- Sharron Montgomery Pena
Meet the birds- Pico the American Kestrel
What does "pico" mean? According to the Oxford Languages dictionary it is (used in units of measurement) denoting a factor of 10−12 (10 to the negative 12 power). What? Ok that's pretty small. Spanish translations mean "beak, peak, or lip." Somewhere in between is our Pico, not quite THAT small, and a little more than a beak, definitely a peak, and fyi, in case you weren't aware, birds don't have lips.
Pico joined our family in 2018 as a gift from one of Ray's former apprentices. Ray was still in the process of recovery from his cancer treatments, but as it turns out Pico was an important part of his recovery. Ray flew kestrels throughout his entire life as a falconer, and since the infamous "Ace" passed away in 2013 there had been a big hole in our family. With his large personality, Pico quickly grew into the large shoes that "Ace" left behind.
American Kestrels were known as "sparrowhawks" by early American falconers. They were long considered one of the easiest falcons to train and were favored by beginners. Today, however we know that much care and attention must be placed in managing these pint sized birds of prey. In the hands of a novice, there is little room for error in managing their weight. The risk of losing a bird in training becomes much more likely with smaller birds of prey.
They are quite adept at chasing sparrows for quarry, but are very versatile and one of the reasons why in the past, their numbers have been abundant. In the summertime, when insect numbers are high, American Kestrels can be seen chasing grasshoppers and dragonflies. They are also very adept at hovering, also gaining them a slang term as "hoverhawk," surprising right? This hovering strategy helps them to locate mice amongst the fields as they are also equipped with superhero powers: the ability to spot uv trails left by mouse urine.
In the autumn, as the days get shorter and the winds begin to shift to the south, large numbers of kestrels join the migration in search of warmer climates and a greater availability of prey. Here in Northern Florida, we see a large increase in their numbers in the winter, and it is fun spotting them on the powerlines..
About the size of a mockingbird or bluejay, they are one of the few species of birds of prey that are easy to distinguish the males from the females. Like other raptors, the female is the larger of the two, but she also lacks the bright blue gray coloring on her wings. Her entire back is striped, including the tail, no doubt to assist her in camouflage when caring for between 4 to 6 young. They are cavity nesters and in the absence of a hollow rotten branch or tree stump, they willingly use nesting boxes if placed correctly. Consider cutting that dead tree off at the top and leaving a nice rotting trunk standing. You might be surprised at what type of wildlife you can attract.
One of my greatest passions in doing these blog posts is sharing my love and excitement for wildlife, but I want you, the reader to know that every little thing that you do CAN make a difference in the overall picture of wildlife conservation. Being an advocate of wildlife does not mean that you are opposed to development, jobs, or the need for resources. It means that you are an advocate of RESPONSIBLE stewardship that takes into consideration the impacts that development and harvesting of natural resources has on the future of wildlife. According the the Peregrine Fund's, American Kestrel partnership, some areas have seen over 90% drops in population since the mid 60s. A look at this map shows just how widely distributed they are and how dire the loss of numbers in some areas are. Given their love of insects and rodents, please consider eliminating the use of harmful poisons. It will take a little research but it can be done. Believe me, as much of a nature lover as I am, I sometimes want to pull my hair out trying to outwit my pests, but I remember the rewards every time I see an upswing in the bee population or butterflies. Likewise, by encouraging your pests' natural predators you can get some free help from nature itself.
How do you do this? Very simply, create a backyard habitat. Now is the perfect time for planning. Many trees and bushes love to be planted in the winter. They are dormant and acclimate much faster. For more tips on how to create a certified backyard habitat visit: National Wildlife Federation's list. Pico thanks you for caring about his wild cousins and hopes you have a happy and safe holiday season!