Photo courtesy Bernard Master
June 14, 2015
Nest boxes helping slow decline of state's kestrels
On March 17, 2013, The Dispatch ran a story describing the initiation of an American kestrel nest-box trail.
The kestrel, our smallest falcon, requires cavities for nest sites, and suitable homes have become scarce for the charismatic birds.
In 2012, 25 boxes were placed on road signs along state highways in Crawford and Wyandot counties — a region that’s part of the Sandusky Plains prairie, whose wide roadside verges and large adjacent meadows create abundant hunting habitat for the falcons.
The results of the inaugural season were encouraging: Eight kestrel chicks were fledged in 2013.
Before spring 2014, 16 more boxes were added for a total of 41 kestrel condos. The number of fledged kestrels almost tripled last year, with 22 birds produced.
Road construction has deterred some nesting this year, but 13 chicks have been produced, with eggs still to hatch in two other nests.
American kestrel populations in eastern North America have plummeted by almost half during the past 50 years.
In Ohio, kestrels have declined by more than
40 percent since 1990. The earliest reporters, such as Lawrence Hicks in 1935, said there were more kestrels than all other raptors combined.
Kestrels might be only the size of a blue jay, but they’re death for mice and large grasshoppers. They often hunt from telephone wires, scanning the ground for prey. Sometimes they’ll “wind kite,” hovering as if tethered to a string.
Several factors — including reduced habitat because of large-scale landscape changes and decreases in prey because of pesticides — probably have contributed to the kestrel declines.
Populations of larger Cooper’s hawks have hurt, too: They’re known to prey on kestrels. Kestrels must also vie with starlings for cavities.
A reduction in cavity nest sites might be the biggest pinch point, but kestrels take readily to man-made boxes.
Amanda Duren of the Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative spearheaded the kestrel nest-box trail with support from the Ohio Division of Wildlife, the American Kestrel Partnership and the Ohio Ornithological Society.
Charlie Zepp of Dublin built most of the original boxes, and students at the University of Findlay and volunteers with the Crawford County Park District are monitoring the nests.
Most importantly, Matt Perlik and Matt Raymond — biologists from the Ohio Department of Transportation — embraced the kestrel project, paving the way for the placement of nest boxes.
With luck, the Ohio Kestrel Partnership will keep the little falcons a part of the roadside scenery for a long time.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch at least twice a month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac. blogspot.com.