AKP Quarterly: Spring 2021

American Kestrel Partnership Quarterly: Spring 2021

American Kestrel Genoscape Project Reveals Several Distinct Populations

At long last, the results of the American Kestrel Genoscape Project have been officially published! Led by Dr. Kristen Ruegg, Dr. Julie Heath, and Michaela Brinkmeyer, and co-authored by the American Kestrel Partnership’s Dr. Chris McClure and Dr. Sarah Schulwitz, The American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) genoscape: implications for monitoring, management, and subspecies boundaries appears in the April 2021 issue of the journal Ornithology.

The project analyzed American Kestrel genetic samples collected by dozens of American Kestrel Partnership (AKP) partners and other researchers across the species’ North American breeding range. In addition to sequencing the American Kestrel genome for the first time, the study revealed that there are five genetically distinct populations of American Kestrels in North America. These include a resident Florida population that correlates with the Falco sparverius paulus subspecies, but also four other populations: another resident population in Texas, as well as eastern, western, and Alaska populations that use a mix of migratory strategies.

New research indicates there are five genetically distinct populations of American Kestrels in North America: eastern, western, Texas, Florida, and Alaska. Dots represent locations from which genetic samples were collected.

Graphic from Ruegg et al. 2021; used under permission. Do not reproduce without express permission from authors.
Data show that while kestrels are declining across most of their range, there is considerable regional variation, with kestrel numbers in the east falling much more rapidly than in the west. This variation suggests that kestrels in different parts of North America may be reacting differently to the same threats, or may be facing different threats entirely.

This new research opens up an intriguing new possibility: genetically-based differences in breeding timing may be at least partly responsible. As a result of climate change, kestrels in the west have begun migrating shorter distances and breeding earlier to coincide with the shift in prey availability, but no such timing shift has been observed in the east. While further study is certainly needed, it’s a thought-provoking hypothesis that, if true, could help explain one of the more concerning trends noted in current kestrel declines.
American Kestrel populations in the eastern US are falling faster than elsewhere in North America. New research indicates this may be related at least in part to a genetically-based failure to shift their breeding timing in response to climate change. Photo by Matthew Danihel.
This is just one of many new avenues of study opened up by this research, which will allow scientists to more closely examine how possible threats are affecting kestrel populations on a regional level. A huge thank you to all of our partners who contributed samples to this groundbreaking study! Your efforts have brought us another step closer to identifying and solving the causes of kestrel decline.
Read the Abstract
American Kestrel Symposium at Upcoming Raptor Research Foundation Conference
The 2021 Raptor Research Foundation Conference is coming to Boise! The conference, which is co-hosted by the American Kestrel Partnership’s parent organization, The Peregrine Fund, will be held on 8-14 October 2021 in the heart of downtown at the Boise Centre on the Grove.

There’s an added reason to attend if you’re a kestrel fan: a symposium entitled “The Full Annual Cycle of the American Kestrel: Knowledge Gaps and Conservation Needs” will review new results and ongoing research on everyone’s favorite falcon. Additionally, researchers and raptor enthusiasts will collectively discuss and share ideas to deliberate the status of the species, potential drivers of declines, areas for collaboration, and possible conservation actions needed to address the kestrel population decline.

Visit the conference website to learn more! Unable to attend in person? A small portion of the conference (though not the American Kestrel symposium) will be available virtually at a reduced cost. Early registration closes on 30 June, so don’t delay! We hope to see you there.

Register for the 2021 RRF Conference

2021 Midseason Update

American Kestrel breeding season—and our partners’ monitoring efforts—are in full swing across most of North America. As of 10 May we’ve received a total of 1,197 observations from 493 nests spread across 26 US states, two Canadian provinces, and the country of Panama. If some of those observations are yours, thank you for your participation and your prompt data entry!

Green pins represent nests with observation data reported by AKP partners in 2021. Kestrel photo by Susan Supper.

If you have monitoring data that you haven’t entered yet, we encourage you to log on and do so now! Entering your observations throughout the season makes the process much easier than submitting an entire year’s worth of data at season’s end. Additionally, it gives us a more accurate picture of project participation, allowing us to recruit new or returning partners in under-monitored regions.

If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere and haven’t started monitoring your boxes yet, it’s better late than never! Our preferred monitoring protocol is that partners check the contents of their box once every other week beginning in late winter or early spring and continuing through the breeding season. Monitoring and inputting your data consistently—even if there is no nest activity—is critical to ensure your data are as useful as possible. Go see what’s in those boxes and let us know!

Submit Your Observations to the AKP Database

Partner Bio: Rick Folkening

The American Kestrel Partnership’s database is an invaluable resource for any kestrel biologist, offering a continent-wide, multi-year dataset that no researcher could hope to replicate by collecting data on their own. This spread is only possible thanks to our many partners scattered throughout the Western Hemisphere, but it also highlights the importance of each and every partner—in some regions, just a single AKP partner or even a single nest box provides all the data we currently receive from that region. Today, we’d like to introduce you to one of these partners: Indiana’s only currently active AKP partner, Rick Folkening.

AKP partner Rick Folkening at one of his six nest boxes. While over a half-dozen partners have registered nest boxes in Indiana, only Rick has submitted observation data since 2018. Photo courtesy of Rick Folkening.

Rick first got involved with nest monitoring while living in Texas, reporting data on the many bird species that nested on his property through Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Nestwatch. “When I moved back to my home state of Indiana, I wanted to continue the nest monitoring aspect of birding,” Rick says. “I researched the American Kestrel since they use nest boxes, and found the American Kestrel Partnership during my searches.”


Rick soon registered as an AKP partner and installed his first four nest boxes in 2020, with two of the boxes attracting kestrels. “The first mating pair laid an incredible seven eggs and were diligent parents, but none of the eggs hatched,” he reports. The other pair was less zealous but more successful, with four eggs leading to four fledglings.


After a productive first season in 2020, Rick is expanding his efforts in 2021. He’s installed two additional nest boxes, and is also debuting a more efficient monitoring technique. “I had been climbing a ladder, which was quite a chore, but now I've rigged a borescope camera on a telescoping pole and can monitor the inside of the box on my phone.”

The current view inside one of Rick's nest boxes: five eggs as of his last nest check. Photo courtesy of Rick Folkening.

Rick’s efforts highlight the huge impact that even a single AKP partner can have. Because his six nest boxes are the only ones currently monitored by an AKP partner in nearly a 100-mile radius, Rick’s work is providing critical data on kestrel breeding success from an area that would otherwise remain completely unknown to us. With sixteen US states, nine Canadian provinces and territories, and dozens of other countries within the American Kestrel’s range currently unrepresented by active AKP partners, and many more regions represented by just a partner or two, there are a lot of opportunities for kestrel enthusiasts to jump in and have a similarly large impact. A huge AKP thank you to Rick for his ongoing work, and to all of our AKP partners for being a part of our team!

How to Become an AKP Partner
National Science Foundation Grant Awarded to Study Live Streaming Webcams as STEM Education Learning Tools

Led by AKP Director Dr. Sarah Schulwitz, researchers with The Peregrine Fund and Boise State University recently received a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) award that will allow them to perform the first-ever study of the outcomes of live-streaming webcams as a tool in informal STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning.

“After managing the streaming of our KestrelCam for several years, I wanted to better understand the value of what we were doing,” says Schulwitz. “Do webcams spark interest and excitement, inspire learning, or engender connectedness to nature?

The American Kestrel Partnership's Bosch KestrelCam, which was in operation from 2012 to 2018, was a STEM webcam.
“We know that people are watching webcam streams and enjoying the experience. This study is an opportunity to help turn those watching experiences into more engaging and enriching activities that can help viewers to better understand what they’re seeing,” adds Schulwitz. “We hope that our efforts will give webcam managers more tools to inspire the next generation of STEM practitioners.”
Read the Full Press Release
Get Closer Than Ever to a Kestrel Family

If you’ve ever considered adopting a kestrel box through our Adopt-a-Box program, there’s never been a better time than now. We’re making a concerted effort this year to bring our adopters even closer to their adopted kestrel families. In addition to other perks, this year’s adopters will be receiving updates on their adopted boxes that are packed with twice the information of those in previous years. The newly revamped updates will include new details about the timing of each breeding attempt, the box’s history and past residents, and additional photos. It’s as close as you can get to a kestrel family without the risk of a talon to the face!

Adopting a kestrel box through the Adopt-a-Box program nets adopters numerous perks such as an official adoption certificate, a one-year membership to The Peregrine Fund, updates on the kestrel families in their adopted box, and more. Kestrel photo courtesy of Meagan Duffee-Yates.

As of 10 May, our wonderful supporters have adopted a total of 25 American Kestrel nest boxes for the 2021 season through our Adopt-a-Box program, raising a total of $2900 to support one of the longest-running kestrel nest box monitoring programs in North America. If you want to get on board and help us reach our funding goal of $3500, it’s not too late! We plan to send out the first nest box updates later this month, but anyone adopting a kestrel box prior to July 7 will receive updates from the 2021 breeding season.

Help Us Reach our Adopt-a-Box Goal
Many thanks to all of you for your partnership and ongoing support. We wish all of you continued health and safety in the coming months, and keep that data coming!
With best wishes,
The American Kestrel Partnership Staff and Interns
Copyright © 2021 The Peregrine Fund, All rights reserved.

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