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:

Parker, an American Kestrel, was brought to our hospital after being found by well-intentioned but misguided community members who, we assume, hand reared him. He immediately exhibited uncommon behaviors for a wild bird, such as perching at the front of his carrier to watch the humans in the room curiously. He was unusually tolerant and calm during patient treatments as well. Due to his behavioral abnormalities and a deformed talon on an important hunting toe, staff decided to assess him for his potential for having a high quality of life as representative of his species on the Education Team. Parker is a quick learner, has an affable personality and an unwavering interest in sharing his personal space with staff members. He began perfecting his ambassador skills "behind the scenes" in staff offices, requesting to be involved in all office activities. After an acclimation period in an outdoor enclosure, he was moved out in front of the public, where he is developing a large fan club. 

Adoptive "Parents" of Parker:
Kate Kane  •  Nancy Edmondson •  Diana Little  •  Nancy Bell  •  Joan Schwarze  •  Jacque Albert
The Eveleth Family  •  Siena Buchanan  •  The Pattyn Family  •  Shoreline Christian School  
In loving memory of Spencer Higgins  •  Robin Arnold •   Naiya & Anandi Taylor   •  Christina Hayes
Ronan Champagne  •  Rich & Kay Householder  •  Bode Trangsrud •   Acadia Hargreaves  
Calder & Bodie Smejkal  •  Brian Sunset & Renee Burshek •  Byfield-Galka Family  •  Makai Heyerman  •  Raghuveer Parasarathy  •  Lee Ann Zajicek  •  Deb & Mike Bachwansky  •  Jack & Gloria Clark  •  Tristan Downing & Holli Black  •  Saoirse & Tim Shannon & Michele Deisering  •  Paul Downen  •  Glenn Sherman  •  Joan Schwarze  •  Skylar Parker  •  Siena Buchanan  • Mikki-Lee Williams & Aydin, Aaron, Austyn 

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. 

Adoptive "Parents" of Puck:
Karey Wollam  •  Billy and Kathleen Reid  •  Tyler Kendall   •  Carol Goodsole  •  Karen Myers 
Monica Kundl   •  Jim Saville ~ Happy Birthday!  •  Lindsay Wolf  •  Jeff, Robin & Kate Woolsey 
John Deeming  •  Paul Downen •  Linda Gray & Chelsa in loving memory of Neva Gray  
Kathleen Ehli   •   Robin's Family  •  Truitt Bjorlin  •  Joan Canty & Dennis Albers •  Weng Ching  
Kieu-Thu Nguyen  •  Suzanne McVey •  Gary Hahn  •  Doug McHart


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