General: 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 any 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
The 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.
Identification: 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.
Habitat: American Kestrels are found in a wide variety of habitats, including grasslands, meadows, deserts, and other open to semi-open regions. They can also be found in towns, cities and suburban areas.
Territory: 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.
Migration: Most Kestrels breeding in Alaska and Northern Canada will migrate down into British Columbia, New England and south in the winter.
Food: 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.
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 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