citizen science

Kestrel Nestboxes: The Good, the Bad, and the Just Fine

A male American kestrel sits on a wire in search of food. Photo by Jim Stewart

A male American kestrel sits on a wire in search of food. Photo by Jim Stewart

A kestrel nestbox sits in a grassland in southcentral Wisconsin. Photo by Madison Audubon

A kestrel nestbox sits in a grassland in southcentral Wisconsin. Photo by Madison Audubon

Kestrel nestboxes are busy places this time of year. Because kestrels’ nesting habitat (tree snags) has all but vanished in their range, and because they take readily to man-made and managed nestboxes, our dedicated group of Kestrel Nest Box Program volunteers are also busy this time of year checking out what’s happening in the nests!

To aid in their efforts, Madison Audubon volunteer Pat Ready created a “Guide to Kestrel Box Species” which helps monitors determine who is using the nest (because it’s not always kestrels!), and what to do about it. Download the PDF here.

All photos below are by Pat Ready.

Guide to Kestrel Box Species

Kestrels in Nestboxes

Wood chips with brown speck-led eggs means Kestrel nest! Eggs will hatch in 30-35 days.

Wood chips with brown speck-led eggs means Kestrel nest! Eggs will hatch in 30-35 days.

Kestrel chicks that are a few days old. Huddled together to stay warm & feel safe.

Kestrel chicks that are a few days old. Huddled together to stay warm & feel safe.

Kestrel chicks about 2 weeks old. Developing true feathers to replace downy feathers.

Kestrel chicks about 2 weeks old. Developing true feathers to replace downy feathers.

Kestrel chicks about to fledge. All brown = females, Blue-grey wings = males.  Do not disturb!  Disturbance at this time may cause chicks to pre-maturely fledge.

Kestrel chicks about to fledge. All brown = females, Blue-grey wings = males. Do not disturb! Disturbance at this time may cause chicks to pre-maturely fledge.

 

Intruder Alert: Remove

European Starling.  Nest is made of rough grasses & feathers. Eggs are larger than robins. Exotic & invasive.  Remove nest!

European Starling. Nest is made of rough grasses & feathers. Eggs are larger than robins. Exotic & invasive. Remove nest!

House Sparrow.  Nest is made of rough grasses, feathers, & debris that fill the box. Eggs are grey with speckles. Exotic & invasive.  Remove nest!

House Sparrow. Nest is made of rough grasses, feathers, & debris that fill the box. Eggs are grey with speckles. Exotic & invasive. Remove nest!

 

Sharing Space: Leave Them Be

Tree Swallow.  Nest is made of fine grasses & feathers. Eggs are white & elongated. Native.  Do not remove.

Tree Swallow. Nest is made of fine grasses & feathers. Eggs are white & elongated. Native. Do not remove.

House Wren . Nest is made of sticks & twigs. Wrens will fill entire box with sticks. Native.  Do not remove.

House Wren. Nest is made of sticks & twigs. Wrens will fill entire box with sticks. Native. Do not remove.

Screech Owl.  Owls will use kestrel boxes over winter to roost in. Regurgitaed pellets are sign of owl use.  Clean out in spring.

Screech Owl. Owls will use kestrel boxes over winter to roost in. Regurgitaed pellets are sign of owl use. Clean out in spring.

Eastern Bluebird.  Nest is made of fine grasses and often cover wood chips. Eggs are light blue. Native.  Do not remove.

Eastern Bluebird. Nest is made of fine grasses and often cover wood chips. Eggs are light blue. Native. Do not remove.

Learn more about Madison Audubon’s Kestrel Nestbox Monitoring Program here.

Written by Pat Ready, Madison Audubon volunteer

One of these is not like the others

One of these is not like the others

Orphaned kestrel chicks find a home in foster nests

North America’s smallest falcon, the American kestrel, is getting a leg-up in south-central Wisconsin. Four orphaned kestrel chicks were discovered and brought in for rehabilitation, and placed into foster kestrel nests that allowed the chicks to be raised by wild mothers with nestlings their own age.

A female kestrel surveys the land at MAS Goose Pond Sanctuary for unassuming prey. Photo by Jim Stewart

A female kestrel surveys the land at MAS Goose Pond Sanctuary for unassuming prey. Photo by Jim Stewart

American kestrels are a beloved falcon for their tiny stature, big personality, and beautiful coloring. However, the kestrel population in southern Wisconsin declined 41% between 1966 and 2014, according to Wisconsin Breeding Bird Survey data, and the stark downward trend continues today. This is partly due to loss of their natural nesting sites in trees with cavities.

Kestrels now largely rely on man-made nest boxes for nesting habitat, and readily take to them. However, sometimes kestrels will nest in other structures, such as barns. In the case of the orphaned chicks, a barn containing a kestrel nest was torn down and the nest abandoned by the parents. The chicks were recovered, and sent to the Dane County Humane Society’s Wildlife Center for rehabilitation and care.

Volunteer Stacy Taritas served as a caregiver for the orphaned chicks and as the liaison between the Dane County Humane Society’s Wildlife Center, Madison Audubon Society, and Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program. Photo provided by Stacy Taritas. June 15, 2018

Volunteer Stacy Taritas served as a caregiver for the orphaned chicks and as the liaison between the Dane County Humane Society’s Wildlife Center, Madison Audubon Society, and Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program. Photo provided by Stacy Taritas. June 15, 2018

“The barn was demolished on [June 9, 2018], and the chicks came to us shortly after,” explained Stacy Taritas, volunteer for both the Wildlife Center and Madison Audubon Society. The four chicks were placed into an incubator and “fed with tweezers while volunteers wore masks” to avoid the birds from “imprinting on”, or becoming too attached to, their human caregivers. The chicks were approximately 10 days old when they arrived at the Wildlife Center.

Serendipitously, Madison Audubon Society, a local organization which focuses on bird conservation and environmental education, and the Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program based in Stevens Point, had a joint kestrel banding outing scheduled for Friday, June 15 around MAS Goose Pond Sanctuary in Columbia County.

This event was part of an ongoing research project involving Janet and Amber Eschenbauch with CWKR, along with Madison Audubon volunteers and members, to retrieve adult kestrels and chicks from nest boxes to band, weigh, and provide feather and toe nail samples from the birds before placing them back into the nest. The bands allow researchers to understand kestrel movement, migration, and nesting territory. The feather and toe nail samples help researchers determine more in-depth information about where the kestrels have been living and who they are related to.

Taritas transported the four orphaned chicks from the Wildlife Center to the event, and they were easily integrated into four nests in the wild. Event attendees asked questions about whether the mother notices or objects to the new addition.

Four orphaned chicks were rehabilitated and await placement into wild kestrel nest boxes with foster families.  Photo by Madison Audubon Society. June 15, 2018

Four orphaned chicks were rehabilitated and await placement into wild kestrel nest boxes with foster families. Photo by Madison Audubon Society. June 15, 2018

“The short answer is: kestrels can’t count,” said Janet, who runs the Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program. “Kestrel mothers don’t know that they have four chicks in the morning and five in the afternoon.” Kestrels typically raise between four and six young, so nests with five or fewer and of the same age as the orphaned chicks were good candidates for receiving an extra nestling.

“We also make sure to add only one orphaned chick to any nest so we don’t overburden the foster parents,” added Amber, fellow bander and researcher for CWKR. In a normal year, food is plentiful and the mother can easily feed all of the young, including the added chick. Kestrels eat mice, voles, insects, small snakes, and other small prey items.

“We get about 4, 5, 6 orphaned chicks each year,” explained Janet, who said most come to them after an old building is demolished or a tree snag falls down and later a nest with chicks is discovered. Those chicks are either placed into foster nests if they’re young enough, or are raised in a facility and released into a kestrel family group after they’ve learned to fly.

Janet Eschenbauch of Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program carefully guides a kestrel chick into its nest box. Four orphaned kestrel chicks were placed into foster nests to be raised by wild kestrel parents and young. Photo by Stacy Taritas. June 15, 2018

Janet Eschenbauch of Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program carefully guides a kestrel chick into its nest box. Four orphaned kestrel chicks were placed into foster nests to be raised by wild kestrel parents and young. Photo by Stacy Taritas. June 15, 2018

The nest boxes which received the orphaned chicks are enrolled in Madison Audubon’s kestrel nest box monitoring program that involves regular, non-invasive visits by volunteers to monitor nest development. The active nests in the program have a high success rate for raising young kestrels, and a growing number of previously banded kestrels are found as nesting adults each year.

“These four kestrel chicks are extremely fortunate that there has been an ongoing kestrel program with Madison Audubon Society and Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program,” said Brand Smith, who coordinates the kestrel nest box monitoring program with Madison Audubon. “These organizations are made up of passionate people that want to do good by nature. This concept is also ingrained in the people that work and volunteer with the Dane County Humane Society’s Wildlife Center. I am very happy that our organizations could come together to find homes for these displaced chicks.”

Local kestrel program coordinators (L to R): Janet Eschenbauch, CWKR coordinator and biologist; Brand Smith, MAS volunteer; Amber Eschenbauch, CWKR biologist; Mark Martin, MAS Goose Pond Sanctuary resident co-manager; Matt Reetz, MAS executive director. Photo by Madison Audubon Society. June 15, 2018

Local kestrel program coordinators (L to R): Janet Eschenbauch, CWKR coordinator and biologist; Brand Smith, MAS volunteer; Amber Eschenbauch, CWKR biologist; Mark Martin, MAS Goose Pond Sanctuary resident co-manager; Matt Reetz, MAS executive director. Photo by Madison Audubon Society. June 15, 2018

To learn more, visit the following links:

Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program:  facebook.com/central-wisconsin-kestrel-research

Dane County Humane Society’s Wildlife Center: giveshelter.org/four-lakes-wildlife-center.html

Madison Audubon Society and the kestrel nest box monitoring program: madisonaudubon.org/kestrels

 

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About Madison Audubon Society
Madison Audubon Society, is a non-profit organization based in Madison and serving eight counties in south-central Wisconsin.  MAS provides land protection and restoration, environmental education for all ages, and science-based advocacy on behalf of its land and constituents.  Visit madisonaudubon.org to learn more.

About Dane County Humane Society
Dane County Humane Society (DCHS) provides refuge, healing and new beginnings to over 9,000 companion animals, exotic species, farm animals and injured or orphaned wild animals every year. DCHS, including the Wildlife Center, is a private, non-profit, open admission shelter accepting all animals that need assistance regardless of age, health status or temperament. DCHS has an adoption guarantee, meaning all healthy or treatable animals can stay at DCHS as long as it takes to find a loving home.

About Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research
Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research is dedicated to the quest for knowledge about American Kestrels, while providing educational programs to the public. The program is run by Janet and Amber Eschenbauch. Both are UWSP graduates with degrees in Biology.

Madison Audubon Contact:
Brenna Marsicek
Director of Communications
Madison Audubon Society
bmarsicek@madisonaudubon.org
608-255-2473
1400 E. Washington Ave., Ste. 170, Madison WI 53703

DCHS Media Contact: 
Marissa DeGroot
PR Coordinator
Office (608) 838-0413 ext. 214
Cell (608) 224-9488
mdegroot@giveshelter.org

Cover photo: An orphaned kestrel chick is seamlessly integrated into a wild kestrel nest box with five other chicks of its same age. MAS Photo. June 15, 2018

Friday Feeder Feature: The Great Backyard Bird Count 2016

At Goose Pond, we've been practicing for the for the 2016 Great Backyard Count that begins TODAY and goes through Monday February 15! We enjoy feeding our feathered friends and look forward to the annual Count! 

Goldfinches feeding at Goose Pond Sanctuary feeders

Goldfinches feeding at Goose Pond Sanctuary feeders

Want to give the Great Backyard Bird Count a try? It only requires 15 minutes (or longer, if you wish) and it helps scientists better understand our local bird populations. Click here to find out how you can participate!

Looking back at past data shows how bird numbers change. In 2015, bird watchers from over 100 countries submitted 147,265 checklists and observed 5,090 species for the count.

We will be counting at both Kampen Road residence and at our Wildland cabin near Wyocena. Black oil sunflowers, sunflower fines, white millet, suet, and cracked corn are found at both count sites. At Wildland we are also feeding shelled corn that attracts wild turkeys, fox squirrels, and cottontail rabbits. We want to thank the customers at Mounds Pet Food Warehouse that purchase bags of bird seed exclusively for our Goose Pond feeders. The birds go through a lot of "Madison mix" in one season!

Tree sparrows near millet piles. Mark and Sue suggest moving your millet pile locations frequently to avoid pest and disease problems.

Tree sparrows near millet piles. Mark and Sue suggest moving your millet pile locations frequently to avoid pest and disease problems.

Our Goose Pond Sanctuary habitat includes restored prairie, spruce and cedar shelter belt/cover unit, two corn food plots and shrub plantings. The Wildland habitat in Wyocena includes restored prairie, oak savanna with brush piles, and a large red pine plantation on our neighbor’s land.

We have observed the following species in the past two weeks at the two sites: ring-necked pheasant, Cooper’s hawk, red-tailed hawk, rock pigeons, mourning doves, red-bellied woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, blue jays, American crows, black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, American tree sparrows, dark-eyed junco, northern cardinals, house finches, common redpolls, pine siskins, American goldfinches, and house sparrows. It is interesting to note the different feeding times of species. At Wildland, turkeys arrive around 8:00 a.m. and have fed and moved on in 30 minutes while cardinals feed heavily just before dark.  Some people ask how we count large numbers of doves.  At Goose Pond, the doves line up on the power line making for easy counting.

In the local area there are hundreds of horned larks and Lapland longspurs along roadsides that are easy to count. We will also try and find Eurasian collared doves west of Arlington.

If you want to get involved, know that bird counts for the GBBC can be conducted anywhere, and are not restricted to back yards like the name might suggest. 

Click here to see how you can help on this citizen science project!

The data for the GBBC is available for review as quickly as it is entered.  Stay tuned for our results, which we will post on the MAS website soon!

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