Locate American Kestrels

American kestrel

If you’re looking to see an American Kestrel for yourself, there are several places you can look. Large, open fields with short vegetation (usually grass) are a great place to search for kestrels. Mowed farm pastures, airfields, and meadows are often favored kestrel hunting grounds. Look for kestrels perched on buildings, utility wires, or trees around the edges of a field or clearing.

Often, before flying out to pursue prey, kestrels will pump their tails and bob their heads while perched. This behavior is believed to use a phenomenon called parallax to check the distance to the kestrel’s target by comparing different angles of view. During spring and fall migration (peaking in late April and September, respectively), many kestrels may be seen hovering and diving at favored locations along the coast or near major mountain ridge systems inland.

Some kestrels seem to have adapted to life in the big city. In urban areas such as Boston and Cambridge, you may see an American Kestrel perched on a television aerial or crawling into a hole in the side of a building to tend to its nest.

Typically, kestrels nest in tree cavities excavated by woodpeckers, but they will also accept human-made nest boxes or holes in the faces of buildings. Though many of our kestrels are migratory, some spend the whole year in Massachusetts. Look for kestrels during the winter in salt marshes, stubble fields, and other areas of short vegetation.