Fall update: Nest boxes across the nation

Almost everyone is familiar with American Kestrels, even if they don’t know them by name. In the spring and summer, these flashy falcons are found in abundance: sitting atop trees, telephone poles, and fence posts across North America.


Pictured above: A particularly spotty male American Kestrel in the Florida keys perched on a distribution pole
(photo credit: Jesse Watson)

Because the geographic range of this species is so vast, individuals living in different areas (e.g. Alaska vs. Florida) face different environmental conditions and may even be genetically distinct! These differences can affect timing of breeding and migration. For example, kestrels in Alaska will breed later and will migrate south in the fall, whereas kestrels in Florida will breed earlier and remain Florida residents over winter. With changing climate, timing of breeding and migration may be shifting, and the magnitude of this shift may vary for birds in different areas!


American Kestrels are cavity-nesters that are known to use to artificial nest boxes, and this method makes for easy monitoring of breeding populations. So to begin assessing the genetic and environmental factors affecting the timing of kestrel breeding and migration, we set up a large-scale nest box study on Department of Defense sites across the United States.

Starting with our northernmost site in Alaska, we shipped our pre-made pine nest boxes to our site, and hopped on a plane to meet them there. Next, we headed to New York, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Washington, New Mexico, and California to drill nest boxes onto trees, power poles, and other elevated structures.

Pictured above: Nest boxes await shipping in a storage locker; Aislinn displays 20 bird boxes shipped to our Florida site; and Rich, Anjolene, Aislinn, and Casey post nest boxes on sites in Indiana, Alaska, Florida, and Washington.

We saw habitat from boreal forest, to long-leaf pine, to corn-fields, coastal wetland, and arid deserts, and wildlife like alligators, roadrunners, and moose. It was amazing to think about how kestrels are found in such diverse and interesting places!

Row 1 (left to right): Alaska, New York, Kansas, Indiana, North Carolina
Row 2: Florida, Texas, Washington, California, New Mexico

Along with beautiful views, each site brought with it a different set of challenges. From muddy, slippery driving and flat tires in Alaska, to bark-too-thick-to-drill-into in North Carolina, gnarled and crooked trees in Texas and Washington, to a lack of trees all together in New Mexico. Luckily for our team we had tremendous support from our Department of Defense (DoD) partners. Project co-investigator and DoD research biologist Richard Fischer facilitated communication with partners across sites, and he and fellow DoD biologist Jacob Jung met up with us on our travels to post boxes in Indiana and Kansas. We also partnered with a number of exceptional DoD biologists on each site who provided the on-the-ground knowledge, logistical help, tools, and human-power needed to get our nest boxes posted.


In fall 2017 our team posted 200 nest boxes within Department of Defense installations in 10 states, in addition to two states which had pre-existing nest box programs. And with that we wait…. to see if kestrels across the U.S. take to their new homes, and become part of a large-scale, full-annual study of their species.

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Above: A female American Kestrel in Idaho broods her newly hatched nestlings inside a nest box

Special thanks to our on-the-ground DoD partners:

Fort Wainwright, Alaska: Daniel Rees, Garrett Savory
Fort Drum, New York: Jeffrey Bolsinger
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, Indiana: Joseph Robb
Fort Riley, Kansas: Shawn Stratton, Jeff Keating
Fort Bragg, North Carolina: Jessie Schillaci
Eglin AFB, Florida: Rodney Felix, Justin Johnson
Fort Hood, Texas: Amber Dankert, Jackelyn Ferrer-perez
Yakima Training Center, Washington: Colin Leingang, Jennifer Bader
Camp Pendleton, California: Bill Berry, Diane Walsh, Katrina Murbock, Sherri Sullivan
White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico: Patricia Cutler, Doug Burkett
Lucky Peak, Idaho: Keith Hyde
Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah: Robbie Knight



Breeding season wrap-up and call for winter feathers

The 2017 American Kestrel breeding season is well behind us, and the numbers are in! This breeding season, we received feather samples from 610 American Kestrels from across the breeding range!

Collaborators from 25 states sent us feathers from kestrels in their nest boxes, trapping sites, and rehabilitation facilities.

With the samples sent off to the genetics lab at University of California, Los Angeles for analyses, we are making great strides towards understanding the genetic structure of breeding kestrel populations.


This map shows locations where we have received feathers from American Kestrels in the breeding season (orange), migration season (yellow) and winter season (blue) from 2017 and prior years. (Not pictured: Alaska). We welcome samples from all locations, but if you work with kestrels in an areas without dots, WE NEED YOUR HELP! Please SIGN UP to contribute feathers, or see our GET INVOLVED page to find out more. 

Full annual cycle research does not slow down with the cooling temperatures, and with winter upon us, the next phase of the Full Cycle Phenology project is shaping up. By sampling kestrels during migration and overwintering, we hope to be able to map individuals back to their breeding population of origin and to assess migratory connectivity and WE NEED YOUR HELP!

If you work with wintering kestrels please consider contributing feather samples. If you aren’t on our list yet, please SIGN UP to get your sampling kit mailed to you. If you are already signed up, but need more sampling envelopes, please Contact Us .



Spring Update: American Kestrel Genoscape

The American Kestrel breeding season is well underway and kestrel researchers, citizen scientists, and wildlife rehabbers from across the U.S. and Canada have been diligently collecting feather samples to create the American Kestrel Genoscape.


It has been fantastic to connect with people working with kestrels across their breeding range, and we are excited to learn more about the different breeding populations from Alaska down to Florida, and from coast to coast across the continental U.S. and Canada! In 2017, we have had 28 feather contributers sign up from 16 states, and 5 Canadian provinces, bringing our total sampling area to 24 states, and 5 provinces from 2016-2017 (see map below).

Although we have had a great show of support and feather sample contributers, we are still in need of feather samples, particularly from the Midwest (see map below). If you work with kestrels in this area, please SIGN UP to contribute feather samples. We have little information about kestrels in this region, which may use different migratory flyways and wintering locations than eastern or western populations.

This map shows locations where we have feather sample contributers (2016: blue dots, 2017: orange dots).
We welcome samples from all locations, but if you work with kestrels in an areas without dots, WE NEED YOUR HELP! Please SIGN UP to contribute feathers, or see our GET INVOLVED page to find out more.