Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Little Angel

The American Kestrel was one of my mother’s favorite birds.  This small member of the Falcon family can be seen hovering over the grassy areas along roads and highways.  To me they look almost like an angel, still in the air, as they hunt for bugs and mice below.  

Sassy, one of the WBS resident American Kestrels (photo: Gay Schroer)

Kestrels seemed to have been more common years ago when we had more cloverleaf interchanges and the grass was cut short.  The trend today by most highway departments is to let the medians, interchanges and roadsides grow up in native plants, which are only mowed once or twice a year. The World Bird Sanctuary has placed hundreds of nest boxes along highways to accommodate Kestrels looking for homes.

Population studies have shown conflicting data and have shown yearly variations in populations.  Some population drops were regional phenomena.  Other drops seemed to coincide with the rise in the population of Coopers Hawks, which would indicate loss by predation. Luckily we have recently seen increases nationwide in kestrel numbers, but they seem to be a fragile species in some areas.

These small falcons sometimes appear to hover in mid-air when hunting (photo: Gay Schroer)

Besides national studies, which were instituted in recent years by the government and some universities, the World Bird Sanctuary has noticed reductions in the number of American Kestrels admitted to our wildlife hospital.  This has taken place over a number of years, so we thought we might investigate. 

We have many interns each season at the Sanctuary who are assigned special projects as one of the goal of their internship, and we try to give them interesting projects to do while they are here.  Kim Sage was the intern chosen to research these yearly fluctuations in kestrel admissions, not only at World Bird Sanctuary, but at centers throughout the country. 

Kim contacted fifteen centers to see if they could dig through their files and see how many kestrels were admitted in recent years.  They reported that admissions had fallen in most areas of the country, probably meaning kestrel numbers dropped in that part of the country.  In the Northeast kestrel admissions were already starting to rise by the time we published our report in our Mews News newsletter, and the other studies finished.

We still don’t seem to get the historic numbers of kestrels at the hospital that we once did, but we admit 20 to 30 each year.  Most of the kestrels we receive at the World Bird Sanctuary Wildlife hospital are collision victims, most likely hit by car or truck (or sometimes even trucks that might be carrying cars).  Another large group is orphans. 

These little Falcons seem to be making a strong comeback, but you might not see them in the same areas where we were accustomed to seeing them--by the highways. 

On your next long car trip watch in fields where the grass is short and you might see a little angel hovering over the ground.

Submitted by Joe Hoffmann, World Bird Sanctuary Wildlife Hospital Manager

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