American Kestrel

Falco sparverius

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This common and colorful falcon species is often known as a “sparrow hawk.” Kestrels are abundant throughout the Americas and are common to Oregon. Males are identified by their bluish gray wings, and rust colored bellies and backs. Females have dramatically different coloring, with a buff-colored chest and belly and rust-colored wings. Both sexes have white faces with black vertical stripes extending down from the eye and along the back of the head. The top of the head in both sexes is typically blue-gray.

Like its larger falcon cousins, the American Kestrel is a predatory bird. It will hunt by perching in a tall tree or on a telephone pole overlooking a meadow or grassland. Its keen eyesight allows the bird to spot even small, quick movements from mammals and insects far below. Once prey has been spotted, the Kestrel will dive and seize the animal with its talons before flying off to eat. Its preferred diet includes mice, grasshoppers, dragonflies, and some small birds.

The Kestrel is highly territorial. Once it establishes itself in an area, the bird has been known to aggressively drive out other tree-dwelling species, including flickers, woodpeckers and even squirrels.

Range and Habitat

The American Kestrel is the most common falcon species in North America and can be found everywhere in the continental United States. In Oregon, they’re particularly abundant along the Columbia River and in the valleys and farmlands east of the coastal mountains. They are more rare on the coast, but when found are usually hunting in meadows or woodlands. They are more comfortable around humans than a lot of raptors and can sometimes be found near homes and businesses. This proximity to humans can provide the Kestrel with new food sources, but also puts the bird at greater risk through accidental impacts with cars and trucks.

Conservation Status

Common. Although accurate census of the birds is difficult, there are an estimated one million mating pairs of American Kestrel in the continental United States.