American Kestrel Nesting: A Complete Guide

Last updated: 15 October 2022

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American Kestrel Nesting: A Complete Guide

The American kestrel, also known as the Sparrow Hawk, is the smallest falcon species and the most widespread throughout North America. There is scarcely a corner of the continent where these small raptors are not found.

American Kestrels prefer open habitats with low-ground vegetation - meadows, agricultural fields, prairies, deserts, open parklands, and woodland edges. They are strictly cavity nesters, generally residing in a woodpecker-excavated cavity in an old snag.

Occasionally, these birds will nest in structures, such as abandoned buildings or barns. Nest boxes are also popular amongst kestrels.

We will delve into greater detail about kestrel nesting locations and young rearing in this complete guide. Read on to discover more!

Nest Location

Where do American Kestrels nest?

American Kestrels are cavity nesters. However, they do not excavate their own cavities. These small raptors generally nest in holes made by woodpeckers or other natural cavities. Kestrels also frequently use nest boxes.

They appear to prefer large snags (or standing dead trees) with little to no concealment by vegetation. Nest sites are located in open spaces with low-ground vegetation, which makes hunting easier. They will also nest along woodland edges or forests with plentiful open hunting patches.

Do Kestrels nest in the same place every year?

Kestrels frequently nest in the same place every year, particularly if their previous nests have been successful. If a pair has a second brood in the same season, they generally reuse the same nest as well.

American Kestrel outside of the nesting cavity

American Kestrel outside of the nesting cavity

Do Kestrels nest in backyards?

Kestrels will utilize backyards as nesting habitats. To attract kestrels, you should have open land or fields that make suitable hunting grounds for these birds.

If your backyard does not have a tree or snag with an existing cavity, you can also add nest boxes. Kestrels frequently use these when naturally cavities are not available.

Do Kestrels use nest boxes?

Kestrels do use nest boxes, and not just during the breeding season. These small raptors will also utilize boxes for roosting in winter. They are especially inclined to use them when naturally occurring cavities are scarce.

If you want the perfect kestrel nesting box to add to your yard, you may want to go with the larger floor plan (23.1 x 16.5). Studies have shown that nesting pairs generally prefer larger boxes over smaller ones.

What trees do Kestrels nest in?

Kestrels live in tree cavities. They do not appear to have a preference for certain species but generally nest in snags over live trees because they do not like cavities concealed by vegetation.

American Kestrel Nest Box

American Kestrel Nest Box

Nest Appearance

What do Kestrel nests look like?

Kestrels nests are located in tree cavities Locations appear to be chosen based on reducing exposure to inclement weather. There are no nesting materials inside the cavity where kestrels raise their young. The female simply hollows out a shallow depression in the cavity floor.

How big are Kestrel nests?

The entrance to a kestrel nest ranges between 5.6 and 8.4 cm in diameter. Interior cavity dimensions are quite variable.

Studies of nest box preference show that kestrels preferred large nest boxes over small ones - the large boxes had a 23.1 x 16.5 cm floor. However, some kestrel nests in the wild are so small chicks are on top of each other.

American Kestrel leaving the nest to find food for hungry chicks

American Kestrel leaving the nest to find food for hungry chicks

Phenology

What time of year do Kestrels nest?

Breeding season for kestrels typically begins in April or early May, sometimes earlier in the warmer regions of North America. If a pair of kestrels raise a second brood, they will likely be nesting from late spring to early fall.

How long do Kestrels nest for?

One clutch can take American Kestrel parents more than two and a half months to raise.

Once the female lays the eggs, incubation occurs for about 27 to 31 days. Then, the chicks develop for another 30 or so days before leaving the nest. After fledging, the chicks remain with their parents for another 2 to 3 weeks.

What month do Kestrels lay eggs?

Kestrels typically lay eggs in April or early May. However, the female American Kestrel does not lay all of her eggs at once. This process can take place over several days. Incubation begins when the first egg is in the nest.

American Kestrel chick looking out of the nesting hole

American Kestrel chick looking out of the nesting hole

Nest Construction

How do Kestrels build their nests?

Kestrels are cavity nesters, but they do not make the cavity themselves. They nest in abandoned woodpecker nests or other naturally occurring cavities.

No nesting material is brought into the nest site. Instead, the female makes a scrape, or shallow depression, on the cavity floor for laying eggs.

American Kestrel Eggs

What do Kestrel eggs look like?

Kestrel eggs are typically short and elliptical. They measure around 35.13 mm in length and 28.42 mm in width. Weight varies between 10 and 18 grams. Egg coloration varies from white to cream or yellow to light reddish-brown. Blotches of violet, gray, or brown are often visible around the blunter end.

How many eggs do Kestrels lay?

Kestrels generally lay 4-5 eggs per clutch. It is not uncommon for a mated pair to produce a second clutch in the same season.

Do male Kestrels sit on eggs?

The male will occasionally sit on the eggs during the brief laying period. However, once the last egg is in the nest, the female takes full responsibility for the incubation. The male hunts and provides food during this period.

American Kestrel bringing food back to the nest box

American Kestrel bringing food back to the nest box

Fledgling and Parental Care

When do baby Kestrels leave the nest?

Baby kestrels begin to fledge about 30 days after hatching. The fledging process usually takes place over several days. However, once young kestrels have the nest, they still depend upon their parents.

For two or three more weeks, they remain nearby while the parents continue to bring them food.

How many broods do Kestrels have?

Kestrels have 1-2 broods per season. Longer laying seasons make a second clutch possible. The first clutch has generally hatched by May and fledged by mid-summer, leaving enough time in late summer and fall to re-nest.

American Kestrel chick fledgling in the nest, with parent watching

American Kestrel chick fledgling in the nest, with parent watching

FAQs

Do Kestrels abandon their nests?

Kestrels only abandon their nests when a major disturbance occurs, such as disruption by human activity or by a predator.

Do Kestrels nest on the ground?

Kestrels do not nest on the ground. They are strictly cavity nesters, typically taking up residence in a tree cavity excavated by a woodpecker or other naturally occurring cavities.

Where do Kestrels nest at night?

Kestrels return to their cavity nests at night, whether it is breeding season or winter roosting.

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