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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

American Kestrel -- Falco sparverius

RANGE: Breeds from western and central Alaska and southern Yukon to northern Ontario, southern Quebec, and southern Newfoundland south to Mexico. Winters from south-central Alaska, southern British Columbia, and northern United States south throughout the breeding range to Panama.

STATUS: Common.

HABITAT: Widely distributed in habitats that include deserts, forest openings, marshes, grasslands, agricultural and suburban areas, towns, and cities. Frequently perches on fence posts, utility poles and wires, and in trees. Occupies the same types of habitats during winter as during the breeding season.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Open country with low vegetation, cavities in trees with dbh greater than 12 inches, and elevated perches from which to sight prey.

NEST: Prefers to nest in natural tree cavities with tight-fitting entrances, or in cavities excavated by flickers. If these are unavailable, nests in a variety of sites including niches in rocky cliffs, under eaves of buildings, in old magpie nests, in cavities in cacti, in unused chimneys, or in nest boxes. Nest sites are usually along roadways, streams, ponds, or forest edges, from 4 to 65 feet above ground, though typically from 10 to 35 feet.

FOOD: Hunts from a perch or while hovering over areas with short, open vegetation. Primarily eats insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles in summer, but also takes mice and other small mammals, birds, lizards, toads, frogs, and small snakes; rarely takes spiders or worms.

REFERENCES: Balgooyen 1976, DeGraff et al. 1980, Evans in Farrand 1983a, Heintzelman 1979, McAtee 1935, Smith et al. 1972, Thomas et al. 1979.

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