Taro was a male American Kestrel (Falco sparverius
). He was
brought to the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital in 1992 as a nestling after
his nest tree was blown over in a windstorm. He was brought in along with
his nest mates but he was the only survivor. Taro suffered a shoulder injury
as a result of the fall from his nest which could not be repaired. He can
fly a little but not well enough to ever be released into the wild. Another
reason that Taro cannot be released is because he is imprinted. Imprinting
occurs in animals raised by humans. Taro has no fear of people and may not
even realize that he is a kestrel. He does not get along with our female
American Kestrels (Falco sparverius
) are the smallest falcons in
North America and are the second smallest falcon worldwide. In most species
of raptors, the male and female look alike in appearance. DNA testing may be
required to be sure of the sex of a particular raptor. With kestrals, color
dimorphism between males and females makes visual sex determination easy.
Male American kestrels have spots on their chests and bellies, a bluish-gray
streak on the top of their wings, and a solid, black terminal tail band.
Females, on the other hand, have brown stripes on their chests and bellies,
completely brown wings (no blue streak), and multiple brown bars on their
tails, rather than just one.
All falcons have a few unique characteristics in common: malar stripes, a
falcon's "tooth", nasal tubercles and long pointed wings. Malar stripes are
black stripes that run vertically down the sides of a falcon’s face and
provide protection from sun glare. The same principle is used by football
players by applying black paint below their eyes.
A falcon's "tooth" is a small projection that all falcons have at the
distal part of their upper beaks. A notch to accommodate the falcon's
"tooth" is present in the lower beak. This "tooth" is used to help kill prey
quickly and efficiently. The falcon's tooth fits neatly between the
vertebrae of the mouse and the bird clamps down to snap the neck of its
Falcons also have very long, pointed wings that help them dive at
breath-taking speeds. Their wings fold back sharply at the wrist and when
diving, they keep their wings tucked to their bodies to decrease air
resistance. The peregrine falcon is the world’s fastest animal and is able
to reach speeds over 200 MPH in a dive! Talk about fast! American kestrels
probably only reach diving speeds up to 50 or 60 MPH.
American kestrels are not a threatened species. They are very common and
can be found throughout the continental U.S., in to Canada and parts of
Mexico and Central America. They are associated with open grassland areas
and can be seen hunting from telephone wires to take mice, voles, insects
(especially grasshoppers), small songbirds, and occasionally small snakes.
Kestrels are one of only a few birds that can actually hover in flight on a
windless day. Many other raptors such as hawks will hover the air on
thermals or other wind currents, but the kestrel can actually remain
stationary in flight without air movement. Other birds known to accomplish
this feat are hummingbirds and kingfishers.