Conserve Wildlife Blog

A Glimpse into the Monitoring of New Jersey’s American Kestrels

July 8th, 2024

by Rachel McGovern, Communications and Outreach Manager

New Jersey is home to three native falcon species, the peregrine falcon, merlin, and American kestrel. Falcons are fierce predators known for their swift flight and intensity. Of these species, I am always most excited to spot an American kestrel.

These small falcons, roughly the size of a mourning dove, are the smallest falcon species in North America. They thrive in habitats with short vegetation such as parklands, meadows, and agricultural areas. Here, they hunt for insects and small animals like mice and voles. You can often see them perched on wires or branches, scanning for prey with their distinctive tail-bobbing behavior. They nest in tree cavities or specially placed nest boxes near fields and meadows.

Recently, I had the privilege to join New Jersey Fish & Wildlife’s (NJFW) Endangered and Nongame Species Program’s American kestrel monitoring team at a nestbox site to band young kestrels. The NJFW American kestrel project works with volunteers to monitor nest boxes in New Jersey and gather critical data about this species. American kestrels were designated as a State threatened species in 2012. While there is still a lot to learn about their decline, it is understood to be at least partially due to habitat loss and a lack of nesting sites. NJFW has been monitoring these small falcons to learn about their decline and support their recovery.

A band is placed on a kestrel’s leg. Photo courtesy of Steve Neumann.

I met the banding crew near a nestbox that overlooks an open field. Inside the box were four kestrel chicks, three females, and one male. Their weight and measurements were recorded before the birds were outfitted with bands on their legs. These bands are critical tools used to monitor kestrel populations. Each band bears a unique code, allowing the birds to be identified as individuals. Bands help to provide information about kestrel populations, dispersal, and survival rates. After the young birds were measured and banded, they were placed carefully back in their nest box.

One male kestrel was found in the nest. Males have a striking appearance with a rufous back, gray wings, and a distinct black stripe on their tail.
Photo courtesy of Steve Neumann.

There is a positive trend for American kestrels in New Jersey. According to NJFW Zoologist Bill Pitts of the American kestrel team, there has been an increase in breeding adults and banded young in their survey area for five straight years. In 2024, they banded over 450 chicks in over 100 nest boxes.

A female kestrel is held as measurements are taken.
Photo courtesy of Steve Neumann.

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