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Kestrel Nest Box Project 2017 Season Report

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Kestrel chick in hand

Chris Volonte, Conservation & Stewardship Manager, provides a report on the 2017 Kestrel Nest Box season.

It’s been our longest season ever and I’m happy to present a season summary that reflects our most successful season so far, with 6 of 18 boxes successfully occupied and 27 chicks (16 females, 11 males) hatched and banded. Our previous best year (2016) saw 4 of 16 boxes successfully occupied and 20 chicks banded.

Successfully Occupied Nest Boxes:

  • Box 2, North Maple St., Hadley (5 chicks, 4 F, 1M)
  • Box 5, Conte Refuge, Hadley (5 chicks, 3 F, 2M)
  • Box 14, Huntington Rd., Hadley (5 chicks, 2 F, 3M)
  • Box 18, Montague Rd., Westhampton (3 chicks, 1F, 2M)
  • Box 19, Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton (4 chicks, 3F, 1M)
  • Box 21, Mountain Rd., Holyoke (5 chicks, 3 F, 2 M)

Kestrel adults were seen near 14 of the 18 boxes (including both occupied and unoccupied boxes). One box (Box 7 at the Conte Refuge) was unsuccessfully occupied – 4 eggs were laid but 3 disappeared and the third was abandoned. One box (Box 11 at Crimson & Clover Farm) hosted tree swallows for the fourth year in a row – though an adult female kestrel was seen perching on the box early in the season.

Using a pole-mounted camera to check for chicks in the nest box.

This season also saw the implementation of Board member Anthony Hill’s pole-mounted nest-box camera, which enabled us to peek inside the boxes with minimal disturbance to potential occupants. This device greatly enhanced our ability to quickly check boxes, and we will definitely be using it next year!

We also spent a full day checking occupied boxes with Tufts graduate student Matt Kamm, who is researching American kestrel breeding habitat. We thank Matt and his assistants for a great day learning to age chicks by feather development.

Lastly, this year the Kestrel Nest Box project was visited by reporter Dave Fraser, who produced a segment that aired on WGBY’s Connecting Point series on July 5.  In case you missed it, you can watch it here. Dave also filmed our banding activities on August 1. Many thanks to Dave for doing such a great job!


Kestrel Banding Results

Box 2, North Maple St., Hadley: 4 females, 1 male banded on June 28

Kestrel chicks in bucket
Here is the group, relaxing in their transport bucket. The male is easily distinguished from his sisters by his blue-gray wings and less banded back.
Another first for the project this year — the first person to be pooped on by a kestrel! This happens a lot when banding songbirds but more rarely with raptors. The event always inspires joy and hilarity among witnesses. I was the lucky target—and yes, that is the culprit in my left hand. (Is he laughing?)


Box 5, Conte Refuge, Hadley: 3 females, 2 males banded on June 28

Here, one of the males is about to have his wing measured. He is a good illustration of the fact that this year, we chose to band the chicks when they were slightly older, based on information Anthony received at a kestrel conference. Note how few downy feathers remain on his head.


Box 14, Huntington Rd., Hadley: 2 females, 3 males banded on June 28

Here is one of the male chicks showing off his blue wing plumage. Note the blocks of color on his tail – the tails of females are banded brown/black.


Box 21, Mountain Rd., Holyoke: 3 females, 2 males banded on July 7

Sorry, no pictures of chicks this time! It was a dark and rainy morning when we banded this group, but thanks to the graciousness of the box hosts, we were able to transport the chicks in a covered bucket to a spacious outdoor porch for banding. The birds stayed nice and dry. We did not.

Here is a picture of the box and its lovely setting on a more benign day!


A kestrel’s eye view from the box – nice digs!


 Box 19, Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton: 3 females, 1 male banded on July 10

Here is one of the females relaxing in the transport bucket. Contrast her plumage to the male chick shown above (Box 14).


Here is a good look at the bands. The small one on the left is a standard USGS issued band with the bird’s unique “social security” number on it. The larger green one is meant to be visible to an observer using binoculars or a spotting scope. This one is “V/2”. Keep an eye out for these green bands on kestrels in our area! Kestrels may return to their birth area to breed, and we’d love to get documentation of a return by one of our chicks.


Box 18, Montague Rd., Westhampton: 1 female, 2 males Banded on August 1

This box hosted a kestrel family for the first time this year! This is the latest clutch of chicks we’ve encountered. The adults were observed for weeks and we checked the box three times to no avail. Finally, 4 eggs were seen on June 21 and 3 tiny fluffy chicks were seen on July 19 (the fourth egg never hatched). The latest date we’ve banded chicks previous to this year was July 10, 2015. (Note that this year, the chicks at Park Hill Orchard were also banded on July 10.) While we were banding the chicks, one of the adults was seen chasing off a broad-winged hawk.
Anthony holding kestrel
Here is Anthony Hill, master bird bander and Kestrel Land Trust board member, with one of the male chicks (Photo courtesy of Dave Fraser).


Many thanks to all of our volunteers for their contributions to this effort to support and protect this beautiful little falcon species. See you next year!


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