American Kestrel

Falco sparverius
American Kestrel specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

The smallest falcon in North America (9-12 inches), the American Kestrel is most easily identified by its small size, rufous-brown tail, and rufous-brown back with dark horizontal bars. Other field marks include a white throat, white cheeks, and a slate-blue head with a rufous crown. Male American Kestrels have slate-blue wings, while females are larger and have rufous wings. The American Kestrel breeds across a wide portion of North America from Alaska and Canada to central Mexico. In winter, American Kestrels withdraw from northern portions of their range, wintering from the north-central United States south to Panama. Many American Kestrels in southern portions of this species’ breeding range are non-migratory, as are other populations in Central America, the West Indies, and South America. American Kestrels inhabit a number of open habitats, including grasslands, fields, meadows, and urban areas, that provide cavities for nesting as well as open areas for hunting. This species utilizes similar habitat types in winter as in summer, although nesting cavities are not necessary in that season. American Kestrels eat a variety of small animals, including insects, small birds, and rodents. Due to this species’ preference for open habitat, American Kestrels may be most easily seen perched prominently, perhaps in a tree or on a utility pole, while watching for prey. This species may also be observed hunting, when it may be seen pursuing and capturing prey with its talons. American Kestrels are primarily active during the day.

DC Information

Common permanent resident. Nests from late March to early August in cavities and trees. Found along roadsides, in wood margins, and in agricultural areas. The male has blue wings and one tail band, the female brown wings and several tail bands.

Specimen Information

The bird on the right is a male; the other two birds are females.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Falco sparverius

Falco sparverius

Sound from xeno-canto. XC59480 Falco sparverius (American Kestrel)