Female American Kestrel, photo by Britt Meyers

American Kestrel

The most common and widespread falcon in North America, as well as the smallest and most delicate. Having the typical falcon shape -- a short neck, relatively small head, long and slender pointed wings, and a long tail - gives this bird a streamlined body designed for fast flight. Females are slightly larger than males, but unlike most birds of prey, the sexes have different plumages. Both have a rufous-red back and tail, double black stripes on white cheeks, and a gray head with a rufous crown patch. Wing color and pattern is the most noticeable difference: females have rufous barred upper wings, while males have wings of blue-gray with small black spots, with a row of white circles on a darker trailing wing edge. Flight of this small falcon is light and buoyant, with rapid, shallow wingbeats and short glides. Often seen in flight with the wingtips swept back, or hovering motionless in midair over prey. Head bobbing, and flicking the tail up and down are two commonly observed behaviors when this bird is perched.

Meet our resident American Kestrel:

When Puck was still young enough to be begging for food, he landed on a boy's head at a baseball game during the summer of 2005. Realizing this was not normal behavior, the boy and his dad took the bird home and called the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, CA - their local nature center/rehabilitation facility. Museum staff determined that the bird was a human imprint. They treated him for a puncture wound on his wing, and discovered he also had a retinal tear in his right eye causing impaired vision. He joined the Cascades Raptor Center's Education Team in September 2005. Puck is part of the outreach team.

Adoptive "Parents" of Puck:

Bella Jorgensen  •  Kelly Ann Fukuhara  •  Billy and Kathleen Reid
Ed Sakai ~ In loving memory of Leslie Nunn Sakai    
Carol Goodsole  •  Karen Myers  •  Monica Kundl   •  Paul Reiley
Claire & Carson Lee  •  Jim Saville ~ Happy Birthday!
Irena Mustelier  •  The ​Titus Family  •  Finnegan and Tessla Tolman
Alchemy Hele  •  Riley Carroll  •  Chris Pannell  •  Josh Galpern
Eliza and Zoe Korff in memory of Emily Korff  •  Mark & Cathy Freeman
Robin Arnold   •  Penney Lew   •  Penny & Dave Short •  Taylor Wolf
In honor of Garrett Mina's birthday  •  Lola & Ruby Simon
Suzette Clover  •  Karey Wollam  •  Reid Nguyen   •  Lindsay Wolf 
Kate Woolsey  •  Kraig Smyth  •  Tyler Kendall  •  John Deeming
Addi & Lauren Mitchell  •  Damien Gilstrap-Russell  •  Mindy McKinstry
Parker & Ava Roscoe


Scientific Name

Falco sparverius


Length 8 - 10"
Wing Span 20 - 22"
Weight 3.4 - 4.5 oz.


Length 9 - 11" 
Wing Span 21 - 24"
Weight 3.6 - 5.3 oz.


Status - State and federally protected


Habitat - Most often seen in open fields or pasture lands with scattered trees, woodland edges, and along highways - where scattered high perches near open land provide good hunting. This very versatile species can take advantage of a variety of habitats, from mountain meadows to desert plains and canyons. Within the breeding range, will be found wherever there are enough perches, nest sites, and open vegetation to support a food supply for their prey species.


Diet - Consists primarily of insects and rodents, other small mammals, and reptiles; small birds are also taken, mostly in winter when other prey are not as plentiful. Often hovers over prey before swooping down; hunts mostly in the morning and late afternoon, perching quietly at other times of the day. In summertime, grasshoppers and crickets will form much of the diet in many areas.


Call - With a voice higher in pitch than that of other raptors, kestrels will frequently give a shrill call of killykillykilly, or a screaming cry of kliklikliklikli.


Nesting - Likes old tree nesting holes of other bird species, tree hollows, holes in cliffs, in wall niches or under eaves in urban environments. Can be attracted to manmade nest boxes.

Most Common Problems

Most Common Problems - Collisions with vehicles or windows. Because these birds are willing to live close to humans, young often fledge into dangerous areas, such as manufacturing plants or lumber yards.

Range Map

Ranges from western Alaska across central Canada, throughout the United States, south into Mexico, parts of the Caribbean and Central America, and into most of South America. In North America, the wintering range contracts into most of the USA except for the Northern Great Plains and Northern Rockies.



Special Thanks for range maps:

Dan Gleason
BGleason Design & Illustration
Commercial & Scientific Illustration, Graphic Design
CraneDance Communications
Book Production/Design