The American kestrel is starting to vanish in Iowa
The American kestrel — one of Iowa's most ubiquitous and cutest birds of prey — is starting to vanish from our landscape.
Why it matters: If you're driving down a gravel road, kestrel sightings along telephone wires and fence posts may make it seem like the raptors are doing well in the state.
- But while they can be found in all 99 counties, they've lost more than half their population in North America between 1966 to 2019.
- If the trend continues, we can expect another 50% decline by 2075, Anna Buckardt-Thomas, an avian ecologist at the Iowa DNR, tells Axios.
State of play: American kestrels are just bigger than a robin and are the smallest falcons in North America. They're known for their rusty brown and blue colorings and prefer open grasslands to hunt, including in urban areas.
- For humans, they serve as pest control in our ecosystem as their primary prey are insects and small mammals, like voles and mice, Buckardt-Thomas says.
What's happening: Over the last 10 years, population trends show they're declining in Iowa and are considered the "greatest conservation need" in the state's wildlife action plan.
- The loss of grassland is hurting their habitats, while pesticides harm their breeding success and availability of insects.
- Changing farming practices have also harmed their habitats, including the loss of hedgerows, Buckardt-Thomas says.
Of note: When they can't find a suitable habitat year after year, they're displaced and breeding success rates lower.
What they're saying: "They're part of the farming heritage of Iowa. A kestrel on the line and a kestrel on the farmstead is just a common sight," Buckardt-Thomas says. "It would just be a real shame if they were gone."
Zoom in: In Polk County, one of the kestrel's biggest challenges is the removal of dead trees, which they like to nest in, says Doug Sheeley of Polk County Conservation.
- To make up for that, his organization placed a dozen kestrel boxes at the Chichaqua Bottoms and found a 75% nest success rate.
How to help: Suburban residents especially can build their own boxes and place them in their yards if they live near an open habitat, like a bike trail, he says.
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