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 kestrel.
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.
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 prey.
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.