Famous Boise Kestrels Thriving But Species In Decline

Jun 3, 2015

The five kestrel chicks made famous by the Peregrine Fund’s Kestrel Cam will be banded Thursday as they get ready to leave the nest. Banding is when scientists put bracelet-like metal bands around the birds' legs to help monitor them in the future.

The camera allows Internet viewers to watch the birds in their nest at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, where one kestrel family is thriving. But the bird is disappearing across America, and the Peregrine Fund’s American Kestrel Partnership – which started in 2012 as a collaboration between citizen and professional scientists – is set on figuring out why.

From egg to chick: one of the Kestrel parents watches over the young chicks in their Boise nest box.
Credit The Peregrine Fund/Bosch WebCam

“Across the country, the breeding population has dropped on average by 47 percent since the 1970s,” says partnership Director Chris McClure. “But in places like New England, the decline is 88 percent over that time period. So different populations are experiencing different declines, that’s for sure.”

McClure says scientists just don’t know why this small bird of prey is struggling. There have been lots of theories, but no definitive conclusions. Kestrels are well-studied, at least during breeding season. But McClure says they don’t know much about what happens to the birds the rest of the year.

“I think that’s why the cause of this decline has eluded us, is because we haven’t been studying its migration or its wintering period as much as we should have been.”

Here the male Kestrel, and its unfortunate prey, sit atop the nest box in Boise. He'll hand over the rodent to Mom, who will feed it to the chicks.
Credit The Peregrine Fund/Bosch WebCam

McClure says finding the cause is important, because kestrels are indicators of what’s happening in the environment.

“So just like the Peregrine Falcon was a warning sign of the dangers of DDT, the American Kestrel might be warning us of something gone awry,” McClure says.

Boise’s famous birds are due to leave the nest any day. Before they do, McClure and other scientists will take them briefly out of their box to band them. They’ll get a health exam and their wings and legs will be measured. Then they’ll go back in their nest, until it’s time to fly off on their own.

You can watch Mom and Dad feed the chicks below:

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