The American Kestrel is North America’s smallest falcon. However, what it lacks in size it makes up for in vivid plumage of orange and blue, packing more charisma-per-ounce than most others of its size in the sky. Observant visitors to the Arb during migration seasons may glimpse a kestrel hovering over the prairie, or perching on a post or powerline to survey its huntingterritory.
Unfortunately, kestrel populations are dropping across the country, by as much as 75% in Minnesota over the last five years, and researchers don’t fully understand why. Dominant theories include the loss of open grassland, environmental contaminants, or competition with European Starlings for nesting areas, but the lack of data over long time periods makes it difficult to determine where exactly the falcons are having the most trouble in their life cycle.
To help contribute to data collecting projects, and to encourage regional kestrel breeding, Arboretum staff worked with volunteers to install four nesting boxes on tall poles along the edges of the Arboretum’s prairies. These boxes are meant to mimic the tree cavities where kestrels naturally nest while providing protection from egg-snatching predators, like raccoons.
No mating pairs have yet been observed using the boxes; however, kestrels begin their search for nesting sites in February in Minnesota, and student naturalists recently spotted a lone falcon flying above the prairies in the lower Arb.
Whether you’re visiting the Arb on skis, snowshoes, or braving it on boot now that winter is warming away, keep an eye out for any flashes of orange and blue above the prairie. As always, wildlife observations can be reported online through the Cowling Arboretum website, and greatly assist in efforts like these to bolster the wellbeing of our fellow users of the Arboretum.