About American Kestrels

American kestrel pair © Matt Kamm, Mass Audubon
American kestrel pair © Matt Kamm, Mass Audubon

American Kestrels are America’s smallest falcons. Although they are birds of prey, American Kestrels only measure about 9” from head to tail – about the size of a robin or Blue Jay.

Males and females also look appreciably different. Male kestrels have slaty-blue wings and buffy, spotted bellies while female kestrels have rufous wings and a belly marked by vertical brown streaks. Both sexes have “mustache” and “sideburn” markings on their faces, rufous backs, and the pointed wings and long, square-tipped tails typical of falcons.

Despite their small size, kestrels are skilled hunters. They use their excellent vision to spot prey from a tall perch such as a tree or power line. Once it has located its prey, a kestrel will fly over its intended meal and hover motionless in the air, perfecting the angle of attack before dropping like a stone to capture its prize. Kestrels may prey on large insects, small mammals, or small birds.