After a year and a half of environmental consulting on wind projects in Pennsylvania, I have jumped back into the wonderful world of ornithological field work. This time I won’t be travelling as much, but will be just as busy. Since early March, I’ve been back in Florida for another round of Southeastern American Kestrel monitoring in Marion and Levy counties, working for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission out of Gainesville, FL. I have also been spending time mapping Florida Scrub-Jay territories in Ocala National Forest. I did the same in 2012, so I feel like I am in a strange time warp. As usual, field season is an extremely busy time of year, trying to keep track of what is happening in 140+ kestrel boxes, and a number of active jay nests (though not nearly 140!). I am plagued with nightmares of jay nests that I just can’t see into, and visions of snakes gulping down kestrel chicks. To say that this work is life-consuming is an understatement. This year we are lucky enough to have volunteers helping on both ends, though, which is much appreciated!
As you may remember from some of my kestrel posts in 2012, Southeastern American Kestrels are a resident non-migratory subspecies of American Kestrel. They are, in general, much lighter in color, with males having reduced breast and side-flank spotting, than their northern migratory counterparts, in addition to an un-streaked back. Females are much paler with finer breast and side-flank streaking. There is much variation though, within the subspecies throughout Florida. Natural cavities all over North America are declining, so American Kestrels benefit from nest box programs. In Florida, nesting begins in early March, with first chicks hatching in early April, and subsequently fledging in early May (NOW!). Through June and even into July, boxes will have some various stage of kestrel development happening within them, and we will do our best to try to keep track of this using ladders and “peeper” poles.
Here is a sample of most of the stages of development for kestrel chicks from initiation through about day 20 (all photos from this year). These photos are too adorable to hoard away on my computer until the end of field season. It is a privilege to be able to capture the life of a cavity-nesting species, and I am happy to share what I observe.