AKP Quarterly: Winter 2019
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American Kestrel Partnership Quarterly: Winter 2019

Winter Kestrel Studies

As we work to understand why kestrels have experienced long-term declines across much of North America, research suggests that the wintering grounds or migration grounds may hold important clues. Therefore, understanding over-winter survival and migration patterns for American Kestrels has become a top research priority. Read more about our research recommendations. Below, learn about a few of the active winter studies of AKP partners.
Full Cycle Phenology: With the first full annual cycle complete, the Full Cycle Phenology team has been working through their second wintering season, collecting genetic and isotopic samples from American Kestrels on their wintering grounds. 

In January and February of this year, they have sampled 39 kestrels in Texas, 20 in Florida, and attached GPS transmitters to eight birds (female kestrel with GPS transmitter pictured above). The team is currently working with local Pronatura biologists to sample and attach transmitters to kestrels wintering in Veracruz and Puebla, Mexico. 

Stay tuned in the coming months for updates on our breeding season plans and how you can continue to contribute helping this wide-ranging project! Read more on the
Full Cycle Phenology website.
University of North Texas: Researchers at the University of North Texas have had busy winters in Denton County, Texas. During their work the past three winters, PhD student Kelsey Biles (pictured above, left) and Drs. Jim Bednarz (pictured above, right) and Jeff Johnson have found that kestrels flock to their area during the winter months and show extremely high site fidelity throughout the season.

This year, thanks to grants and donor support to the AKP, they were able to dive even deeper into their questions of over-winter survival and migration patterns between wintering and breeding grounds. The North Texas team marked 59 American Kestrels this winter with field readable color bands and deployed lightweight tracking devices (10 GPS loggers and 10 geolocators, both from Lotek) on 20 birds. Observations immediately following the attachment of the devices as well as observations several days later showed that kestrels flew well and appeared unencumbered by their new accessories. Next year, the team will retrieve the devices to learn the migration routes these birds took to return back to their breeding locales of choice.

Preparing for the 2019 Breeding Season

Fantastic job to AKP partners that have recently put up boxes! In previous years, many installed boxes went un-monitored, even in the first year they were installed. But those trends are improving. We are happy to share that 90% of boxes installed in 2017 were monitored in their first year and 72% of boxes installed in 2018 were monitored in their first year. For 2019, we hope that 100% of newly-installed boxes are also monitored. If you own boxes that were installed in previous years, we strongly encourage you to continue monitoring those boxes -- especially since established boxes are the ones that kestrels use more often anyway!

Monitoring a box according to AKP protocol each year and also contributing your observation data is critically important since 
research shows that artificial nest boxes aren't necessarily going to help a population.

Access to Protocols, Data Sheets, Nestling Aging Guide, and More!

Our preferred protocol (North America): 

  • Starting in early Spring (~mid-March in N. America), monitor boxes once every two weeks through mid-summer: 
    • To monitor the box, look inside the box and record what you see. How many kestrel eggs? How many nestlings? How old are the nestlings?
  • Record your data on a data sheet.
  • Sign in to your AKP account and enter your data into the continent-wide database.
Our minimum recommended protocol: 

Dr. Julie Heath's lab at Boise State University will still be accepting feather samples during the 2019 breeding season for the Full Cycle Phenology Project. Learn more on their website by clicking here, where you can also request more sampling envelopes. Please direct Full Cycle Phenology Project questions to 

Full Cycle Phenology Project Website

Partner Spotlight: Joe Tomcho

Joe Tomcho is a conservation technician for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. He is responsible for land and wildlife management of the Sandy Mush Game Lands in western NC. In addition to monitoring bluebirds, owls, and several game species, he developed an American Kestrel nest monitoring program that has been active since 2009.

As part of his efforts to restore the habitat and to provide nesting opportunities to kestrels, Joe installed 20 kestrel nest boxes in 2009. Each year since, he has monitored boxes to understand kestrel nest productivity and to remove European Starlings. To document kestrel return rates and site fidelity, he and colleague, Mark Hopey (Director of Southern Appalachian Raptor Research), started color banding kestrels in 2013. Joe feels fortunate that his passion double times as a job, “As a land manager, having the ability to restore and maintain quality early successional habitats that allow these and other birds to thrive is one of the reasons I love going to work. It’s not my job, it’s my passion,” Joe said.

Joe is happy to report that since 2010, a total of 90 American Kestrel nests have produced 405 eggs, 302 nestlings, and approximately 199 fledglings with 2018 being their best year yet with 15 nests producing a total of 36 fledglings. In 2018, almost one-fifth (5 of 26 total) of the breeders were banded on-site as nestlings. He’s found that European Starling occupancy has declined dramatically during the programs’ lifetime, from 90% starling occupancy in 2011 to just 10% in 2018! Further, color banding has revealed that some kestrels remain on territory year-round in some of the better quality habitats, but other kestrels disperse to parts unknown during the winter months.

And if all that doesn’t keep him busy enough, Joe also enthusiastically creates educational outreach opportunities so that he may inspire community members to understand the importance of habitat protection and restoration. Each year, he hosts 30-75 school aged children, game land neighbors, and the public to gain hands on experience banding kestrel nestlings. “It’s a great opportunity to teach about wildlife management, conservation, and kestrel biology,” Joe said.

We commend you and thank you for your enthusiastic devotion towards kestrel conservation, Joe! Keep up the great work!

In Memorandum of Dr. Tom Cade (1928-2019)

Dr. Tom Cade's passion for birds of prey paired with his tenacious spirit were two critical components that led to his fantastic contributions to conservation. In one of the greatest conservation success stories in existence, Dr. Cade pioneered captive propagation and release techniques that enabled the hard-earned recovery of Peregrine Falcons in North America after their populations had been devastated by widespread use of the pesticide, DDT.

Nearly 50 years ago in 1970, he co-founded
The Peregrine Fund, one of the leading international raptor conservation organizations of our day, and the parent organization of the American Kestrel Partnership. Dr. Tom Cade passed away on February 6, 2019 at age 91 years. He leaves behind a legacy that inspires conservationists to think critically and work hard to to achieve our passions.

For American Kestrel enthusiasts and biologists, he also leaves behind early works that inform our knowledge of our favorite falcon. The following are just a few of the interesting observations he made of American Kestrels: 
  • Cade and colleague (Willoughby) categorized several common behaviors exhibited by kestrels during the breeding season: aerial display, whining and chittering, “courtship” feeding, copulation, and nest-site inspection. (Willoughby and Cade 1964; see Palmer 1988, must be logged into AKP partner profile to access)
  • Upon study in California, Cade observed that newly-fledged young stayed with their parents as a family unit for several weeks before becoming fully independent. Read his entire paper: Cade 1955.
  • After gaining independence from their parents, Cade observed that siblings sometimes formed social hunting groups. Sometimes they banded together with juveniles from several other broods as well, to as many as 20 individuals. They occupied and hunted in an common area of some 200-300 acres. Read his entire paper: Cade 1955.
The Board and staff of The Peregrine Fund mourn the loss of their co-founder and mentor, one of the world’s most visionary conservationists and widely-respected scientists, Professor Tom Cade. Read more on Dr. Cade's life's work. 

Check out the AKP Website

We've given an exciting makeover to the front page of the AKP website. Now you can see a map of all registered nests as well as the number of registered partners, nests, and observations updated each day! Not to worry about location details being too accurate though: the map shown on AKP's homepage does not show precise locations - rather, it "blurs" the location data so that the "pins" you see on the map are general locations somewhere in the vicinity (within ~seven-miles) of the nests' actual coordinates. The number in each pin is the number of boxes in that ~seven-mile square block. Visit here.

Bosch KestrelCam Update

Thank you to the Bosch KestrelCam watchers for your past enthusiasm and to past KestrelCam sponsors for your support! We are sorry to announce that we will not be streaming the KestrelCam for the 2019 breeding season. This decision will enable us to use the conservation dollars saved to put greater focus on understanding the causes behind kestrel decline so we can appropriately conserve their populations. If you can't imagine a spring without a dose of kestrel family life, worry not! This year, you can tune into an excellent KestrelCam which debuted last year and is co-hosted by Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Bird Cams Project and Raptor Resource Project!

Thanks for supporting our work

We thank all of you that have ever made gifts to support the work of the American Kestrel Partnership. We are grateful to our donors for generously supporting our work. Today, we'd like to recognize several foundations that have made recent donations: 

  • Wattis Dumke Foundation
  • Tapeats Foundation
  • Felburn Foundation
  • Idaho Falconers Association
We invite you all to make a gift within your capacity ($50, $100, $5,000 - it ALL helps!) to help us continue the quest to help our favorite little falcon! Thank you for YOUR generosity.
We invite YOU to DONATE to help kestrels!
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Copyright © 2019 The Peregrine Fund, All rights reserved.

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