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American Kestrel Falco sparverius


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Male American Kestrel
credit: Quinn Dombrowski/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Falconidae, Falcons view all from this family

Description ADULT MALE Has dark-spotted rufous back and blue-gray wing coverts; striking head pattern includes blue-gray cap with central rufous spot, brown nape with twin dark spots, and two vertical black lines running down from eyeline and framing white cheek. Underparts are pale buff with dark spots on belly. Tail is rufous with black subterminal band and white tip. In flight, from above, rufous back and tail contrast with blue-gray and black pattern on wings; from below, underwings are barred gray and well-patterned tail is most striking feature. ADULT FEMALE Has mainly dark-spotted rufous brown upperparts, except for dark primaries; head pattern is similar to male's, but duller. Underparts are pale, with lines of rufous spots on breast and belly. In flight, looks mainly rufous brown above and pale buff below. JUVENILE Similar to adult counterparts, but male is more streaked below and less colorful overall.

Dimensions Length: 9-12" (23-30 cm); Wngspn: 21" (53 cm)

Habitat Widespread and common in open country, including farmland. Mainly a summer migrant to Canada (present mainly Apr-Aug), birds moving south in fall and boosting resident numbers in southern U.S.

Observation Tips Easy to find in open country, perched on poles or overhead wires, or hovering while scanning ground for prey.

Range Southeast, Rocky Mountains, Northwest, Eastern Canada, Texas, Plains, Mid-Atlantic, Florida, Southwest, California, New England, Western Canada, Alaska, Great Lakes

Voice Utters a screaming killy-killy-killy or rapid kee-kee-kee.

Discussion A familiar raptor, eastern North America's smallest falcon and the one most likely to be seen hovering along roadsides. Feeds on small mammals and insects. In flight, note typical falcon outline with relatively narrow, pointed wings and proportionately long tail; latter is fanned when hovering or soaring, but otherwise straight. Sexes are dissimilar and males are well marked and colorful.