Department of Plannini, and Natuial Resources
Division of Fish and Wildlife
U.S.V.I. Animal Fact Sheet #05
American Kestrel m
Falco sparverius -
Taxonomy c AND t
Kingdom- -- Animalia
Class - Aves
Subspecies (Caribbean)- caribbaearum
+ Length 19 to 21 cm
+ Wingspan 50 to 60 cm
+ Weight (males) 102 to 120 gm
+ Weight (females) 126 to 166 gm
+ Facial bars two
+ Color of tail & back rusty reddish
+ Tail pattern black band at tip
The American kestrel, Falco sparverius, is a
common falcon in the Virgin Islands. Although
frequently called a "sparrow" hawk in reference
to its small size these kestrels eat more than
sparrows. Locally, the American Kestrel is also
known as the killy-killy, probably because of the
shrieking sounds they make.
The American Kestrel is the smallest raptor in
our area. Worldwide, the only smaller species in
the genus Falco is the Seychelles kestrel.
Generally, the American Kestrel is about 20 cm
long, with a wingspan of 50 to 60 cm. Males
weigh from 103 to 120 g and females between 126
and 166 g. The size is comparable to a dove. The
feathers are dark brown with black and white
banding on the lateral feathers. The head has a
distinctive facial pattern with two black bars, one
beneath the eye like a black moustache and the
other toward the back of the head. Males are
much more brightly colored than females, a
pattern known as sexual dichromatism. Feathers
on the back and tail of males are splashed vivid
rufous, and feathers on the shoulders are slate
blue. Females wear more subdued colors. Their
wings are rusty brown like their back and their tail
is rusty reddish with a black band at the end.
Distribution & Habitat
The American Kestrel permanently inhabits
(without seasonal migration) North and South
America from near the tree line in Alaska and
Canada, south to Tierra del Fuego. The bird can
also be found in the West Indies, the Juan
Fernandez Islands and Chile. It is largely absent
from heavily forested areas, including Amazonia.
The American Kestrel nests in tree cavities,
woodpecker holes, crevices of buildings, holes in
banks, nest boxes or, rarely, old nests of other
birds. It is highly adaptable behaviorally and lives
just about everywhere, as long as there is some
open ground for hunting and conspicuous places
on which to perch (e.g., telephone wires).
It is often seen sitting on exposed wires or
perches while looking for its prey. American
kestrels usually mate for life. Bird lovers adore -
them for their lightheartedness and playfulness.
Unfortunately American Kestrel populations have
declined greatly in the Virgin Islands due to the
loss of nesting habitat from both development and
The American Kestrel is, for the most part, not
a social bird. During the mating season, males and
females pair up and have joint territories.
Presumably, the pair or the male defends the
territory. The function of the territory may not be
so much to ensure mating as to maintain a pair
bond during the nesting season when the male is
needed to help rear offspring.
American kestrels hunt throughout the day, but
may be more active in the early morning and
evening. They eat mostly lizards and large insects
(mainly grasshoppers), small mammals (mice and
sparrow-sized birds), sandpiper chicks, scorpions
and amphibians. The American Kestrel has a
large economic benefit to the islands it helps
control some of the animals we consider a
nuisance such as mice and insects.
For up to six weeks before egg laying, females
are promiscuous, mating with two or three males.
Once a female settles with one mate, the pair mate
frequently until egg laying. Three to seven eggs
are laid (usually 4 or 5) over a period of 2 or 3
days. Eggs are white, cream or pale pink with an
average size of 35 x 29 mm. Laying occurs in
The female does most of the incubation, but
males have been known to occasionally incubate.
Both sexes have brood patches. Incubation lasts
29 30 days and hatched chicks are non-
competitive. Once chicks have hatched, females
beg food from males. The female, in turn, feeds
the young for the first 20 days. After that period,
chicks beg for food from males and feed
themselves. After 30 days, chicks leave the nest.
The family remains as a unit for some time. The
survival rate of chicks is about 50% under natural
conditions, but it is usually higher under better
conditions (e.g., human-provided nesting boxes).
Status in the VI
The availability of nesting places (tree-
cavities) may be biggest factor limiting
populations of American kestrels. Their numbers
may be increased by the installation of nesting
boxes. However, whether or not additional nesting
boxes are introduced, the bird is common.
The American Kestrels, as are all predatory
birds, are protected under the Migratory Bird Act.
These miniature falcons usually do not build nests
of their own but rely on natural sites or those
created by other birds or animals, including man
made nest boxes. When built properly, the
Kestrels will use their bird homes for life. The
breeding season usually occurs in late winter
(December through February) and summer (June -
July). The nest site is usually located in the cavity
of an old tree, transformer or under the eaves of
What you can do to HELP
1. Nest boxes should be placed high (at least
15ft-5 m) in areas of little disturbance. Box
openings should face south or east to allow
warming in the morning, but not overheating
in the afternoon. Also open vegetation around
the site allows for easy access to the box for
2. Kestrels are very valuable to us in the tropics.
They primarily eat animals that we consider
3. Reducing the amount of pesticides and
chemicals we use to control pests will help the
Kestrels and other important wildlife on our
4. Remember it is illegal to take, catch, possess,
injure, harass, or kill any indigenous species.
The only exceptions are for people holding
valid permits from the Division of Fish and
5. For more information on this and other
animals in the Virgin Islands please visit our
By W. Coles, D. McNair, W. Toller, 2003
THIS PUBLICATION WAS PRODUCED WITH
FUNDS FROM THE WILDLIFE CONSERVATION
AND RESTORATION PROGRAM (WCRP).
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON
OUR NATIVE ANIMALS CONTACT:
THE DIVISION OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
6291 ESTATE NAZARETH, 101,
ST. THOMAS, VI 00802
PHONE 340-775-6762 FAX 340-775-3972
45 MARS HILL, ST. CROIX, VI 00840
PHONE 340-772-1955 FAX 340-772-3227