The Delaware County Kestrel Project – April 11, 2020

American Kestrel - Photo Mick Thompson

On April 11, Dick Phillips and I made our second round of checking eighteen American Kestrel nestboxes in the northern third of Delaware County, Ohio. The fifty-mile route on country roads is today’s version of nestboxes that were first made available before the 1993 season, and the first successful nest that followed in 1995. Since then, during 26 productive years kestrel nests have fledged 1,230 of North America’s smallest falcon. This is a community project that involved multiple agencies with school students raising money for the first ten boxes by recycling aluminum cans and other items. The Delaware County Bird Club coordinated the project after it was proposed by the Delaware Health District.

April 11 was our second box check for 2020. We checked all sites on March 11 to make sure all boxes had the proper amount of white-pine bedding. The wood shavings are needed so the falcons can shape their nest cups into oblong shapes that I enter as “KC” for “kestrel cups” in my data book. Kestrels, like other cavity nesters, rely on woodpeckers in their totally natural world. Unfortunately, America’s most common non-native avian species, the European Starling, will completely excavate wood shavings before it fashions its own grass nest with a round cup.

On March 11, we added shavings to four boxes that had been emptied by starlings, and added some shavings to two boxes with kestrel cups that were deep enough to scrape bare a small segment of the wooden floor. Twelve boxes had kestrel cups and one was occupied by a dedicated and confident male kestrel that remained in the box even after the ladder was lowered.

On April 11, Dick arrived at my place in his new Chevrolet Silverado truck. The new truck’s bed was higher than his old truck, so we had to implement new procedures to coordinate loading and unloading the ladder. We quickly adjusted as monitoring took place.

Female Kestrel on Eggs

Flared breast feathers are a sign that this female kestrel is on eggs. She is facing the front panel.

We recorded 14 nests claimed by kestrels. Eggs were counted in six nests; five nests held five eggs each, and one nest had two eggs. Three nests had no eggs but had kestrel cups awaiting clutches. Most interesting to the monster-man in the bird’s ceiling, was that five nests were topped by female kestrels. Like the male falcon seen a month earlier, all females stayed on their nests making me believe they were possibly incubating eggs. I would like to mention, that in the past, even though we have attached U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leg bands to most of the nestlings, we have never banded adults. Bird Banders that do band kestrel adults, capture them outside their nests with a variety of methods that are away from their nestboxes. Our adult kestrels have never had a traumatic experience because of our actions, therefore, they are simply annoyed at best. Also, I would like to add that there is no way that I would feel safe looking into a kestrel’s nest chamber from a side-opening box. Like the kestrel, I don’t want a face-to-face encounter, especially when I’m standing on a ladder many feet above the ground. Our top-opening box is featured in the Audubon Birdhouse Book by Margaret A. Barker and Elissa Wolfson. Check it out!

 On April 11, starling eggs were found in all four boxes that had been found emptied of their shavings a month earlier. Starlings had laid two clutches of six eggs and two of seven for a total of 26 eggs. I removed the eggs, and once broken, they were found to be as fresh as breakfast chicken eggs. As always, we do not remove the grass nests since kestrels will reshape a starling’s round cup into an oval one if they win a takeover. We make sure that we check our boxes every two weeks so we don’t encounter starling nestlings since I don’t kill nestlings. As I have written before, you can teach young starlings to talk like parrots and they are not protected by the Migratory Bird Act since they are not a native species. Also, we have found that starlings will not start new nests with eggs after the first week of June.

Well, this short update turned out to be longer than planned, but as you drive along country roads, remember that long necks with small heads belong to doves, while large heads showing no necks belong to kestrels. Raptor on!