American Kestrel

Falco sparverius

Falconidae (falcons and caracaras) in the order Falconiformes


American kestrel adults are very highly colored, with two black streaks on white cheeks. Adult male has bluish-gray wings; female is brownish. Back and tail are orange-brown, the male with a dark band near the end of the tail and the female with many dark bars. Breast is orange-brown in male and streaked in female and immatures. Immature male has a streaked breast and a completely barred back. Immature female is difficult to distinguish from adult female. Voice is a loud, shrill, “killy, killy, killy.”


Length: 9–11 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail); wingspan: 20–23 inches.


Male American Kestrel
Male American Kestrel

American Kestrel

A kestrel perches on a tree overlooking a river.
American Kestrel in Jefferson City, MO

American Kestrel in Springfield, MO

a female kestrel perches on a thin branch against a cloudy background. Brown streaks are plainly visible on the breast.
American Kestrel in Springfield MO
Habitat and conservation

Kestrels are birds of farmland, suburban, and urban areas. They are the only falcon or hawk on this continent to nest in cavities. Because many old-growth trees and snags are being cut or cleared, and with the conversion of habitat to monotypic grain farms, these beautiful falcons have declined in some areas. They are Blue-Listed by the National Audubon Society. You can help by setting up a special nest box for them. Check Kestrel Nest Box Plan under External Links below.


Kestrels, also called sparrow hawks, typically hunt from a conspicuous perch or hover like miniature helicopters. The flight is buoyant, graceful, and rapid, like a large swallow. They eat bats, mice, shrews, rats, gophers, young ground squirrels, and (especially) young cottontails; birds, mainly house sparrows, make up 10 percent of their diet. They also eat worms, crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, dragonflies, a surprising amount of butterflies (20 percent), plus reptiles and amphibians.

image of American Kestrel Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri



Common migrant; common winter resident in southern Missouri; uncommon summer resident statewide. There are many nesting pairs in St. Louis and Kansas City as well as in other urban areas.

Life cycle

Kestrels nest in cavities in trees. Nesting usually begins in mid-March, and a clutch of 4–6 eggs is laid in early April. The female does most of the incubating for 28–30 days, while the male hunts for her. Young kestrels fledge from the nest after 28–30 days.

Human connections

These small raptors are favorites of birders because of their graceful flight and attractive plumage. Many Missourians have built and installed nesting boxes so they can watch kestrels raise and feed families.

Ecosystem connections

This efficient raptor specializes in smaller prey that larger raptors might ignore, and thus keeps the populations of those prey species in check.