The American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) is a beautiful small bird of prey that lives on all six Dutch Caribbean Islands. One of the smallest birds of prey this species is known locally as Killy Killy – the name refers to the rapid sound the bird makes when excited or upset.
As one of the smallest birds of prey the wingspan for these birds is often less than 2ft or 60cm. The American Kestrel is one of the few raptors where the male and female have a different plumage. Males have blue-grey wings, a blue-grey head with a reddish crown and a rusty red back and black spots on the flank and shoulder blade. The female has a brown-streaked dirty-yellow breast. The neck, back and tail are rusty brown. Both the male and female have a whitish face with two vertical black stripes.
You will often see the American Kestrel perched high in a tree or atop a cactus, from where it searches for prey. It also hunts by hovering above the ground, its long pointed wings beating fast while it scans the ground for insects, lizards and small rodents. It then swoops down to catch its prey with its feet. The kestrel is itself preyed on by larger raptors, notably the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). Prey includes lizards, small birds or insects such as: grasshopper, Dragonflies and mice. The bird can spend hours on a high lookout and search the environment for suitable prey.
American Kestrels breed on all of the Dutch Caribbean Islands. The breeding season begins at the onset of spring, and once the female has chosen her male companion, the birds will stay monogamous during the breeding season. The kestrel do not build nests themselves and are not picky about a nest site. They make the nests of the other birds empty and they use it. They nest and breed also on tall buildings, in hollows of rock and in trees. The female lays 4 to 6 eggs and incubates them for about a month. Once the chicks fledge after about 30 days, they often stay with the parents for a few more weeks. After the eggs hatch, the female broods the nestlings continually until they are about nine days old. Thereafter, she broods only at night and during periods of inclement weather. As her brooding time decreases, her time spent hunting and her role in food provisioning increases. When the nestlings are two weeks old, the adults begin to leave intact prey at the nest. Fledging occurs about 30 days after they hatch, often over a period of several days. Young kestrels depend on their parents for food for two to three weeks after they fledge. During this time, the young sometimes return to the nest cavity to roost, and remain close to their siblings.
Occasionally American Kestrel chicks or fledglings will leave (or fall out of) the nest too early. Young American Kestrels have been rehabilitate by both Nature Foundation and STENAPA Park Staff and released back into the wild. The Kestrel pictured below was found by residents in Simpson Bay who called NF staff in to collect and care for the bird who was being cornered by their cats.
Where to Spot this species
American Kestrels are more difficult to find on SXM than many other bird species. Look for them in mountainous, dry, rocky areas. As the only falcon species on St. Maarten their distinctive shape can be spotted most easily while they are airborne.