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Southeastern American Kestrel Monitoring…take two!

Anna Fasoli|

These four chicks are over 13 days old. Their primaries and tail feathers are "pinning" out of their feather sheaths. At this stage, chicks go from being adorable to being little monsters (see next photo).

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!

American Kestrel nest box overlooking a horse track; Levy County, Florida

American Kestrel nest box overlooking a horse track; Levy County, Florida

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.

Southeastern American Kestrel - female; Levy County, Florida

Southeastern American Kestrel – female; Levy County, Florida

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.

Southeastern American Kestrels typically lay a five egg clutch

Southeastern American Kestrels typically lay a five egg clutch.

These kestrel chicks are just one day old; as you can see, breaking out of an egg is hard work, and makes you sleepy.

These kestrel chicks are just one day old; as you can see, breaking out of an egg is hard work, and makes you sleepy.

These kestrel chicks are about four days old. They still stick together in a clump and haven't really moved far from where they broke out of their eggs. The last chick that hatched is a bit smaller and is hidden beneath its larger siblings. The runt will catch up in development by fledging time, but it will be noticeably smaller throughout development.

These kestrel chicks are about four days old. They still stick together in a clump and haven’t really moved far from where they broke out of their eggs. The last chick that hatched is a bit smaller and is hidden beneath its larger siblings. The runt will catch up in development by fledging time, but it will be noticeably smaller throughout development. This is typical for most raptor species.

These chicks are about seven days old. Notice how they look less feeble and are much more alert!

These chicks are about seven days old. Notice how they look less feeble and are much more alert!

This chick is all alone in the box. His siblings likely never made it to hatching, as evidence by the lack of "whitewash" on the walls. Don't feel too sorry for him, though...he will get an overdose of food and be more than ready to be on his own come fledging time.

This chick is all alone in the box. His siblings likely never made it to hatching, as evidence by the lack of “whitewash” on the walls. Don’t feel too sorry for him, though…he will get an overdose of food and be more than ready to be on his own come fledging time.

Here is a close-up of the same chick as above, because it is adorable. It is too early to tell the sex of this chick yet.

Here is a close-up of the same chick as above, because it is adorable. It is too early to tell the sex of this chick.

These four chicks are over 13 days old. Their primaries and tail feathers are "pinning" out of their feather sheaths. At this stage, chicks go from being adorable to being little monsters (see next photo).

These four chicks are over 13 days old. Their primaries and tail feathers are “pinning” out of their feather sheaths. At this stage, chicks go from being adorable to being little monsters (see next photo). Even within just one box, you can have an adorable calm chick (far left) and a monster (far right).

These chicks are over 15 days old. They can now be sexed and they are losing their downy "fluff." Hissing, biting, and rolling on backs is a typical reaction from now on...they grow up so fast!  Really, they do....

These chicks are over 15 days old. They can now be sexed, and they are losing their downy “fluff.” Hissing, biting, and rolling on backs is a typical reaction from now on…they grow up so fast! Really, they do….

 

About the Author

Anna Fasoli

Anna is a field biologist who has traveled all over the US working on different research projects. She has worked with Whooping Cranes, Northern Saw-whet Owls, Least Terns, Piping Plovers, Wilson's Snipe, Whimbrel, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, migrant eastern raptors, Crested Caracara, Long-billed Curlew, Florida Scrub-Jays and the southeastern subspecies of American Kestrels.

  • fasnaz

    Good article Anna…..very interesting and good information and adorable pics!