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Tiny falcon…

My wife’s recent watercolor of an American Kestrel encouraged me to take a new look at the bird and recall my first childhood observations of one up close.

If a hawk hovers over an open grassy area in Florida between May and July, that little bird, or more accurately, falcon is a Southeastern American Kestrel. The northern migrant species has already left for cooler climates. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission contends "Recognizing the difference between the two subspecies solely by physical characteristics is nearly impossible with the naked eye as the two birds are so similar. The most reliable way to determine the subspecies is by documenting the time of the year that the sightings occur." However, the bird, also known as a sparrow hawk, offers a loud, ringing killy-killy-killy or klee-klee-klee no matter which species is darting through the air.

According to the Iowa Raptor Project research, "despite the generalist nature of this species, counts of long-term Breeding Bird Surveys, Christmas Bird Counts, migration data, and even nest box programs are showing regional population declines throughout the continent over the last century."

The Peregrine Fund started the American Kestrel Partnership in 2012 to recruit families, teachers, students, birders, scientists, and other wildlife enthusiasts to become citizen scientists. These partners contribute to kestrel science and conservation by building, installing, and monitoring nesting boxes and collecting data. Professional scientists use the information to understand how environmental factors like pollution, climate change, predators, and habitat loss affect the kestrel’s ability to reproduce.

An Audubon podcast gives an interesting view of The American Kestrel, a Tiny Killer Built for Speed.

From the 10th chapter, "The Barn," of Growing Up Floridian:

When hay bales filled the loft, that space took on new dimensions for games of hide and seek or war with attempts to tumble bales on top of each other. There were times when we helped fill that loft by stacking bales as they came off a new-fangled conveyer belt that was propped up through the east end loft door. One fascinating surprise was finding a pair of nesting American Kestrels had laid four eggs in a corner just inside the western loft door. Smokey and I were able to sneak up every day or so to watch the chicks develop. I read every piece of information I could find on falconry in our meager school library and concluded I was not ready to try to train a hawk to hunt. I was lucky enough to to see the last chick take his solo flight into the nearest pine tree early one evening. I sat in the same spot

in the loft several months later as a violent thunderstorm marched across the pastures delivering a great lightning bolt that exploded the biggest limb on that pine tree. The view from the loft gave a new perspective on the flat acres that rolled out from the barn to the south, west, and north. The view of the tree line to the east allowed me to imagine but not see the the dark creek flowing beneath the trees.

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