The American Kestrel Is the Smallest Falcon

Updated: Oct. 05, 2023

Learn all about the American kestrel, a small bird with a big presence. Plus, learn what you can do to bring kestrels into your yard.

American Kestrel Identification

275467437 1 Deanna Perkins Bnb Bypc 2021Courtesy Deanna Perkins
Male and female American kestrels

If you’re looking for an American kestrel, think small: this teeny falcon is no larger than a mourning dove. The smallest and most common falcon in North America, male kestrels have a rather intricate coloring which includes gray-blue wings and brown, striped backs; their heads have the same gray-blue coloring feature two black lines by the eyes.

Female kestrels are browner overall, lacking the grays of the male—they have a whitish-brown breast and a rust-colored head with a gray crown. In flight, males feature a dark band at the bottom of the tail.

“American kestrels aren’t an easy bird to photograph. Imagine my surprise when I photographed both the male and female kestrel sitting on a branch (above),” says Birds & Blooms reader Deanna Perkins.

Learn more fascinating falcon facts.

American Kestrel Range and Habitat

american kestrelCourtesy Sheryl Fleming
Birders might spot American kestrels throughout the year.

You’ll be able to spot an American kestrel in most of the United States. They’re year-round residents for most of the country, save for the upper Midwest, where they’re found during breeding season, and in Texas and Louisiana, where they’re spotted during nonbreeding season. In their range, they commonly appear in open areas like meadows and farm fields.

Become a hawk-identifying pro with these essential hawk identification tips.

American Kestrel Diet

When you think of falcons and other birds of prey, you probably think of carnivores—but American kestrels eat mostly insects. They’ll eat beetles, dragonflies, spiders, and even scorpions, and grasshoppers are a particular favorite. That being said, these small raptors do eat some mice, snakes, frogs, and smaller birds as well. You won’t attract them with a bird feeder, since they don’t eat birdseed.

Learn more about the foods that hawks eat.

Nesting Habits

276266712 1 Julia Rice Bnb Bypc 2021Courtesy Julia Rice
To attract nesting kestrels, put up a birdhouse.

Like woodpeckers, American Kestrels are cavity-nesting birds. Unlike woodpeckers, they don’t create those cavities themselves; they rely on existing holes in trees, crevices, and even gaps in buildings. For those interested in drawing American kestrels to their yard, they do use nest boxes. Check out this helpful birdhouse guidelines chart to know which size nest box to provide.

Juvenile Female American KestrelCourtesy Dawn Key
A juvenile American Kestrel, fresh out of the nest box.

Typical clutch sizes include four to six eggs, which are incubated for about four weeks. Young birds leave the nest about four weeks after hatching.

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American Kestrel Calls and Sounds

To identify an American kestrel based on sound alone, listen for a series of shrill, high-pitched klee! calls, repeating several times.

Next, enjoy simply stunning pictures of hawks.