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BIRD OF THE WEEK
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Falco sparverius
POPULATION: 4 million; 2.5 million in the United States and Canada
TREND: Declining throughout North America.
HABITAT: Open habitats such as grasslands, meadows, and deserts, close to suitable trees for nesting and perching.
About the size of a Blue Jay, the American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America. Common nicknames for this scrappy little raptor include “sparrow hawk” (after the distantly related Eurasian Sparrowhawk), “grasshopper hawk,” for one of its favorite prey items, and “killy hawk,” due to its shrill call.
American Kestrels have two black spots, known as ocelli(“little eyes” in Latin), at the back of their heads. These false “eyes” help protect this little falcon from potential attackers sneaking up from the rear, whether they are predators or mobbing songbirds. American Kestrels also have two vertical black facial markings on each side of the head, in contrast to most other falcon species, which only have one.