© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved. kestrels2016-fledglings7

Double-Brooding American Kestrels in Providence

American Kestrels are colorful little falcons most commonly found in grasslands and meadows. At only 7-8 inches long, they are the smallest falcons in North America. Sadly, their numbers are in sharp decline nationally (88% decline in New England since 1966) which is why it is very special that this local pair added seven offspring to the population this year. They also proved kestrels can thrive in an urban environment – nesting in a vent in a concrete wall at a junk yard.

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.
© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

Most raptors (including kestrels) raise a single brood per year due to the time and effort required for success (incubation period 26–32 days, nestling period 28–31 days, followed by weeks of training to fly and hunt). If a clutch (eggs) or brood (nestlings) is lost early in the season, the adults may try again if there is enough time. Producing two successful, successive broods in a single season is extremely rare and will only happen if the female is very fertile and food is abundant.

Here’s how the story unfolded this summer in Providence:

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

Above is mom and below is a female fledgling. Females have rusty/red wings and striped tails.

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

Below is dad – males have slate/blue wings and mostly red tails with a black stripe at the tip.

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

June 28: Mom (left) with 3 fledglings (two females and one male). Notice how mom’s chest feathers are disheveled, but the fledglings look brand new. Their behavior also indicated which one was the adult… mom was keeping a protective eye on the odd-looking human, and the fledglings were begging her for food.

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

After feeding her three fledglings, the adult female flew directly into the vent (her nesting cavity) and stayed inside for 30 minutes before darting out. This behavior was unusual. Why would she do this when her nestlings had already fledged?! Perhaps another nestling was inside and would shortly exit too, so mom entered to feed it? Nope – she didn’t bring any food into the vent. Perhaps a prey species was inside and the kestrel was hunting? Nope – she never exited with food either.

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.
© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

Her odd behavior continued for three weeks – still never entering nor exiting with food.

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.
© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

Another explanation was a second clutch of eggs inside the vent. Her disheveled chest feathers supported this theory. The male’s messy chest feathers also indicated he may be sharing in incubating duties. He too entered and exited without food.

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.
© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.
© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.
© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

July 16: Double-brooding confirmed… beautiful nestlings inside the vent, only a few days old.

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

There were five in all, with one much smaller than the others – the “runt”.

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

July 23: One week later, the “runt” sadly disappeared, but the four other nestlings looked bigger and healthy. Outside was the last sighting of a fledging from the first brood. The adults had likely stopped feeding them and now devoted all resources to the new nestlings. The first set of fledglings were now on their own.

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

July 30: Flight feathers had started to appear and you could already tell their sexes – one female on the left with a reddish wing, and blue wings on the other three males.

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

After these hatchlings appeared, both parents finally began to bring food into the vent. Usually the male would pass food to the female who would then enter the vent while he returned to hunting.

What did they eat? Everything! Many small rodents…

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.
© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

…dragonflies…

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

…tomato hornworms…

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

…and nestlings of House Sparrows, European Starlings and other small bird species.

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.
© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

This Northern Mockingbird likely had its own nest hidden nearby and wasn’t happy to see a kestrel in the neighborhood.

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

August 3: Four adorable little predators peering at the world outside

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.
© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.
© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

August 7: Almost ready to go…

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.
© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.
© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.
© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

August 9: Two males were out – one was sleeping safely in a corner on the ground…

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

…and another found shelter under a table.

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

The adult male arrived with lunch, a tomato hornworm, and handed it off to this male fledgling.

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

August 11: The final nestling became a fledgling and posed for portraits before flying up to the safety of the trees. The downy feathers remaining on his head will disappear in a week.

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.
© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.
© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.
© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.
© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.
© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

August 20: Final sighting of two fledglings, sister and brother. Soon they will migrate south for the winter.

© 2016 Peter Green. All rights reserved.

Godspeed, young kestrels!

You can help kestrels
Whether you live in the country, suburbs, or a city, you can easily buy/build and install a nest box to attract kestrels and help them thrive in the wild! The American Kestrel Partnership is a network of citizen and professional scientists working to collaboratively advance kestrel demographics and conservation.
How you can become a citizen scientist
Plans to build a kestrel nest box
My photos of “urban kestrels” featured on the AKP website

Other documented double-brooding American Kestrels:
Double Brooding by American Kestrels in Central Missouri, 1985
Double Brooding by American Kestrels in Idaho, 1997

Kestrels in Providence from previous years:
Kestrels outside my window and nest box installation, 2015
Born To Be Wild: Kestrel release in Providence, 2013
Flashy family of American Kestrels, 2011


8 Comments

  1. Michelle
    Posted 09.05.16 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Yet another beautiful series!

  2. Posted 09.05.16 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Peter, this compilation is just superb!!! Great sequencing and the pictures (as usual) are over the top!! Congratulations from all of here at the Born To Be Wild Nature Center!!!

  3. Susan Stevenson
    Posted 09.05.16 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Peter, for illustrating this “good news” story. The time you invested in observing and recording this succesful event, times two, brings a glimmer of hope for this declining population. Sue Stevenson

  4. Sandra Wynacht
    Posted 09.05.16 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    Simply, “Wow!!” Terrific job of giving us all a glimpse into the world of the urban kestrel! Great series! I hope they return next year so there can be more wonderful pictures and info and more new kestrels to add to the population!

  5. Posted 09.06.16 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic observations, photography, and story that you’ve superbly communicated here! Many thanks for your invaluable contribution to the American Kestrel Partnership and your continued commitment to kestrel conservation science. Thanks from all of us here at The Peregrine Fund!

    Sarah Schulwitz, Assistant Director of the American Kestrel Partnership
    kestrel.peregrinefund.org

  6. Sandy Ferreira
    Posted 09.06.16 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Excellent observations and photography, you captured their lifecycle perfectly. It is great to see, in this case the Kestrels have adapted to urban life in the City in spite of all the challenges to survive, hunt for food, shelter and habitat. Great story!

  7. Audrey Shirts
    Posted 09.06.16 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    Sue Stevenson forwarded your beautifully photographed story of this amazing pair. Kestrels are so beautiful. They have provided me with a thrill when I have been fortunate to see them.

  8. Adele Angelone
    Posted 09.08.16 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Peter this series is amazing! You’ve captured the beauty and resilience of these powerful little falcons! Great work as usual!

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