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AKP Quarterly: Winter 2021

American Kestrel Partnership Quarterly: Winter 2021

Comprehensive New Study of a Potential Cause of Kestrel Decline
As readers of this newsletter no doubt know, the decline of the American Kestrel is one of the more perplexing puzzles in conservation. Numerous possible causes have been proposed and investigated, but to date no clear cause or causes of the decline have been identified. In response, our partners at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania are launching an ambitious new multifaceted study investigating one hypothesized cause: agricultural contaminants.

Agricultural contaminants such as anticoagulant rodenticides, neonicotinoids, and organophosphate pesticides are known to cause secondary poisoning when kestrels prey on mammals, insects, or songbirds that have been exposed to these compounds. Secondary poisoning has been shown to have many adverse effects that may hinder flight capability, migration, nutrient absorption, and overall survival of the exposed organisms. But are these exposures frequent—and deleterious—enough to help explain at least part of the decline of the American Kestrel?

 

To learn more about the effects of these contaminants on the kestrel population, Hawk Mountain and its collaborators are taking a multifaceted approach that looks at nestlings, fledglings, and adults through multiple seasons. Blood samples will be acquired and analyzed for the presence of environmentally-related contaminants, while individual kestrels will be fitted with telemetry tags and color bands so their movements can be tracked to assess survival seasonally. By coupling contaminant load data with movement data as well as survival and reproductive rates, the team of collaborators aims to see how they correlate. Through their collaboration with kestrel researchers throughout eastern North America and perhaps beyond, Hawk Mountain is able to compare these same metrics across multiple habitat types and geographical regions to fully understand the patterns of decline and year-round survival.

Hawk Mountain researchers Mercedes Melo (left) and Jean-François Therrien resighting banded American Kestrels

How can you help? While the effects of anticoagulant rodenticides on the overall American Kestrel population are unknown, it is well documented that these chemicals are harmful to individual kestrels and to any other wildlife that may directly or indirectly ingest them. There are many alternative pest-control options available that may suit your needs without harming wildlife—including having kestrels around your home! Check out our nest box guide to see if putting up a nest box near you is feasible and to get ideas about how you can make your property more kestrel-friendly.


If you live in the eastern side of North America, keep your eyes open for banded American Kestrels! The Hawk Mountain team and their collaborators will be deploying color bands and transmitters in seven different US states, from New York and Massachusetts in the north to Florida in the south. The bands deployed in 2020 were blue with white writing or white with black writing, each with a two-digit number (for example, 03 or 45). Those deployed in 2021 will be dark red with white writing or light green with black writing, each with one letter and one number (for example, A3 or N8). If you spot one of these banded kestrels, report your sighting to hawk.mountain.kestrel@gmail.com and include photos if possible.
Color-banded American Kestrel "Blue 00" shortly after banding. If you see this or a similarly banded kestrel, please report it to hawk.mountain.kestrel@gmail.com.
Photo courtesy of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.

The Hawk Mountain team is also looking to recover kestrel fatalities to conduct necropsies and analyze for contaminants and disease, particularly from researchers or those working at wildlife rehabilitation centers. If you encounter a deceased American Kestrel, please contact Hawk Mountain at hawk.mountain.kestrel@gmail.com soon as possible so they can coordinate safe transportation.

 

Questions? Comments? The team at Hawk Mountain welcomes any ideas you have regarding this collaborative project!

Learn More About Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Collaborators Sought for Food Supplementation Study

Looking for even more ways to contribute to American Kestrel research? Penn State University researcher Allison Cornell is currently putting together a food supplementation study that seeks to understand whether food abundance limits nestling development. She is looking for help from AKP partners that are associated with institutions that have an institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC) and would be able to secure their IACUC's permission to participate. Interested partners would be asked to administer food supplementation at kestrel boxes throughout the nestling period and track nestling growth. If you think you can help, please contact Allison directly at aec5780@psu.edu to learn more!

Contact Allison to Learn More
Ongoing Research Using American Kestrel Partnership Data

If you ever feel like the monitoring data you submit isn’t actually doing anything to help American Kestrels, think again! Your data have directly contributed to several recent scientific findings and ongoing scientific studies. Several of these are a part of the Full Cycle Phenology Project, a large-scale collaborative effort between Boise State University, The Peregrine Fund, HawkWatch International, Colorado State University, St. Mary's University, and the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center.

 

One ongoing study looks to determine if and how American Kestrels are changing their breeding strategies in response to climate change. Conducted by PhD student Jason Winiarski at Boise State University, this massive study looks at observations from over 3,200 nests in 49 states and Canadian provinces, including many nest box observations submitted to the AKP. The study hopes to shed light on many different facets of the American Kestrel’s response to climate change, including which climatic factors influence the timing of nesting, how the timing of nesting changes in response to these factors, and whether these changes vary depending on where in North America the birds are found.

Another recent study, conducted by Boise State University master’s student Kathleen Callery, looked at how kestrel breeding time relative to the start of the growing season affects kestrel productivity, in terms of how many young fledged from each nest. This has implications for climate change: if seasonal timing changes, and kestrels do not shift their timing to match, how might kestrel productivity change? AKP data were used to analyze patterns of timing and productivity across the contiguous US. We hope to see both of these studies officially published sometime this year! 


Community science observations like those submitted through the AKP are allowing scientists to answer broad-scale questions like these for the very first time. Your contributions are an integral part of understanding and reversing the threats currently facing this species, and all of us at the American Kestrel Partnership extend a huge thank you for your ongoing participation in the project.
Learn More About the Full Cycle Phenology Project
American Kestrel Partnership By the Numbers in 2020
We’re excited to report that despite the unique challenges that 2020 presented to all of us, by any measure last year was every bit as successful as any other year of the program. A total of 6,641 nest box observations were submitted to our database from the 2020 breeding season. 1,201 nest boxes were monitored by AKP partners in total, including 445 boxes that were newly registered to our database. Observations were submitted from nest boxes in 33 different U.S. states, five Canadian provinces, and the countries of Mexico and Panama. We’re eternally grateful for everyone’s perseverance in the face of the pandemic.

Additionally, we wish to extend a huge thank you to everyone who contributed to our 2020 fundraiser. The campaign raised a grand total of $11,375 through the sale of 1,005 shirts and masks as well as additional donations. This was the second-highest total ever raised by an AKP fundraiser!
All of us at the American Kestrel Partnership express our sincerest gratitude for all of your ongoing support and participation—our research is only possible because of you! We look forward to an even more successful 2021 season working with all of you.
Submit Your Nest Box Observations
How to Get Kestrel Updates While Still on Lockdown: Adopt-a-Box!
Want a safe, socially distanced way to connect to an American Kestrel family as they rear a new generation while supporting kestrel research at the same time? If so, the AKP’s Adopt-a-Box program has your name all over it. Adoptees will receive an official adoption certificate and updates on their adopted box throughout the 2021 breeding season, complete with photos of the growing family that inhabits the box. Additionally, all adoptees receive a one-year membership to The Peregrine Fund, which includes our gorgeous 2021 calendar. Critically, your adoptions also provide essential resources for maintaining Boise State University’s long-term research and monitoring program, which enters its 29th season this year.

“It can be difficult to raise money for supporting the nuts and bolts of a long-term project because research grants are only short term,” says Boise State University researcher and project lead Dr. Julie Heath. “Last year, thanks to the Adopt-a-Box program, we were able to purchase lumber and supplies to replace old nest boxes that no longer provided insulation from weather. In addition, we developed 3-D printed camera platforms, which do not change size or shape in extreme temperatures, to fit into the tops of nest boxes and securely hold cameras for monitoring kestrels. If it weren’t for the Adopt-a-Box program, none of this would have been possible.”


Visit https://kestrel.peregrinefund.org/adopt-box to learn more about the Adopt-a-Box program and to adopt a box for yourself or a loved one today!
Adopt an American Kestrel Family
AKP Joins the Conservation Community in Embracing New Terminology

Since its inception nearly ten years ago, the American Kestrel Partnership has enlisted two different types of partners: professional researchers and volunteer nest box monitors. Throughout our history, we have used the terms “citizen scientist” and “citizen science” to refer to our volunteer partners. However, there is a growing movement among conservation organizations shifting away from these terms.

From now on, the American Kestrel Partnership will be joining with these organizations by using the terms “community scientist” and “community science” to describe our volunteer data collectors. After all, the AKP is at its heart a community of kestrel enthusiasts all lending their time and talents to protect this beautiful species. Regardless of their professional background, all of our partners are valuable, and we can’t thank you enough for all you do for our favorite feisty falcons.
Become an AKP Community Scientist
Many thanks to everyone who helped make our 2020 season such a success in spite of hardships. We wish you all health and safety as we work together to make 2021 even better.
 
With best wishes,
AKP Staff and Interns
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