Catch sight of a small bird with narrow wings and a long square-tipped tail, hovering beside a road or perched on a telephone wire, and you’ve likely seen an American kestrel.
But glimpses of North America’s smallest falcon are becoming fewer and farther between. That’s because kestrel numbers have declined sharply over the last half-century. On the Colorado Plateau, numbers are down by about 50%, even more in other parts up the country where up to 90% of once-thriving kestrel populations have disappeared.
The birds pack a predator’s fierce punch in their tiny bodies, but they’re not immune to the fallout from suburban development. Human sprawl and encroachment are affecting grassland hunting grounds where kestrels catch insects, rodents and lizards. And it’s becoming harder for them to find holes in trees and barns to nest in.
That’s why the American Kestrel Project has started a national program to install nest boxes meant to encourage survival and population recovery.
Maya Rappaport, a master’s student at Northern Arizona University, spearheads the Flagstaff Kestrel Project. She coordinates volunteers to build and install boxes across the city and surrounding areas.
During the coming nesting season, Rappaport will gather teams of volunteers to check nest boxes for new chicks. Once hatched, Rappaport will band the new youngsters so their migration patterns can be tracked.
That data will then go to national Kestrel Project scientists to help better understand how to protect and rebuild populations. If you’d like to get involved in the project, log onto www.communityconserves.org.