AKP Quarterly: Summer 2019
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American Kestrel Partnership Quarterly: Summer 2019

Greetings AKP partners! As breeding season in North American has come to an end, we thank you for all of your hard work and dedication in monitoring American Kestrels.

Please enter your data for this season to make sure your efforts are considered at the continental scale. As of now, only 652 boxes have data entered for 2019 but we'd like to see that number surpass 1,400. For anyone that has a lot of boxes, we will help enter your data if you arrange to send us your data sheets (contact 

Read on to learn how your data are currently being used to advance kestrel conservation. 
Phenology is the timing of seasonal events, such as breeding and migration, and is critically important for the reproductive success and survival of birds. Although the phenology of many species is shifting with climate change, the specific factors that influence timing are not well understood. Using the data contributed by AKP's network, we are working to uncover how the timing of breeding in kestrels is affected by geography, elevation, weather, and other environmental conditions. This research will shed light on kestrel breeding phenology and its drivers across North America and highlights the important contribution of AKP's citizen scientists for advancing kestrel research and conservation. This work is being carried out by Jay Winiarski, a PhD Student at Boise State University. We will keep you updated as results are published!
Genoscape Update
We would like to thank everyone that sent in feather samples for the genoscape project; we would not have been able to conduct this research without you! The Full Cycle Phenology project and UCLA Bird Genoscape project, in collaboration with The Peregrine Fund’s American Kestrel Partnership (AKP) and HawkWatch International used cutting-edge genetic techniques and large-scale collaboration of professional and citizen scientists to identify genetically distinct groups of American Kestrels breeding in North America.

Currently, a map is being created to discern the genoscape and migration map for populations. Hopefully within the next quarter, a research paper regarding the findings of the project will be close to being submitted for publication status. Once published, we will share the findings from all of your hard work. In the meantime, we have a brief update below with findings from Dr. Julie Heath.
Full Cycle Phenology Website
A note from Dr. Julie Heath, Boise State University
     "We sequenced 287 genetic samples collected from kestrels near the edges of their North American range and identified single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that differed between genetic groups. Then, we designed SNP assays for genotyping kestrel feathers collected by AKP partners and other contributors to create a genoscape (that is, a map of genetic differentiation in kestrel breeding areas across North America). Results showed low genetic structure (that is, not much differentiation) within American Kestrels, suggesting that kestrels from different regions disperse and mate with each other. However, using the SNP approach, we found evidence of five genetically distinct groups, revealing previously undescribed genetic structure in American Kestrels. There is evidence of a genetic separation between kestrels in eastern and western North America, the southeast (Florida), the south (Texas), and the northwest (Alaska). Further, the SNP assay reliably assigned wintering and migratory individuals to their respective genetic groups. Future genetics work will focus on relationships among genotypes and population-level changes in phenology."
No box? No worries. YOU can still help contribute data!
Introducing Nest Quest Go
In a new crowdsourcing project run by our friends at Cornell Lab of Ornithology's NestWatch Program, you're invited to delve into decades of handwritten nest data cards and the valuable information they hold. You can help digitize these cards while taking a trip back in time and peeking into the stories inside historic kestrel nests. Just sign up for the project via Zooniverse—even a few minutes is really helpful. At the moment, the featured species is American Kestrels, with more species lined up for the future. Check it out.
Start Here to Digitize Historic Records
National Science Foundation's 
Research Experience for Undergraduates in Raptor Research
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the US federal agency that funds research in all non-medical fields of science and engineering. One of their programs, NSF's Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), connects motivated undergraduate students with scientists for a summer of hands-on research experience. The REU Site in Raptor Research is run by Faculty in the Raptor Research Center at Boise State University and is funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation. Program mentors are Boise State Faculty and local collaborators whose work focuses on raptor research. AKP Director, Sarah Schulwitz, is honored to serve as a mentor for REU students interested in raptor research. This summer, we were delighted to have Boise State University student and former AKP data entry intern, Leticia Camacho, on board as a recipient of an NSF REU in Raptor Research. 
"The REU in Raptor Research has been an amazing opportunity to further my career in the biological sciences. Through this program I have learned so much! The most important thing that this program has given me is the confidence to take on personal responsibility to manage a project. The staff at The Peregrine Fund and the faculty in REU Raptor Research at Boise State really foster the growth of young scientists and helps them advance their careers."  
- Leticia Camacho, NSF REU Raptor Research Student
Undergraduate students interested in studying raptors are encouraged to learn more about the NSF REU in Raptor Research through Boise State University and apply for next summer. The application period for Summer 2020 will open in December 2019.
Learn more about NSF's REU in Raptor Research
Talkin' Turkey: Citizen Scientist Becomes an Author
Michael Griffith is an AKP citizen scientist and was accustomed to observing kestrels. One chilly January day, he noticed something strange in his backyard - a female kestrel scavenging the remains of a turkey carcass! So, he contacted AKP staff and we did a quick literature search to find that American Kestrels have seldom (only once!) been documented eating wild carrion. So, together with AKP Director, Sarah Schulwitz and The Peregrine Fund's Director of Global Conservation Science, Chris McClure, they wrote about their findings to be added to the scientific literature. Fast forward a little more than a year, and Michael is now a published author in a scientific journal. The research paper titled "American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) scavenging on domestic turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) carcass" was published in the June 2019 issue of The Wilson Journal of Ornithology. It isn't everyday that a citizen scientist becomes a published author in a scientific journal! Great work, Michael!
Read Abstract Here (scroll to the bottom of our page)
Boise State University Undergraduate Research Day
The Science of Citizen Science
The Boise State University Undergraduate Research Conference enables students to demonstrate what they have learned through their research, internship, or scholarship. This year, AKP interns, Leticia Camacho (above, left) and Jeremiah Sullivan (above, right) presented posters about their research regarding citizen science. Both found some interesting results regarding the science of citizen science. Here is what they found:
  • More than 3,500 nest boxes have been registered with the AKP.
  • AKP partners do a pretty good job following AKP's nest box installation protocol including set-up, orientation, bedding material, and nest box cleaning.
  • The number of registered nest boxes has increased steadily over time, however, nest box monitoring generally decreases with each year since installation.
Many of our partners are doing a wonderful job of installing and monitoring nest boxes year after year and for that we thank you! 

We understand how exciting it can be to install a nest box in hopes of seeing kestrels raise young in your own backyard. We also understand that if no kestrels use the box your interest may wane. Although interest and monitoring may decrease over time since installation, we remind partners that kestrels are more likely to use a box a few years after installation, especially if it is in a good habitat. Even if kestrels do not nest within the first year of installation, monitoring and nest box maintenance (changing bedding) will allow the opportunity for kestrels to inhabit the next year.

We seek to understand why kestrels use some boxes but not others. This information will help us make better recommendations for box placement to be better stewards for our beloved little falcons. Therefore, we encourage our partners to monitor boxes even if there are no kestrels using the nest box because the information we gain from an empty box is just as important as that from an occupied one. 

The responsibilities of everyday life may make it difficult to continue monitoring after a few years. We encourage folks that are working alone to reach out to local birding or master naturalists groups to see if they might help out and continue monitoring your boxes if you are no longer able to.

Partner Spotlight: Julia Rice and Peter Stempe

Julia Rice and Peter Stempe became AKP partners after a visit to our education center at The Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey. Because their home is adjacent to open sagebrush and grassland habitat, they thought it would be an excellent location for a kestrel box, who are known to seek open habitat. They were right: in February 2013, Julia and Peter installed a nest box in their backyard. Every year since, kestrels have nested successfully!
"We feel privileged to have a "front row seat" for observing the kestrels for several months each year. It takes very little work to keep the box in order and to enter data and we get so much in return. Even though neither of us have science background, entering data into the AKP database was a no-brainer since we enjoy checking on the nest throughout the season. It has been a terrific educational experience!" - Julia Rice

We are thankful to have dedicated and enthusiastic partners that love kestrels as much as we do. Julia and Peter are a wonderful example that anyone can make a difference and have a meaningful impact even if it is only one kestrel nest box.
Join the Discussion on our Website!
Protocol Reminder
Monitoring and inputting your data consistently – even when there is no nest activity – is critical to the success of AKP. We seek to understand why kestrels use some boxes but not others, so an empty box is just as important as an occupied one.
  • Check the contents of your box once every other week beginning in late winter/early spring beginning around early March. At minimum, check the box once when there are eggs, and then check again within 30 days for nestlings. 
  • Record what you see inside the nest and estimate age of nestlings on our data entry formsHow many kestrel eggs? How many nestlings? How old are nestlings?
  • Enter your nest record and observation data into the AKP website. Be sure you are logged in. Under the ‘Research’ tab, click 'Nests' or 'Observations' to enter nest record or observation data. Whenever possible, we encourage partners to enter information the same day it is collected!
Do not monitor more than once a week to avoid stressing the kestrels. It is illegal to touch or possess any part of an American Kestrel (including feathers and eggs) without proper permits.
AKP Protocols, Data Sheets, Nesting Age Guide, and More!
Support Our Work
It has been a busy year for us and we are so grateful to all of our passionate partners! Please enjoy these photos that shows a few of our visits with AKP partners who got to witness us banding kestrels and got to meet some of our adorable feathered friends.
We want to be able to continue helping kestrels, meeting with partners, and mentoring students. Would you consider supporting our work with a gift of $25 or more to the American Kestrel Partnership?
Thank you For Supporting Our Work
Many thanks for your partnership and support!
With best wishes,
AKP Staff and Interns
Copyright © 2019 The Peregrine Fund, All rights reserved.

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