Saving Kestrel’s Namesake: The Kestrel Nest Box Project
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. 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 Mass. State Ornithologist Andrew Vitz to band adult and nestling kestrels with lightweight ID cuffs around their legs. Since 2013 (the first year the boxes were available during breeding season), the project has supported 19 kestrel pairs that produced 79 chicks, with a high of 28 chicks in 2017.
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.