Category Archives: Birds

American Kestrel

American Kestrel


I think the American Kestrel, also known as Sparrow Hawk, is the most inconspicuous American bird of prey. They often sit on phone/power lines and unless you look closely they will appear like American Kestrelany other Jay sized bird. The only really distinguishing aspect of the American Kestrel’s silhouette is its beak – close to its face and hooked. If you stop and look, you will be surprised at how many you see. The American Kestrel is the most abundant falcon in North America.

Kestrels nest in cavities in trees, cliffs, buildings, and other structures. The female usually lays 4 – 7 eggs white to cream in color with brown or grey splotching. The chicks hatch in between 29-31 days and are helpless. They fledge in 30-31 days

American Kestrel – Falco SparveriusThe American Kestrel basic vocalization is killy-killy-killy at times a rapid series – klee, klee, klee, klee can be heard. The American Kestrel is a common bird to be used in falconry – in areas it may be one of a limited number available to the beginner.


At about the size of a Jay, the American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America. They are roughly 9” – 12” and have a wingspan of up to 21”. They weigh approximately 3 – 6 oz. Males have blue-grey wings with black spots and white undersides with black barring. The back is rusty, with barring on the lower half. The belly and flanks are white with black spotting. The tail is also rusty, with a white or rusty tip and a black subterminal band. The back and wings of the female American Kestrel are rusty with dark brown barring. The undersides of the females are creamy to buff with heavy brown streaking. The tail is rusty with numerous narrow dark black bars. The wings are moderately long, fairly narrow, and taper to a point. When in flight their silhouette is classic falcon – just mini-sized.


American Kestrels are found in a wide variety of habitats, including grasslands, meadows, deserts, Sparrow Hawk – american Kestrel and other open to semi-open regions. They can also be found in towns, cities and suburban areas.


The American Kestrel has an extensive range. It breeds from Alaska across northern Canada to Nova Scotia, and south throughout the USA, into central Mexico and the Caribbean down though South America to Tierra del Fuego.


Most Kestrels breeding in Alaska and Northern Canada will migrate down into British Columbia, New England and south in the winter.


American Kestrels feed largely on small animals such as grasshoppers, insects, lizards, mice, small snakes and small mammals and small birds – House Sparrows are commonly taken. I have seen them attack Chickadees and Juncos at me backyard feeder. Prey is almost always caught on the ground rather than in the air like other falcons such as the Peregrine.

White-crowned Sparrow – Zonotrichia leucophrys

White-crowned Sparrow

General: I set a feeder up in front of a window in a garden close to the house and was surprised to see a White-crowned Sparrow scurrying through the brush borders. After research I found that their presence would be short lived since they were migrating north into Canada. After doing research I found this is a flocking bird and seeing a flock is common.(2) This is a stunning bird with really distinct markings.

The White-crowned Sparrow is a large sparrowWhite-crowned Sparrows will share their territories with Fox Sparrows, but chase Chipping Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos until they leave. (1)

The White-Crowned Sparrow migrates across northern Canada and the western United States where it breeds. They nest either low in bushes or on the ground under shrubs. Females build nests out of twigs, coarse grasses, pine needles, moss, bark, and dead leaves. The female lays 3–7 pale green eggs spotted with brown. Incubation is 10 – 14 days. The chicks are born with sparse down feathers with closed eyes. They fledge in 8 – 10 days.

Identification: The White-crowned Sparrow is a large sparrow with a small bill and a long tail. White-Crowned Sparrows are approximately 5.9”–6.3” long and have a wingspan of about 8”-9.5”. They weigh between .8 – 1 oz. The head can look distinctly peaked or smooth and flat, depending on the bird’s attitude. The White-Crowned Sparrow has a black-and-white head, pale beak (pink or yellow), and crisp gray breast. The wings are brown with bars and the under-parts are grey. They are similar in appearance to the White-throated Sparrow but do not have the white throat markings or yellow marking on head.

Habitat: Look for White-crowned Sparrows in places where safe tangles of brush mix with open or grassy ground for foraging. For much of the United States, White-crowned Sparrows are most likely in winter (although two races live year round in the West, along the coast and in the mountains). (1)

Territory: Depending on time of year (see migration below) they are residents or transients in much of the US and Canada.

Migration: White-Crowned Sparrows migrate north to Alaska and northern Canada – from Manitoba to Newfoundland and into the western US mountain Areas (Washington and Oregon) in the spring. Their southern migration in the fall is to Southern US from Gulf States through to California north to New Jersey. They are year round residents in New Mexico and Arizona.

Food: The majority of foods White-crowned Sparrows eat are seeds, grains, fruit and insects such as caterpillars, beetles and other insects. (2)


(1)    Cornell University

Audubon Society Field Guide To North American Birds

Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis Cardinalis

General: According to The Audubon Society the Northern Cardinal was given its name because the deep red color of the males resemble the color of the robes of Roman Catholic Cardinals. Both sexes sing clear, song patterns, which are repeated several times, then varied. Some common songs are purdy-purdy-purdy, whoit-whoit-whoit and wheet-wheet-wheet.

The female lays three to four eggs pale green eggs that are spotted red/brown in a cup shaped nest. Incubation takes 12 to 13 days. When hatched the chicks are naked except for sparse tufts of grayish down and eyes closed. Young fledge 10 to 11 days after hatching.

In the United States, the Northern Cardinal is the mascot of a number of athletic teams. In professional sports, it is the mascot of the St. Louis Cardinals of Major League Baseball and the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League. In college athletics, it is the mascot of many schools, including the University of Louisville, the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, Ball State University, Illinois State University, Lamar University, the Catholic University of America, Wesleyan University, Wheeling Jesuit University, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, North Idaho College and Saint John Fisher College. It is also the state bird of seven states, more than any other species: North Carolina, West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Virginia.

Northern CardinalIdentification: The Northern Cardinal is a mid-sized songbird that is 8” – 9“ long with a wing span of 10” – 12“. As can be seen from the pictures, the Northern Cardinal has a distinctive crest on the head and a mask on its face which is black in the male and gray in the female. The male is a brilliant crimson red with a black face mask over the eyes, extending to the upper chest. The color is dullest on the back and wings. The female is fawn, with mostly grayish-brown tones and a slight reddish tint on the wings, the crest, and the tail feathers.

Young birds, both male and female, are similar to the adult female until the fall, when they molt and grow adult feathers.

Northern CardinalHabitat: The Northern Cardinal is found in woodlands, gardens, thickets, shrub-lands, and swamps. It is a common bird in suburbs and is a frequent visitor to backyard bird feeding stations.

Territory: It can be found in southern Canada – Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia and east, through the eastern United States from Maine to Texas and south through Mexico.

Migration: Cardinals are year round residents and really don’t have formal migratory patterns.

Food: Cardinals primarily eat seeds, grains, and fruits, however; they do eat insects to a lesser extent. Parent birds feed nestlings mostly insects.