AKP Quarterly: Spring 2020

American Kestrel Partnership Quarterly: Spring 2020

Changes to Monitoring Protocol in Light of Coronavirus Pandemic
All across North America, migratory birds are arriving back on their breeding grounds and building their nests in preparation for a new generation of feathered friends to join us, and American Kestrels are no exception. Normally this means we’re gearing up for an exciting season of nest monitoring and data collection - but of course this is no ordinary year.

If you are still able to safely monitor your nests this season, we encourage you to do so. However, YOUR health and safety is our top priority. Should you decide to monitor your nest boxes less frequently or not at all due to the coronavirus pandemic, we completely support this decision. Please let us know by logging in to your data entry portal, selecting the relevant nest box from the “Observations” portal, and selecting the “COVID-19 cancellation” option. We support you and send our best wishes for your health and safety.

Do You Collect Data on American Kestrels?

There are many different groups working on American Kestrels. We are interested in making sure that American Kestrel researchers are coordinating their efforts, wherever possible and appropriate, for maximum impact and efficient resource use. We also want to understand where different types of kestrel research is being conducted.

If you collect data on American Kestrels, be it on wintering or migrating kestrels, with one or more nest boxes during the breeding season, or even for wildlife rehabilitation, please fill out this questionnaire. Doing so will help us collect and organize information on existing American Kestrel research being conducted across the species' range. Results will help us understand and fill in the gaps in kestrel research!

If you work with others on an American Kestrel project, please select only one person to fill out the form per project. This form will be available to fill out from 20 May 2020 until 20 June 2020. We thank you in advance for taking the time to share information about your research.

This form was created in collaboration by Drs. Sarah Schulwitz and Chris McClure of The Peregrine Fund,  Drs. Laurie Goodrich and Jean-François Therrien of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Anjolene Hunt of Boise State University, Dr. John Smallwood of Montclair State University, Dr. Dave Oleyar of HawkWatch International, Dr. Adam Duerr of Conservation Science Global, and Dr. Jim Bednarz of the University of North Texas. 

QUESTIONNAIRE: YOUR American Kestrel Research

Please Welcome the American Kestrel Partnership's Newest Staff Member

We would like to introduce The Peregrine Fund’s newest staff member, Matthew Danihel, to the American Kestrel Partnership. Matthew joined The Peregrine Fund this March as our new Engagement Coordinator. As part of the duties of his new job, Matthew will be handling most of the public outreach and communications for the American Kestrel Partnership.

A 2009 graduate of Delaware Valley University’s wildlife conservation and management program, Matthew comes to The Peregrine Fund with an extensive background in ornithology. His prior work experience includes passerine and raptor banding in Idaho and Ontario, monitoring shorebird and waterfowl nests in Alaska, performing behavioral analyses on shorebirds in South Carolina and New Jersey, and more. Additionally, he has done a wide variety of video production, graphic design, and social media work for multiple conservation-minded agencies and NGOs. Please join us in welcoming Matthew to the team!

Supporting Research to Understand Kestrels in Winter

The mission of the American Kestrel Partnership (AKP) is to understand what is causing the decline of American Kestrels so that we can apply appropriate conservation measures. Previous research tells us that the key to understanding kestrel decline may be found on their wintering grounds or during their migration.

Following research recommendations, we’ve gone to work. The AKP is now supporting rigorous research on American Kestrels occurring on two sites in Texas. Thanks to our generous donors, we are providing the tracking devices that should help us better understand over-winter survival, annual survival, and migration pathways for kestrels that spend the winter in Texas. In the coming years, we hope to emulate these studies with additional AKP partners on other critical wintering grounds. 

PhD student Kelsey Biles has been pioneering the way in Texas. Kelsey and a small army of student assistants and volunteers have been trapping, color banding, placing tracking devices, and re-sighting kestrels in Texas for the past several winters. We hope you’ll enjoy a short video that introduces you to Kelsey and her major advisor and long-time raptor researcher, Dr. Jim Bednarz, and highlights a typical day of kestrel winter trapping! Thanks to our Boise State University undergraduate intern, Heidi Henderson, for compiling this video. Read below for some highlights of our interview with Kelsey.
During the past two winters, Kelsey has personally trapped 170 American Kestrels using these techniques. No birds have been injured during trapping.

Q & A with PhD Student Kelsey Biles:

What has been your most exciting trapping experience? 

“In February of 2019, I received my permits to trap kestrels on my own after several months of trapping under my mentor, Dr. Jim Bednarz. I was nervous to go out on my own but determined to catch some kestrels so that I could deploy migration trackers. So the morning after my permit was issued, I enlisted two students to help me and we set out trapping around 7:45 AM. My first catch was just after 8:00 AM and exciting on its own, but my second catch was probably the most exciting one of my career to date. It had been almost two hours since the first catch when we finally saw a beautiful male in the perfect trapping location. As soon as we placed our first trap, a female showed up and sat next to the male. We quickly placed a second trap, and before we could even back away fully from the traps, the male dived straight to the first one. Within twenty seconds, the female landed on the second trap. Both birds were caught in less than a minute! Out of the 170 kestrels I’ve caught, I’ve only had two of these events where we caught a pair simultaneously, so this happening on my first day leading trapping was incredibly exciting! Both kestrels were in excellent health and flew off together after release. They were later seen preening each other nearby.”


What do you love about kestrels?

“Kestrels have such distinct personalities! Their sass and ferocity despite their size often remind me of small dogs. We have kestrels across our study area that we’ve watched for three years now and I feel like I’ve come to know some of them on a personal level because their attitudes and behaviors can be so unique to the individual. I also love the adaptability I’ve seen from kestrels. Bulldoze the tree they were nesting in to build a house? They’ll nest in the power poles. Rodent population crashes? They’ll switch to insect and reptile diets. They are persistent, and fierce, and determined to thrive.”

Great work, Kelsey and team! We look forward to learning more about kestrels thanks to your hard work and dedicated research!

As many people and businesses face stay-at-home orders to protect themselves and others from COVID-19, biologists also face hurdles in conducting field research. Field research involves traveling to remote sites, often in pairs or small groups, to survey, monitor, and collect samples from wildlife. With the current pandemic situation, much of this research has been drastically altered or even temporarily shut down, and requires researchers to constantly update plans as conditions and restrictions change on a state-to-state and site-to-site basis. Read more about how the Full Cycle Phenology team has adjusted their operations.

For those of you collecting genetic samples for the Full Cycle Phenology Project, summer 2020 will be the FINAL field season of the kestrel genetics and phenology project. Please read more on contributing genetic samples on the Full Cycle Phenology Project website.

Full Cycle Phenology Website
Learn How Your Data Helps Save American Kestrels
Mark your calendars! On 11 June, Director of the American Kestrel Partnership, Dr. Sarah Schulwitz, will be presenting as part of the third session of The Peregrine Fund's ongoing Speakers' Series. Entitled "The American Kestrel Partnership: Working Together To Solve A Mystery," this online webinar will explore how collaboration between researchers and citizen scientists is helping to discover the reasons behind the perplexing decline of the American Kestrel. This is a wonderful opportunity to interact with AKP staff and to learn more about how your data is helping these pint-size predators.

Registration for this webinar also grants you access to three other excellent webinars presented by Peregrine Fund biologists. Michael Henderson's "Gyrfalcons: Sentinels for a Changing Environment" will take place on 28 May and focuses on our work to better understand the relationship between these arctic specialists and their shifting world. On 4 June, Hana Weaver will present "Puerto Rican Sharp-shinned Hawks: Saving a Bird on the Brink of Extinction," which highlights our efforts to bring back from the brink a bird that was reduced to just 19 individuals by the 2017 hurricane season. And lastly, on 18 June Marta Curti will present "Community, Education, and Raptor Conservation in Panama and the Dominican Republic," which documents our work protecting endangered birds of prey in these countries by engaging local communities.

Each presentation of "Saving Species: Virtual Speakers' Series" takes place at 1 p.m. MDT (3 p.m. EDT). The four-part series is $10 for Peregrine Fund members and $30 for non-members. Everyone who signs up for the series will receive a link to an online recording of all four talks at the end of the series.
Register for The Peregrine Fund's Speakers' Series
You Can Help!

Want to help protect the American Kestrel from the comfort of your own home? Looking for a unique gift for the nature lover in your life? If so, we’ve got the perfect solution. Each year, students from Boise State University monitor kestrel nest boxes in and around Boise, collecting information on nesting success and survival. You can help support their work by sponsoring one of these nest boxes as part of our Adopt-a-Box program. Your sponsorship will go to helping pay for box maintenance, fuel, and other associated expenses of running a long-term monitoring program.

Adopting a nest box also nets you lots of cool perks, including reports on the birds nesting in your box, an official adoption certificate, a one-year membership to The Peregrine Fund, and a free birds of prey calendar! Of course, you’ll also be helping us gain insight into the ecology of kestrels and ultimately discover the cause of population declines occurring across North America. Learn more:

Also, the ever popular 2016 AKP T-shirt designed by Scott Partridge (pictured above) is back and redesigned for unisex fit so you can represent the American Kestrel Partnership in style. Or, you can sport other raptor gear when you Shop The Peregrine Fund - Online Store! With the purchase of your favorite raptor gear, you support the conservation of birds of prey worldwide!
Buy A Tee
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.

If you are not monitoring this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, please indicate this by going to your 'Observations' page and selecting each nest that will be unmonitored this year. 
AKP Protocols, Data Sheets, Nesting Age Guide, and More!
Many thanks for your partnership and support! Sending our best wishes for your health and safety in these uncertain times. 
With best wishes,
AKP Staff and Interns
Copyright © 2020 The Peregrine Fund, All rights reserved.

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