American Kestrel

American Kestrel


All of North America and most of South America


Kestrels are very adaptable and are found in all types of habitat, especially fields and farmlands


This bird is one of the smallest of all birds of prey. Like all falcons, kestrels have large heads, notched beaks and heavy-shouldered, streamlined bodies. Outward pointed, cone shaped projections in the center of the round nostrils slow down the air flow to allow fast flight without damaging the bird's lungs. The wings and tail are long and the tarsi (ankles) are slender and bare. The head of the adult male has a cinnamon crown surrounded by slate-blue, the face and throat are white with black malars (eye stripes) below the dark eyes. The underparts are basically white to buff, suffused with light amber brown. The wings are slate-blue, the back cinnamon, both being spotted with black. The dark cinnamon tail has a black terminal band. The juvenile male is colored like the adult male except the back and underparts are more heavily streaked and spotted and the tail is tipped with white. The adult female's head is marked like the male. The back, wings and tail are cinnamon barred with dark brown. The underparts are white, streaked with cinnamon. The juvenile female is more heavily streaked than the adult. Adult plumage is reached at 1 year. In both sexes the beak is blue-black and the legs and feet are yellow. This yellow coloring darkens with age.

American Kestrel

Often seen perching on utility lines and fence posts, kestrels are easily recognized by their continual head and tail bobbing. They may still hunt from perches or fly low over fields, occasionally hovering until prey is sighted. They are excellent fliers and often dive from great heights to capture prey. Kestrels are aggressive, vocal birds, often calling while in flight and harassing larger birds when they come too close.


In Utah pair bonding takes place in April and 4 or 5 white eggs are usually laid in tree cavities, on cliffs or old nests of other birds during May. The young are cared for by both parents, if a parent is killed, the other will raise the young. After a 20 - 30 day incubation the youth hatch and fledge after 3 weeks.

Interesting Facts:

The American kestrel is commonly known as the sparrowhawk. It is closely related to the old world kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) but is in no way related to the Eurasian sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus). This is a good example of the usefulness of scientific names.


The Zoo works with HawkWatch International to help protect the American kestrel in the wild.

Did YOU Know?    
Kestrels are very beneficial to man in that they eat rodents and insects. They are also used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine how enviornmental pollutants are affecting less common raptors.
American Kestrel
Native Utah Animal
Class: birds
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Falconidae
Genus: Falco
Species: sparverius
Length: Body: 8 1/2 - 12 inches; wingspan: 21 inches
Weight: about 4 ounces
Average Lifespan: 15 years
Wild Diet: Rodents and insects form the bulk of their diet. There are records of kestrels eating up to 90 grasshoppers in 1 day. Songbirds are seldom taken.
Predators: Man and larger raptors, especially accipiters
USFWS Status: Not Listed
CITES Status: Not Listed
Where at the Zoo? Off Exhibit: Education Animal Facility

Learn more about birds or animals from North America!
Or, cross-reference the two!