kestrel

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

June 2018 Keystone Volunteer: Brand Smith

JUNE 2018 - Keystone Volunteer.png

Brand Smith is in that class of volunteers that is so involved, so integrated, that they are woven into the fabric of an organization. His presence makes the whole picture more vibrant and stronger, and his absence would make a clear and notable difference. Brand has been involved with Madison Audubon in a variety of ways for nearly 30 years (!!) and has done it all: seed collecting, prairie planting, bird counts, board leadership (Brand even served as MAS board president in 2009), and more. These days, his focus is running Madison Audubon's kestrel nest box monitoring program -- arguably one of the COOLEST citizen science programs out there.

In 2009 Brand, with help from friends and staff at Goose Pond Sanctuary, began constructing, installing, and monitoring nest boxes, starting  with 33 boxes. These days, kestrels rely almost exclusively on man-made nest boxes to reproduce and survive. Monitoring involved frequent visits to determine if the nests were active, if the nesting kestrels laid eggs, if those eggs hatched, and if those hatchlings fledged. Because of the success of Brand's program, we now have 153 nest boxes installed in seven counties, visited by over 20 volunteers -- all of which is coordinated by Brand, a volunteer himself!

Thanks to Brand and his collaboration with the Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program, this young kestrel was banded on June 15, 2018. MAS Photo

Thanks to Brand and his collaboration with the Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program, this young kestrel was banded on June 15, 2018. MAS Photo

"The reason I like to volunteer for MAS is because it is something totally different from what I normally do, and I feel it makes a difference," says Brand. "Whether I am collecting or spreading prairie seed, counting ducks, or being involved with more detailed outdoor activities I feel like I am helping make a difference in the natural world."

And make a difference he does! Incredibly, last year, Brand's band of volunteers documented a record number of 190 kestrels fledge from 47 boxes! In addition to monitoring kestrels, Brand also coordinates a banding effort in partnership with the Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program since 2016. This has resulted in 250 adult and chick kestrels receiving fancy leg bracelets that allows scientists to begin to understand kestrel nesting ecology, migration, territories, and more.

Least bittern nest, photo by Brand Smith

Least bittern nest, photo by Brand Smith

Brand is also a "keystone" volunteer with the atlas project.  He is the lead on 3 of our priority blocks (27 square miles) in Atlas II. Just in June 2018, he atlased the Rio and Columbus blocks, canoed the Baraboo Waterfowl Production area by himself for 4 hours (and found 16 common gallinules, including 2 broods and 6 least bitterns including 3 nests a species had to find), and surveyed at Lost Lake State Natural Area - a difficult area to walk through - looking for winter wrens. Still on his list is to canoe a large wetland for confirming yellow-headed black birds, marsh wrens, least bitterns and common gallinules, survey a private land owner's 330 acres in the Poynette NW block, and go on two atlas canoe trips down the Baraboo and Wisconsin Rivers. He frequently takes out other volunteers to help him.

Brand has also volunteered hundreds of hours at Goose Pond Sanctuary over the past twenty years on the Poynette Christmas Bird Count an on the Wood Duck Project.  

Brand has left his own brand on Madison Audubon, and we -- and all the birds in south-central Wisconsin -- are grateful for it. To learn how you can volunteer with Madison Audubon, visit our volunteer page.

Written by Brenna Marsicek, Director of Communications

Kestrel nesting results are in!

A young kestrel awaiting its turn on the scale. MAS Photo

A young kestrel awaiting its turn on the scale. MAS Photo

Every bird lover has a favorite birding memory. What's yours? Too hard to choose? I agree: mine is tied between an awesome loon concert in the Chequamegon National Forest, and one involving baby birds. I'll tell you about the loons a different day. But first:

This past June, many of our members took the opportunity to join Madison Audubon and leaders of the Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program for what might have been the greatest birding activity ever: banding baby kestrels.

As a rookie birder myself, I shared in this new experience with eyes as big as saucers and heart fluttering in excitement. This wasn't looking at pretty birds in the distance through binoculars. This was holding fluffy little handfuls of unrealized might who inspired feelings of awe, respect, and even maternal adoration. This was watching professional biologists carefully handle fragile wings and legs as they took measurements and placed metal bands around the chicks' ankles, and getting to ask 100 questions about who, what, when, where, and why. This was getting a first-hand look at how kestrel boxes are made and where they are placed, and learning about the decline and rebound of these tiny falcons.

If you can't tell, it was a great day.

Janet Eschenbauch of the Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program (on ladder), Brand Smith (white), and Jim Shurts (blue) retrieve kestrel chicks from one of the nest boxes monitored through Madison Audubon. MAS Photo

Janet Eschenbauch of the Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program (on ladder), Brand Smith (white), and Jim Shurts (blue) retrieve kestrel chicks from one of the nest boxes monitored through Madison Audubon. MAS Photo

That great day is owed largely to Brand Smith, volunteer kestrel box coordinator and former Madison Audubon president. Since 2009 and with support from Madison Audubon, Brand has spearheaded the effort to construct and put up kestrel nest boxes in south-central Wisconsin, and coordinate dozens of volunteers who check what's happening in the nests. Kestrels would naturally nest in cavities in old snags, but cultural practices result in very few standing dead trees in the landscape. So they rely on help from people to find nesting sites.

The program started with an ambitious 33 nest boxes in 2009 and is now at a dazzling 143 boxes in seven Wisconsin counties in 2017. Volunteers adopt a nest box in the beginning of the year and visit it regularly to track progress of eggs, chicks, and adults. Brand alone monitors nearly half of the boxes and puts in thousands of miles and hours each season to do so. Data collected throughout the nesting season are sent to Wisconsin DNR and others who work with conserving kestrels in Wisconsin.

Now, results of the 2017 year are in! Of the 143 boxes Brand and Madison Audubon placed in the landscape, 56 were occupied, and a whopping 46 produced successful nests (80%!) with an average of 4.6 eggs per nest. Approximately 190 kestrels fledged from these boxes, 102 of which we had banded along with 32 adults in June. Three kestrels that Madison Audubon banded in previous years were recaptured, as well as one kestrel another group banded (meaning that adult established a new territory in our area).

A kestrel chick is weighed, measured, and banded through this program. MAS Photo

A kestrel chick is weighed, measured, and banded through this program. MAS Photo

We'll continue monitoring and banding kestrels, with your help. You can volunteer to monitor a box, join Madison Audubon to get a chance to band kestrel chicks next summer, or donate to Madison Audubon to keep programs like this going.

Thanks for all of your support, and keep your eyes peeled for those little falcons swooping through the prairie or perched on a fence post.

Written by Brenna Marsicek, Madison Audubon Society communications director