American Kestrel

Falco sparverius

The American Kestrel is one of the few raptors with strongly sexually dimorphic plumage. It is the smallest and most delicate-looking of our falcons, with long wings and a long tail. Its head is blue, brown, and white.

Male Kestrels are brightly colored, with reddish-brown backs, slate-blue wings streaked with black, and tan breasts with black spots. The male's head is blue and brown, and both sexes have bold, black eyespots at the napes of their necks.

Female Kestrels are brown streaked with black on the back, and white streaked with brown on the breast. The female has multiple bands on her tail. Both sexes have two bold, vertical face stripes.

Perhaps the most colorful raptor in the world, the American Kestrel is the most common falcon in North America.

Often called a Kestrel hawk or sparrow hawk, this little beauty is a falcon, not a hawk.

Measurements for both sexes.

Length : 8.7–12.2 in (22–31 cm)

Wingspan: .21-24 in (51-61cm)

Weight; 2.8 - 5.8 oz (80 - 165 g)


American Kestrels are found in a wide variety of open habitats, among them agricultural areas, grasslands, sagebrush, shrub-steppe, steppe, and dry forest zones. They take advantage of clear-cuts and are typically found where open areas are combined with perching spots, such as trees, utility wires, and fence posts.

This falcon breeds in a variety of open habitats, including meadows, grasslands, deserts, parkland, agricultural fields, urban and suburban areas.


Kestrels are often seen hovering in flight or perched upon wires in open areas. An American Kestrel can often be identified from afar by its characteristic tail-bob and its hunched silhouette.

It watches for prey from tall perches, such as trees and telephone poles. Also hovers and drops on prey.

Nestling kestrels back up, raise their tails, and squirt feces onto the walls of the nest cavity. The feces dry on the cavity walls and stay off the nestlings. The nest gets to be a smelly place, with feces on the walls and uneaten parts of small animals on the floor.


The diet of the Kestrel consists mainly of large insects such as grasshoppers, small mammals, small birds, and occasionally reptiles.


Kestrels nest primarily in cavities, usually 10-30 feet off the ground. They often use cliffs as nesting locations.

Old woodpecker holes, natural cavities, and man-made nesting boxes are all used. They will also nest in openings in man-made structures. The female lays 4 to 5 eggs, although this may vary. Pair bonds are monogamous, and both parents incubate for 29 to 31 days.

When the young hatch, the female broods them and the male brings food.


American Kestrels living in northern climates typically migrate south, while kestrels at southern and mid-latitudes do not typically migrate.


Recent counts suggest a declining population in some regions while others show an increase. The Kestrels' readiness to use man-made nesting boxes bodes well for the species, since cavity-nesters are often limited by available natural cavities.

There has been a significant decline (indicated by Breeding Bird Atlas data), probably due to a loss of nesting cavities. Another cause may be increased predation by Cooper's Hawks, a species that has rebounded in recent years

American Kestrel and Other Common Birds

Bird Houses and Nesting Boxes

Share Your Passions, I Am

Birds, Butterflies, Gardens and More. Get your weekly 'GARDENING FOR WILDLIFE' newsletter by signing up below.

Enter your E-mail Address
Enter your First Name (optional)

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you Gardening For Wildlife.
Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.