American Kestrel

Falco sparverius
Range Map

Once known as the “Sparrow Hawk”, American Kestrels are the smallest of all American falcons. They are the only kestrel found in the Americas. These birds breed across most of North and South America and are resident (year round) in most of their range. However, in Canada, Alaska and parts of the northern tier of the USA, it is only a summer visitor.

Since it was first described in scientific literature during the late 1700s, science has divided the species into seventeen subspecies. Two of these (F. s. sparverius and F. s. paulus) live in the continental USA. The rest make their homes in the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America:

  • F. s. sparverius breeds across most of the North American range except the southeastern USA and coastal areas of northwestern Mexico and southern Baja California (Mexico).
  • F. s. paulus lives in the southeastern USA from Louisiana east to Florida and north into South Carolina.
  • F. s. peninsularis lives in southern Baja California (Mexico) and in Sonora and Sinaloa. Some spend winters south to Mazatlán.

Another 14 subspecies occur from southern Mexico south through Central and South America, and in the Caribbean:

  • F. s. tropicalis, F. s. nicaraguensis, F. s. sparverioides, F. s. dominicensis, F. s. caribaearum, F. s. brevipennis, F. s. isabellinus, F. s. ochraceus, F. s. caucae, F. s. fernandensis, F. s. cinnamominus, and F. s. cearae.

American Kestrels are versatile predators, making their living hunting grasshoppers, dragonflies, lizards, mice, voles, and small birds, and is one reason they are the most abundant falcon in the western hemisphere, yet they are in decline in many areas because of environmental contaminants such as pesticides and the decreasing availability of suitable nest sites (cavities).

Those who of us who have been lucky enough to see one of these birds up close can testify to its beauty. Most of my meetings have been in southern California, but northern California, Oregon, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico have shared their kestrels with me.

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