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It’s not easy being North America’s smallest falcon. You’re tiny enough to be eaten by larger raptors. Sometimes, when you visit your favorite feeding grounds, you find that buildings have replaced the grasslands that used to provide tasty prey. This is the situation for Kestrel Land Trust’s namesake, the American Kestrel (falco sparverius), as one of the most rapidly declining species in Massachusetts.

Because the causes for this decline are unclear, Kestrel Land Trust (KLT) has been working with the U.S. Forest Service, the MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, MassAudubon, and others to observe kestrel populations in hopes of helping to determine and address those causes. The Kestrel Nest Box Project is our effort to help boost their chances of adding to the next generation.

Kestrel Land Trust collaborates with other land trusts and government agencies to add protected land to the Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, including adding 32 acres of grassland to the Fort River Division that today hosts our kestrel nest boxes. Protection of this parcel in 2012 inspired Kestrel Land Trust to initiate our kestrel box project, in which we participate in a statewide effort to provide nesting habitat for kestrels and learn more about them through banding.

In 2012, KLT partnered with community organizations to build and install 12 American kestrel nest boxes on conservation lands and other properties in the Pioneer Valley, including the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge in Hadley, Hampshire College Farm Center, and Amherst College Wildlife Sanctuary. We have continued adding boxes over the years with the help of volunteers and partners. The ongoing project is part of a larger effort by state agencies and nonprofits to preserve and restore habitat throughout the Commonwealth.

Each year, we recruit skilled volunteers to regularly observe bird activity around the boxes beginning late March or early April to collect data about the birds that are using them for nesting. Since 2013, the project’s first year, we have collaborated with Massachusetts State Ornithologist Andrew Vitz to band adult and nestling kestrels with lightweight ID cuffs around their legs.

Because of skilled volunteers willing to watch and report on activity at all the boxes, valuable information is being shared with the the State Ornithologist to add to his statewide study, which aims to learn more about how to save Kestrel Land Trust’s namesake.

Since 2013, the project has supported dozens of kestrel pairs that have produced nearly 200 baby kestrels as of 2020! Read about each year’s successes and challenges in the seasonal reports above. And, watch these short videos to learn more!

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