This small species, breeding from Tierra del Fuego in South America to the northern treeline, is the most common falcon of North America. Formerly known as the "Sparrow Hawk", this attractive species occurs throughout the province, preferring partly open country with scattered trees. It has declined significantly in the aspen parkland, perhaps due to loss of trees with cavities, required for nesting.
A summer resident, the American Kestrel arrives in Alberta in late March or early April. It establishes its territory in a an open area where it can hunt for insects and small mammals. Equally at home in both urban or rural environments, in Calgary it can be found at Inglewood Bird Sanctuary or Hull's Wood in Fish Creek Prov. Park. Most individuals migrate out of our area by early October but some try to overwinter. Northern birds travel as far south as Panama.
The favourite food of this small falcon is grasshoppers. Other invertebrates such as crickets, beetles and dragonflies, as well as
spiders are also mainstays. It will take small rodents (voles, mice), shrews and the occasional frog and snake. Wintering kestrels will take small birds for survival. Interestingly, it drops feet-first to capture invertebrates, head-first for vertebrates, but always uses its feet to make the capture.
The American Kestrel chooses to raise its young in an old Northern Flicker or Pileated Woodpecker nest, or a natural cavity in a tree, sometimes in a cliff or bank. Occasionally it uses an old magpie nest.
Where cavities are scarce, it will nest in a suitable recess in a building. It readily accepts man-made nesting boxes. Four to five eggs are laid with both sexes incubating, but mostly by the female. Incubation takes 28-30 days. The young fledge at 30 to 35 days.
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Where to find American Kestrels in Alberta
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