by Charles Barreca, Manager, Ecological Stewardship
The American Kestrel is the United States’ smallest falcon species. It is approximately the size of a pigeon and inhabits open fields and meadows in New Jersey. Kestrels mostly feed on grasshoppers, mice, and small birds, and use natural or woodpecker excavated cavities in dead trees for homes. Adult kestrels will usually lay 3-5 eggs in a nest in mid-to-late April, and incubate them for 30 days until they hatch. Chicks usually leave the nest about 30 days after hatching.
Kestrels have seen their numbers decline in the eastern US due to numerous factors, including habitat destruction via development of grasslands and farm areas, loss of food sources due to insecticide use, clearing of dead trees, and competition from non-native European starlings that occupy nest cavities and nestboxes that kestrels use. The decline has been significant enough for New Jersey to place the American Kestrel on the species of special concern list.
Since 2006, Duke Farms has worked with the NJ Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor and maintain over a dozen nestboxes on the property. Staff install and maintain these boxes and do weekly checks to determine the number of eggs laid, chicks hatched, and to remove starling nests that may encroach upon a nestbox. Mature chicks, and even adults are banded in late spring by Fish and Wildlife staff to assist in tracking birds and to recover previously banded birds is they are found injured. Duke Farms has had two kestrels that were banded on the property return in following years.