The American Kestrel, a small yet feisty falcon often seen soaring through the air in rural areas including Geauga County, lost half its population in the U.S. over the last 50 years largely due to a decline in habitat, experts say.
Geauga Park District Naturalist Tami Gingrich, who has been interested in birds all her life, is working to ensure the future of this fierce bird.
“My plan is to increase the Kestrel population in Geauga County and to educate landowners about them,” Mrs. Gingrich said. “They are so colorful and pretty. They take your breath away and the fact they are a falcon and not a hawk is fascinating. Their size and feisty personality are a fascinating combination,” she said.
Kestrels have faced many challenges over the years including exposure to pesticides and loss of habitat and nesting sites. They are the only falcons in Geauga County and are prey to a certain species of hawk. Climate change also has impacted their lives, she said.
In 2014, Mrs. Gingrich had a volunteer build three Kestrel nesting boxes. One was placed at Geauga Park District’s Frohring Meadows in Bainbridge and two were set up at Swine Creek Park in Middlefield. For four years, they went unused, she noted.
Then last spring both of the boxes at Swine Creek had nesting Kestrels. They are a half mile apart.
“It’s super exciting,” she said of the Kestrels nesting now in Geauga County. “It took four years for Kestrels to have babies in the county parks. Now, 11 boxes have been put up in the southeastern part of the county with the possibilities of more in the future. “And we have had four pairs right off the bat.”
She banded the babies last June when they were 25 days old. By banding them, Mrs. Gingrich explained, the birds will have a record of their age if found by someone else.
American Kestrels are 10 inches tall, feisty and the smallest of the falcon species. They can be seen on wires and bobbing their tails. They hover over areas and then drop down on their prey, experts say. The females are all orange with a lot of streaking and the males are orange with blue wings.
Mrs. Gingrich encourages people to put out Kestrel nesting boxes. “I’ve been looking for habitat in Geauga County and when I see a good spot, I encourage the property owner to put up a box.”
The best local nesting habitat is in southeast Geauga County on the Amish farms, she noted. She likes to drive around and ask if people are interested in putting up boxes. “That’s how I started my project. Every time I see a good piece of property, I knock on the door and present my story. I work with them on where the box should be placed and I give them one to keep.”
Residents often appreciate the Kestrels who tend to eradicate rodents. Henry Mullet of Middlefield built all the boxes with superb craftsmanship, Mrs. Gingrich said.
“I have them (nesting boxes) up at eight Amish farms. Some don’t have time to monitor and I will do it. I have trained them how to do it.”
The American Kestrel is the size of a blue jay or a mourning dove and will feed on a variety of food, insects, rodents, reptiles, amphibians and small birds, Mrs. Gingrich noted. Snakes are a favorite food along with rodents and insects. Out west, they eat lizards.
A characteristic of the Kestrel is their bobbing tails. They are sexually dimorphic, meaning the male and female look different in coloration. The female is larger, she noted.
Mrs. Gingrich also works with two local businesses.
Gold Key Processing in Middlefield has a large field and jumped at the chance of hosting a Kestrel box, Mrs. Gingrich said.
“I gave them the box and they put in the pole,” she said. Kestrels will nest in boxes on poles that are about 10 feet off the ground, on the side of the tree or on a building. The nesting box at Gold Key Processing was put in a field and immediately a Kestrel pair moved in. They currently are incubating four eggs which are due to hatch on June 8.
She also stopped at the Laleure Winery in Parkman where she had seen Kestrels “hanging out” on telephone wires. The winery agreed to put up a box on the side of a barn overlooking the vineyard and that box was soon home to five Kestrel chicks.
Mrs. Gingrich will be holding two banding events for Amish landlords hosting boxes as a way to thank them for installing the boxes and to see the birds up close.
Her goal is two-fold, to bolster the Kestrel population and teach people about “this cool little falcon.”
There are Peregrine falcons in downtown Cleveland where they nest on the skyscraper buildings, cliff-like structures. The peregrine are not in Geauga, she said, because they are not a country bird.
Mrs. Gingrich encourages anyone in Geauga County with potential habitat to contact her at the park district office.