The story of a young American kestrel brought to Wildwoods is the story of Wildwoods' pursuit of its mission to return rescued animals to the wild. It exemplifies the old adage, "If at first you don't succeed. ..."
An American kestrel is a raptor-a small, colorful falcon that ranges widely over North and South America. Some kestrels migrate north to Minnesota and Canada each spring.
Kestrels are the smallest species of falcon in North America and the second smallest in the world. Females have rusty tan and black wings. Males have slate blue-colored wings.
About two weeks ago, a Moose Lake family discovered a large baby bird behind their home. It was a mostly white ball of fluff, but with no nest or parent birds to be found. This family waited and hoped that the parents would return. They kept their dogs and people away to prevent any disturbance to the nestling and its parents. They knew that the best home for this baby was its own nest with its natural parents.
It is likely that this nestling fell out of its nest by accident. This was premature. Still covered with fluff, totally defenseless and unable to care for itself, it needed more nest time before it ventured out into the world.
As nestlings grow into fledglings, they gain their adult feathers and become bigger and stronger. This occurs at about one month of age for kestrels. As fledglings, they naturally begin to venture out of the nest. They may spend several days hopping about on tree limbs or on the ground, still under the watchful eye and care of their parents. Then finally, they make the transition into successful fliers.
When the parent birds didn't appear and rescue their nestling, this Moose Lake family didn't know what to do next, so they called Wildwoods for help. Photos revealed this to be a female kestrel.
Re-nesting is usually the best choice for nestlings. The family was told that kestrels are cavity nesters, so they looked diligently for the nest where this young bird belonged, searching for a hollow tree. Unfortunately they had no luck.
Wildwoods called the experts in raptor rehabilitation at the Raptor Center in Minneapolis. They advised that if a nest was not found, Wildwoods should care for the bird until it fledged, then return it to its home turf and attempt to reintroduce it to its natural bird family.
It is very important that this young kestrel not become habituated to humans. It must retain its wild nature and fear of humans. With this in mind, she was taken to Wildwoods and placed in a large aviary with a nesting box. The nesting box simulates a natural hollow tree nest site to allow the kestrel to hide out of sight.
I observed a caregiver approach the kestrel in our story. The kestrel turned to face the human, opened her beak and postured in a threatening manner. She appeared quite fierce for a bird smaller than a pigeon. That was a good sign.
On July 3, an attempt was made to reintroduce this kestrel to its original home. She was taken to the same location she was found. Although she squawked quite loudly, no adult kestrels appeared, so she was returned to Wildwoods and plans were made to send her to the Raptor Center where she can be raised with other kestrels and released.
Kestrels nest in early to midsummer. Our kestrel is a true early bird in that sense. Three to five eggs are normally hatched. They reach adult weight in about two and a half weeks, a goal our kestrel achieved.
These are fast birds. They feed on other birds, small rodents and insects. They catch dragonflies and other insects in flight or on the ground. Each day they consume food equivalent to nearly a fourth of their own body weight.
Kestrels are not endangered, but are considered a species of concern in some regions. They used to be common in Duluth, but there are only a few known kestrel nests in the entire region. The change is due to human encroachment, pesticides used to poison kestrels' prey and loss of habitat. Kestrels prefer transitional habitat - the margin between forest and field. You may see them hunting from utility wires or trees along a roadside.
So, we wish our feisty little bird good luck. Soon she will be chasing dragonflies.
Plans for a kestrel nesting box, an alternative to a tree cavity, can be found at:
ny.audubon.org and kestrel.peregrinefund.org.
See more photos of this kestrel on Wildwoods' Facebook site. Check out an earlier photo on June 28 that shows the fluffy nestling stage as well as a more current photo showing adult plumage.
John Jordan is a volunteer at Wildwoods. He is also a registered nurse who lives in Duluth with photographer Trudy Vrieze and a clowder of rescue cats.
Wildwoods is a 501(c)(3) wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth. For information on how you can help wildlife, including volunteer opportunities, visit wildwoodsrehab.org or call (218) 491-3604.