young Kestrel to stay and be treated until it is ready to be released back into the wild. Each individual is given whole small prey to eat, a vital step to avoid metabolic bone disease or rickets. Kestrels require calcium and need to ingest bone. If a bird is kept in private hands too long, in addition to the threat of imprinting on humans, they can suffer from the lack of bone in their diet, leading to weak bones that are prone to fractures from even the simple act of standing. In fact, one of our education American Kestrels, Lillie, is in our care because she was fed an improper diet as a young bird.

Next up in the rehabilitation process? Flying and hunting. The Kestrel found in the field and the many others we care for are given space to test their wings in our newly constructed mews (enclosures for raptors). Before they can be released, we need to make sure they are able to hover.

American Kestrels at the Wildlife Care Center in one of our mews. Photo by Andre Dengo

“Kestrels are one of the few raptors that can actually hover,” explained Lacy Campbell, our Wildlife Care Center Operations Manager. “It’s a really important way for them to hunt, so we need to verify they can do it before we release them.”

In the wild, an American Kestrel hovers above and behind its prey before it strikes, a unique ability, even in the avian world. If you observe them, it looks like their head remains still while their body moves, much like a hummingbird.

Once we see that they are in good health and can fly and hunt, we release them back into the wild, where they belong.

Photo by Tom Schmid
Photo by Tom Schmid

Every year the Wildlife Care Center treats 3,000 injured or orphaned native animals. If you would like to make a donation to support our wildlife rehabilitation work at the Wildlife Care Center, click here.