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American Kestrel, Laure Wilson Neish
Photo © Laure Wilson Neish

Photo: Laure Wilson Neish
Breeding evidence - American Kestrel
Breeding evidence
Probability of observation - American Kestrel
Probability of observation
Elevation plot - American Kestrel
Elevation plot

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American Kestrel
Falco sparverius
Landscape associations:

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Elevation range:
1 - 1397 m
Conserv. status:
Not at risk
Global importance
of B.C. population:
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
146 201 506 163
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Brit. Col.1970 - 2012 -1.58 (-3.35 - 0.775)Medium
Canada1970 - 2012 -1.55 (-2.23 - -0.678)Medium

Mean abundance by region

Bird Conservation Regions [plot]
NW Interior ForestBoreal Taiga PlainsGreat BasinNorthern RockiesN. Pacific Rainforest
0.070.03 0.080.06 0.06
Ecoprovinces [plot]
N. Boreal Mountains Taiga Plains Boreal Plains Georgia Depression Sub-Boreal Interior
0.070.03 0.020.06 0.07
S. Interior Mountains Central Interior Southern Interior S. Alaska Mountains Coast & Mountains
0.070.05 0.08  0.06

Mean abundance by habitat [plot]

Boreal Altai Fescue AlpineBoreal White and Black SpruceBunchgrassCoastal Douglas-fir
Coastal Mountain-heather AlpineCoastal Western HemlockEngelmann Spruce -- Subalpine FirInterior Cedar -- Hemlock
 0.07 0.05
Interior Douglas-firInterior Mountain-heather AlpineMontane SpruceMountain Hemlock
0.08 0.06 
Ponderosa PineSpruce -- Willow -- BirchSub-Boreal Pine -- SpruceSub-Boreal Spruce
0.07 0.040.05

Characteristics and Range The American Kestrel, a brightly-coloured small falcon, not much bigger than a Steller's Jay, is perhaps North America's most common bird of prey. The plumage of the male is a lovely mixture of oranges, rusts, buffs and blues; the female is less strikingly coloured. The American Kestrel breeds across a wide swath of North America from the northern edge of the Boreal Forest southwards through Central and most of South America (Smallwood and Bird 2002). Most northern breeders migrate to the southern half of North America to overwinter.

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat In British Columbia, the American Kestrel is widespread across the central-southern interior and the northeast, but more sparsely distributed in coastal regions and the northwest. This distribution has not changed greatly from when The Birds of British Columbia was published in 1990.

The Probability of Observation model refines the picture of distribution, highlighting the Okanagan, Thompson-Nicola and middle Fraser valleys as the most likely areas to find the American Kestrel, with extensive moderately high PObs values through the Peace, Fort Nelson and Liard river lowlands, and in the Southern Rocky Mountain Trench. Atlas point counts indicate the bird is most common in the Southern Interior Ecoprovince, and that abundance decreases gradually with increasing latitude. American Kestrels are most common at mid-elevations, between 250 and 1,250 m, and in the Ponderosa Pine, Interior Douglas-fir and Bunchgrass biogeoclimatic zones.

The species prefers to breed in or close to grassy habitats that support a plentiful supply of its invertebrate prey, like grasshoppers, though it will occasionally take small vertebrates. It is a secondary cavity nester, preferring to nest in a woodpecker-excavated treehole, or perhaps in a crevice in a cliff or even a building. It frequently uses nest boxes, especially in places that have seen much human modification including removal of potential nesting sites (i.e., old trees and snags).

Conservation and Recommendations The American Kestrel is one of many open-area species that likely benefited from land clearance in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but has subsequently declined where cleared land has reverted to forest. It is still regarded as North America's most common raptor, but Breeding Bird Survey data show significant long-term declines across Canada and in British Columbia (Environment Canada 2014). The reasons for the decline are not well known (Environment Canada 2011), but the trend toward more intensive industrial agriculture may be reducing habitat quality, including nest site and prey availability (Smallwood and Bird 2002), particularly on wintering grounds. Despite declines in the north, this species has maintained a stable population across its overall range in North and South America.

Brian Starzomski

Recommended citation: Starzomski, B. 2015. American Kestrel in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. [23 Apr 2024]

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