Last week I wrote about the loggerhead shrike’s steep decline in many parts of the eastern United States. There is another species that is disappearing from roughly the same areas, namely the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast Piedmont.
The waning species is the smallest raptor in North America and one of the most brightly colored: the American kestrel.
The American kestrel is a falcon, with males about the size of a robin and the females about blue jay sized. The little males are quite colorful, with bright combinations of blue-gray, rufous and buff.
A strong facial pattern is enough to clinch the identification. Their main prey is large insects but they will take mice, small birds and small reptiles, too.
I participated in six Christmas Count events this year and saw a grand total of one kestrel, at Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge. This is alarming to me since I am accustomed to finding several in a day, especially at coastal counts that I participate in.
It’s not like they are hard to see. They are generally rather conspicuous, perching prominently on wires, the tops of shrubs and fences, or even on the roofs of buildings. Just driving around from one place to another once was enough to find them. Not this year, for me at least.
The decline of this species in Mecklenburg County and North Carolina as a whole is readily shown by graphical analysis. Since 2004, there has been a steady decline in the numbers found at Lake Norman in the early winter census. Only four or five birds have been found for several years, down from a high of 19 in 2004. The results are similar statewide.
The American kestrel is with us in the Piedmont primarily as a winter resident, but there are a few pairs that still breed in Mecklenburg. Interestingly, they seem to have more success breeding uptown than in rural areas.
Enough for now about declining species; next week I will tell you about some species that are increasing in numbers in our area.
Taylor Piephoff is a local naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.
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