American Kestrel

The kestrels are off to a very good start in 2017!  Brand Smith, former president of Madison Audubon and volunteer Kestrel Box Coordinator, reports that volunteers have found over 47 nests in the 105 boxes monitored.  We still have volunteers monitoring the rest of the 143 boxes along the Madison Audubon kestrel box trail.   Last year, kestrels fledged from 48 boxes out of the 134 boxes on the trail. 

Brand Smith along with assistants Jim Williams, Bob Bennicoff, and Jim Johnsrud have been busy erecting nine additional boxes and cleaning out the boxes since last fall.

In the Columbia County area there are 28 pairs nesting in the 53 boxes.  This part of the kestrel trail has had boxes up for over 30 years.  There are seven active boxes at Goose Pond Sanctuary and three more within a half mile of Goose Pond.

Last year, Janet Eschenbauch and her assistants from central Wisconsin came and banded 93 young and three adults.  Janet coordinates the 56-nest box kestrel trail in the Buena Vista Wildlife Area in Portage County. Janet continues the efforts of the kestrel project that began decades ago by Fran and Fred Hammerstrom.  In addition to banding young, she is also banding adult kestrels to learn more about site fidelity.  So far this year Janet caught seven adults on her kestrel trail including five banded from previous years.   The local Aldo Leopold Audubon Society provides volunteers and funding for the project.

We ask if Janet was interested in banding adults in the Columbia County area.  On May 10th, Janet and her daughter-in-law Amber came to band adults.  

They checked 17 boxes while catching 14 females and 3 males.  They have the process down to a science with the ability to catch and process three birds an hour.

They were surprised and pleased to find that four of the birds were already banded.   One female that is nesting along the Wood Family Prairie carried a band by another bander.  Janet searched the data records and found that the bird was banded as a young bird on July 2nd, 2009 at Castle Rock State Park in Oregon Illinois (91 miles straight south as the kestrel flies).  She will have her 8th birthday later this month.  In the wild, kestrels live on average for less than five years with a record longevity of over 14 years.

Last year, Janet banded both parents in a box about one half mile west of Goose Pond at Judi Benadi’s property.  The same female was caught in the same box this year but the male was caught in a box on the north side of Ankenbrandt Prairie, about two miles to the northeast.  Last year, a young female from a brood in a nest box at our residence was banded.  They were pleased to find this female incubating about three-quarters mile away at the south end of Ankenbrandt Prairie.  All clutches have five eggs except for one with six eggs.

Janet Eschenbauch netting a kestrel. Photography by Mark Martin

Janet Eschenbauch netting a kestrel. Photography by Mark Martin

In addition to measuring, weighing, and banding the birds, Janet is clipping a .5 mm toenail tip from each bird.  With chemical analysis and looking at different stable hydrogen isotopes, researches can learn where the birds spent the winter.  This will give researchers an idea on how far a sub population migrates and if migration distances impact kestrel numbers.  It will be interesting to learn where our birds winter.

Janet and crew will be back for another day of banding adults and then spend two days banding young in June.  If you would like to help band young, email goosep@madisonaudubon.org or call Brand Smith at 608-444-8952.  Contact Brand if you would like to volunteer to assist him with this project.

If you like to observe kestrels visit Goose Pond Sanctuary.   Thanks to our volunteers and Janet and her crew for working on this project to help out our smallest falcon.

Update: Janet and her banding crew returned on Saturday and all the females and four of the males from the 28 pairs are banded.  Check out Brand's spreadsheet:

By Mark and Sue Foote-Martin, Resident Managers, Goose Pond Sanctuary