American Kestrel Nest Box Project: How a Park District partnership with landowners may help a declining population

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It took four years, but after Naturalist Tami Gingrich placed three American Kestrel nest boxes within Geauga Park District, two pairs finally laid claim, nested and reared young in 2018.

This success story is just what Tami had been waiting for and, in 2019, it led her to launch a much more ambitious project.

The American Kestrel is a unique bird of prey. It is not a hawk, but rather, a falcon, and a tiny one at that. Standing just around 10 inches tall, these striking birds characteristically perch on electrical wires adjacent to their favorite habitat of expansive grassland. These fields harbor the birds’ main prey items, including insects, rodents, small birds and snakes. But over the past 50 years the kestrel’s population has plummeted by 50 percent. Although scientists don’t know for sure, this decline is likely due to a combination of factors including loss of habitat and nesting sites, exposure to pesticides, climate change and increased predation by hawks.

It is this drastic decline which spurred Tami’s efforts to give the birds a needed boost, at least in Geauga County.

In designing the project, it was Tami’s hope to have Geauga Park District partner with local landowners who had perfect kestrel habitat and would be willing to accept a nesting box given to them by the park. Landowners would work together with Tami to decide on an optimal box location, and be willing to install it. Those who were interested and had the time would also be trained on how to monitor their box. 

In Geauga County, prime kestrel habitat lies mainly in the rural southeastern quadrant, and the majority of those landowners are Amish. “Since many Amish have an interest in birds, it was a pleasure visiting with them and discussing the project,” Tami said. Thus, the majority of those offered a box, accepted! Harvey Byler Jr. of Burton, an avid birder, was a huge help getting the project off the ground. He rode around with Tami, scrutinizing possible nesting habitats and locations and, in turn, helped pitch the project to the local landowners. In addition, Henry Mullet of Middlefield took on the task of superbly constructing the nest boxes to be used.

In total, 11 new boxes have been installed in Geauga County this spring – two within Geauga Park District and seven on Amish farms. Additionally, two local businesses with promising habitats were also approached and accepted boxes. Gold Key Processing in Middlefield quickly installed a freestanding pole for their box, and Laleure Winery placed a box on the side of a barn overlooking their vineyard.

“To date, four of the new boxes are being utilized by nesting kestrels, which is super encouraging considering it took four years to attract the initial pairs to the boxes located in Geauga parks,” Tami said. “More nests may be established in the coming week or two.”

As a licensed bird bander of 30 years, Tami also has standing offers with all of the participating landowners to revisit whenever a pair of kestrels successfully nests in order to band the youngsters when they are old enough. “This makes the whole project a win-win situation,” Tami said. “That is, a successful partnership, an intimate look at the young kestrels as they are banded, and the success of the American Kestrel pair in producing a successful nesting.”

To learn more about this project, potentially photograph a banding, and/or publish project results, please contact Tami directly at 440-279-0811 or tgingrich@geaugaparkdistrict.org.

For more on Geauga Park District offerings, please call 440-286-9516 or visit Geauga Park District online via www.geaugaparkdistrict.org, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube.

Pictured In Cover Photo: American Kestrel Project 2018

Cover Photo Credit: Chris Mentrek

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