Launched in response to kestrel population declines across much of North America, The Peregrine Fund’s new American Kestrel Partnership is a network of citizen and professional scientists working to collaboratively advance kestrel demographics and conservation.
American Kestrels in decline
Most residents of the Western Hemisphere have seen American Kestrels, even if we can’t pick one out in a birding book. In fact, kestrels have long been appreciated as North America’s most abundant bird of prey: they watch us from ledges as we stop into a city café, or from power lines as we stroll along country highways. They also cram a lot of attitude into about four ounces of bird. Most people familiar with kestrels cannot resist hitting the brakes for a better view when they spot one hovering in midair, waiting for a mouse to make the wrong move.
Unfortunately, this historically common little falcon has become a rare sight in many regions of North America, where populations have been declining for numerous decades. In several areas the declines are relatively steep, such as the Bird Conservation Regions for the Southern Rocky Mountains/Colorado Plateau, Lower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Plain, and New England/Mid-Atlantic, illustrated in the graph at right and based on roadside count data from the USGS Breeding Bird Survey.
Reasons for population declines may include land use, climate change, depredation by Cooper’s Hawks and other birds of prey, competition with European Starlings for nesting cavities, and environmental contaminants such as rodenticides, heavy metals, and brominated flame retardants (used in electronics and textiles). However, researchers do not have sufficient data to understand why these long-term, wide-spread population declines are occurring. Counts like the Breeding Bird Survey indicate there are fewer breeding kestrels, but they cannot determine where the birds are having trouble in their life cycle. Are adults not returning after winter to breed? Are they dying at high rates during breeding, migration, or over-wintering? Are they not breeding as often or failing when they do try to breed? And, critically, how are these demographic processes influenced by land use, environmental contaminants, climate trends, and competing or predatory species?
These questions highlight the need for nestbox monitoring data, which offer demographic insights beyond head counts by giving us a glimpse into the kestrel life cycle. Although there are numerous successful nestbox programs across North America, they are largely localized and isolated from each other in a research context—making it difficult to draw reliable conclusions on a large scale. In response, the American Kestrel Partnership is coordinating an unprecedented, Western Hemispheric nestbox monitoring network and database by supporting existing nestbox programs and helping new programs fledge. Do you see kestrels where you live? Whether your local environment has growing, stable, or declining kestrel populations, we need your observations to advance kestrel demographics and conservation.
To learn more about kestrel population trends in your state or Bird Conservation Region, please visit our webpage on population declines.
How do I participate?
Anyone can join the Partnership by creating a Partner Profile on the website, whether you are simply curious about kestrels, work as a professional researcher, already maintain or want to develop a nestbox program, or want to donate to or sponsor the Partnership. To directly participate in the research process, you can build/buy, install, and monitor one or more kestrel nestboxes, and then enter your nestbox monitoring data through your Partner Profile on the Partnership website. Nestbox monitoring is simple and does not require professional research skills, so citizen scientists can make critical contributions to kestrel research and conservation. Professional scientists will then use models to explore relationships between your nesting data and data for environmental factors that might influence kestrel nesting success, such as land use, climate, environmental contaminants, and competing and predatory species. Your participation and data are critical for researchers to understand and address kestrel population declines. Through first-hand experience, we assure you that managing a kestrel nestbox program is a fun, easy, and rewarding experience, and in doing so, you can contribute to the largest American Kestrel research and conservation initiative in history.
In addition to collaborating with citizen scientists, the American Kestrel Partnership is partnering with professional scientists to conduct research that requires technical research skills, equipment, and grants. For more information, please visit our Research goals page.
We also encourage kestrel enthusiasts to consider becoming members of The Peregrine Fund. For thousands of American Kestrels, your donations help pay the rent.