Today, I had the opportunity to band American Kestrels with the Pennsylvania Game Commission at State Game Lands #205. SGL #205 in Lehigh County has excellent grassland habitat and is home to numerous kestrels that require this open environment. In order to keep track of breeding success of this important grassland bird, the game commission bands chicks every year. While not all the chicks on the property could be banded today, we did find a bunch:
The first nest box was right next to the game lands headquarters building. We started our morning here and found five baby kestrels–four males and one female. The group set up a ladder, then the licensed bird bander climbed up…
…and placed the chicks into a bucket.
When the young kestrels were brought down, each one was weighed and banded.
Once the whole batch was recorded, they were placed back in the nest box right where they were found. We then headed out to the larger fields to the other nest boxes where we found plenty of baby kestrels!
The boxes all contained between two and five offspring. Many of the birds were very colorful, ready to fledge, and ready to be banded.
A couple of these youngsters were quite feisty and tried as hard as possible to escape by biting, clawing, flying, and running.
Others were still very young and docile. These little guys could not yet be banded.
The success of the American Kestrels at this State Game Lands is very exciting to me, as I have noticed that this species has become increasingly difficult to find here in eastern Pennsylvania. Loss of crucial habitat is a major factor in the decline of this beautiful falcon. With current development of large-scale building projects in former agricultural areas, kestrels are going to continue to have a very hard time surviving.
Other grassland species are facing the same threats. Many of the other bird species I heard and saw at the game lands today–Grasshopper Sparrows, Orchard Orioles, Field Sparrows–will all disappear along with the fields. This is why the work that the game commission does is so important. The Pennsylvania Game Commission works to conserve, improve, and maintain large tracts of important habitat so that all wildlife, not just game species, can thrive.