American Kestrel

American Kestrels are the smallest falcons in North America. While most male and female raptors look the same (just differing in size), the male and female raptor look different. The males have slate blue wings and black spots on the chest and wings. The females are a rusty color on their wings, and brown streaks on the chest.

American Kestrel, photo by Mick Thompson

Size & Shape: 11″, wingspan 23″. Compact, swift-flying, small falcon.

Color: Wings blue-gray with black spots. Tail rufous on back with a broad black band and white or rufous tip. Heavily streaked below with plain, dark back, vague mustache mark. Appears dark in flight with sharply pointed wings.

Behavior: Makes dashing flight from perch, captures prey with talons at blinding speed. Diet almost exclusively small songbirds, shorebirds. Rarely soars; typical flight observation bullet-like pass. More likely spotted perched atop prominent snags, conifers, cables and power lines. Aggressively harasses raptors many times its size.

Habitat: Marshes, agricultural flats, broken woodlands, urban areas.

Field Marks: Blue-gray wings, black spots. Streaked rufous tail, dark eye stain marks.

Songs & Calls: Listen here.

Fun Facts: American Kestrels don’t build their own nests. Instead they use old nests made by other birds, ledges or cavities (holes) in trees.

When on the hunt, American Kestrels perch on wires or poles, scanning for insects and other small prey below. When prey is spotted, Kestrels pounce, seizing it with one or both feet.

Scientific Name: Falco sparverius