Wrapping Up 2017 Kestrel Banding

Last weekend, Ed, Nick and I traveled to the Alpena area one last time to band Kestrel nestlings. With Arnie Pokorzynski as our guide, we were able to band 20 nestlings, bringing our total to 103 Kestrels. One interesting highlight was discovering 8 eggs in one nest box. American Kestrels usually lay 4-6 eggs, so this clutch was quite large. Although we do not know with certainty, we hypothesize that a female Kestrel may have laid some eggs that for some reason she was unable to return to, at which time another female Kestrel may have taken over the nest box and laid additional eggs. We also banded our 100th Kestrel!

8 eggs in one nest box!
An exciting bird: the 100th Kestrel we banded! This male is approximately 24 days old and he has a bit of leftover food stuck on his beak!
Although these two Kestrels are from the same nest, the male chick on the left is older than the female chick on the right. Female Kestrels lay their eggs over a period of days, often laying a few eggs before beginning to incubate. The eggs will also hatch over a few days, which sometimes results in chicks from the same clutch exhibiting age differences.


Here we show the same chicks from a different angle. In terms of size, the female on the bottom is not much smaller than the male at the top. However, she has much more fluffy down and her feathers have not had as much time to emerge. We aged this female to be about 16 days old and her brother to be about 18 days old.

Today, July 7, we visited 2 nest boxes in Emmet County which contained nestlings that had previously been too young to band. Both boxes contained 3 young each, which brought our season total to 109 American Kestrels banded. Only 1 of the 109 was an adult. Today will likely have been our last day of Kestrel banding this summer.

A bittersweet bird: the last Kestrel to be banded, our 109th! This male is about 16 days old.
A dorsal view of our last Kestrel featuring our banding kit in the background. In the coming days, he will lose his white down while the feathers of his juvenile plumage lengthen and grow.

More Kestrel Banding!

Another June weekend meant more American Kestrel chicks to band! On June 23, Ed, Nick and Frances travelled to the Alpena area once again to meet up with Arnie Pokorzynski. 28 chicks were banded. On June 24 we visited next boxes in Cheboygan and Emmet counties. We banded 5 more chicks. Several nest boxes we checked contained chicks too young to band. We will revisit these boxes in the coming weeks with the hopes of banding their inhabitants.

Aside from banding these Kestrels, one of our objectives has also been to collect data to contribute to the American Kestrel Partnership’s genoscaping project. This project aims to compile genetic information about Kestrels around America. To do this, we collect two breast feathers from one nestling per clutch, which will be sent to a lab to be analyzed. The goal is to create a map that geographically differentiates subpopulations of Kestrels based on base pairs found in their DNA sequence. This will better help us understand the specific migratory routes of different populations within the species.


Here we compare two nestmates. This photo illustrates the differences between female (the bird on the left) and male (the bird on the right) Kestrels. These nestlings are 23-25 days old and resemble miniature adults at this stage.
This female is close to fledging. American Kestrels leave the nest around 31 days after hatching, but parental care continues after fledging for about another week.
A few of the boxes we checked this last weekend contained chicks too young to band. We will wait until at least 13 days after hatching to band these chicks. This will give their feathers time to emerge and will allow us to determine their sex.
Ed, Frances and Nick work together to retrieve a clutch of 5 feisty chicks accompanied by Steve Baker and Kathy Bricker of MSRW. (Photo credit: Steve Baker)


Kestrel Banding

As we gear up for another weekend of banding, we thought we would share some of the American Kestrel photos we have taken thus far.

Several of the nest boxes we checked in the last two weekends contained eggs or chicks too young to band. With Kestrels, waiting until at least day 13 after hatching allows feathers to emerge enough from the sheath for us to reliably sex them. It’s easy to sex the nestlings because males have blue-gray wing feathers while females exhibit a rufous color.

American Kestrel clutch sizes generally range from 4-6 eggs which the female Kestrel incubates for about 28 days.
This male nestling is about 18 days old.
At about 20 days old, this male nestling has lost a lot of down and the feathers of his juvenile plumage are quickly emerging!
Sometimes we have to climb ladders.

We are looking forward to checking on a lot more Kestrel nest boxes this weekend and will soon have many more photos to share!

Nick, Ed, and I holding a clutch of 5 nestlings after banding and collecting data on them.

Banding Am. Kestrel nestlings

MSRW volunteers Ed Pike, Nick Alito, Francis Whalen and Selena Creed are working with the Am. Kestrel Genoscape Project. They are banding Am. Kestrels, adults and nestlings, and collecting feather samples for DNA testing at a lab at Boise State University. Last Friday, June 16, with the help of Arnie Pokorzynski from Alpena; Ed, Nick, Francis and Selena went to the Alpena area and banded nestlings from 6 nest boxes, a total of 36 nestlings banded. On Sat. June 17 Ed, Nick and Francis checked nest boxes in the Emmet and Cheboygan County area on private property and on Little Traverse Conservancy properties. Five more nest boxes were checked and 7 nestlings were banded. One nest still had eggs and one nest had nestlings too young to band which will require a return trip. A fun couple of days working with Am. Kestrels.

Hawk Watch, June 4

Heavy fog and misting rain delayed the count all morning. It finally cleared around 1:00 PM and I got in an hour of watching before misting rain started again and reduced visibility. Unfortunately, no hawks moved by in that time. Tomorrow is the last day of the count for this season and the weather looks much more reasonable.

Hawk Watch, June 3

The Broad-wingeds continue to trickle in. It was pretty nice today despite a fairly strong east wind all day. Interestingly, it was the Turkey Vultures who hesitated to cross the Straits rather than Broad-wingeds. Thankfully, all the raptors crossed eventually. Hard to say how tomorrow will pan out with a northerly wind.

Turkey Vulture – 52
Bald Eagle – 1
Broad-winged Hawk – 126

Common Loon – 1

Hawk Watch, June 1-2

With just a few days left of the count, there are still a handful of birds moving through. June 1 started quite nice but unexpected afternoon rain shut the modest movement down. Today was supposed to be west winds all day but instead it was northeasterly until late afternoon. This was a nice change of pace since the previous few days of west winds had been pushing birds way to the east side of Mackinaw City, mostly out of my view. Today the raptors were often right over head.

June 1
Turkey Vulture – 11
Broad-winged Hawk – 53
Red-tailed Hawk – 1

June 2
Turkey Vulture – 39
Bald Eagle – 1
Northern Harrier – 1
Broad-winged Hawk – 177
Red-tailed Hawk – 5
Merlin – 1

Hawk Watch, May 31

Unfortunately movement never picked up after the morning rain had stopped. I only managed a total of 2 Turkey Vultures. It’s really a shame because in the final days of the count, we can’t afford days like these if we want to improve our season totals. Tomorrow seems like it could be a decent day, hopefully the moderately strong winds don’t hurt the movement too much.

Turkey Vulture – 2

Hawk Count, May 30

As was the case yesterday, strong SW winds were not my friend. Raptors were seemingly being pushed to the eastern shoreline and that likely means many did not come into my view. Those that did were already very high and often drifting a bit southward from the northeast, creating a complicated counting situation. There was still a reasonably nice showing of raptors but not what I would have hoped from south winds. There have been a few big pushes of Broad-winged Hawks at a downstate hawkwatch recently, so I think there is still hope for us. Although tomorrow looks grim with rain in the forecast.

Turkey Vulture – 33
Cooper’s Hawk – 1
Broad-winged Hawk – 100
Red-tailed Hawk – 4

Hawk Watch, May 29

Today started with a bang but sadly fizzled out rather quick. The first hour had 229 Broad-winged Hawks go north, but this momentum died by 11:00 AM when it rained for about an hour. After the rain stopped, the only hawks that could be found were seen extremely high to the northeast, barely visible with binoculars and essentially invisible unless they were in front of a cloud. The gusty SW winds seemingly pushed all the birds to the lake shore and none were coming over my head. I can only imagine how many birds passed me by like this, given the good wind conditions. I’m hoping the raptors don’t repeat this again tomorrow, as the wind direction and speed is similar.

In the waterbird department, I once again saw decent sized flocks of migrant Canada Geese. Much less than yesterday, I still had around 130 geese migrating north.

Turkey Vulture – 52
Bald Eagle – 3
Broad-winged Hawk – 340
Red-tailed Hawk – 8
Merlin – 1

Common Loon – 1