North American Kestrel

Falco sparverius

Order: Falconiformes

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

Diet Requirements

  • In the wild, primary prey are small rodents and a variety of insects.
  • In captivity, they are fed chicks, quail, mice, ducklings, and Dallas Crown.

Veterinary Concerns

Notes on Enrichment & Training

Programmatic Information

Tips on Presentation

Tips on Handling

  • Transport box suggestions: Raptor Rig and Varikennel.
  • A couple things to keep in mind, if using the handle on the top of the transport box do not rest the bottom on your hip. It will cause the box to bounce, this might lead to an uncomfortable ride and decrease the likelihood that the bird will go in the box on future occasions. If the perch is to low for the bird, their tail feathers may get painted with fecal matter which does not look good on presentation. Varikennel you are able to adjust the height of the perch.

Potential Messaging

  • This species is in decline across North America, though a pinpoint cause has yet to be determined.

Acquisition Information

Comments from the Rating System

  • Philadelphia Zoo: Tends to be flightier

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Kestrels live throughout the United States and Canada in warm months, and the middle States into South American in the winter. Preferred habitat is open country, farmlands, forest edges, and cities.

Physical Description

Males are easily distinguished from females by their size (males are smaller) and their slate blue wings (females have brown wings.) Kestrels possess a pair of false eye spots, or ocelli, on the nape of their neck. These dark circles are thought to be a form a protective coloration because they look like watching eyes and may deter potential predators.

Their sharp talons are used to grab their prey while the hooked beak is used to tear the prey into ingestible pieces.

North American kestrels are 9 to 12 inches in length. They are the smallest of the North American falcons.

Life Cycle

Kestrels are secondary cavity nesters, nesting in abandoned tree cavities. They may return to the same nesting site, or at least general area if not the same nest, year after year. Typical clutch sizes are 5 eggs, which are incubated for 30 days. Male kestrels will assist with incubation, a trait rare in birds of prey.

Young leave the nest at 28-32 days, but continue to persist in their natal area for the remainder of the summer with their siblings and may be supplemented by their parents.

In the wild, kestrels can live up to 8 to 11 years, but typical longevity is usually 3-6 years. In captivity, the oldest recorded animal reached 17 years of age.


Kestrels lead solitary lives for most of the year. They can also be seen perched on telephone poles, or on wires over grassy expanses.

Threats and Conservation Status

American Kestrels are not listed as endangered, due to their widespread range from North to South America, but their numbers are declining, and in some regions have dropped more than 88% since the 1960s, such as the Mid-Atlantic. While no cause has been pinpointed, this may be due to the use of pesticides, loss of hunting and nesting habitat, climate change, exposure to new zoonotic diseases (such as Avian Influenza and West Nile) and human encroachment. Though often cited, some have thought that increased predation from Cooper’s Hawks may have contributed to their decline, but this has since been refuted.

Prejudices against birds of prey still persist among many who wrongly believe that they harm wildlife or present major threats to domestic animals. Biological studies have documented their ecological importance as major controls on rodent populations. Some birds of prey feed on snakes, insects or other potential pests. No species of raptor poses a significant threat to domestic animals.

Instruct guests to never litter, especially when they are in a car. Throwing trash out along the roads not only makes the roads less attractive, but can also attract animals to the sides of the road. Some of these animals might look appetizing to an owl, hawk, or other predator which are then more likely to be hit by passing vehicles.

For more information, check out the Peregrine Fund’s American Kestrel Partnership and the Brandywine Zoo’s Delaware Kestrel Partnership.

Did you know…

  • Kestrels are able to hover in the air while using their keen eyesight to search the ground below for prey.
  • Like other birds of prey, falcons ingest all of the prey animal, and later regurgitate the less digestible parts into a small pellet. This is called “casting a pellet.”
  • Falcons can be distinguished from hawks by their long, tapered wings.



Any Documents to attach, species spotlights, etc.

Contributors and Citations

  • The Philadelphia Zoo

Photo Credit: Brandywine Zoo