Counting City Kestrels

A lot of New Yorkers tend to think of red-tailed hawks as the city’s most common bird of prey. One Bronx man wants you to learn how to identify the bird that really is the city’s most common raptor.

Dr. Robert DeCandido, who’s also known as Birding Bob, leads bird walks throughout New York City parks. He’s also conducting a winter survey of a bird he says takes a back seat to other raptors.

“And they’re falcons, and they live right on city streets with people,” he said. “New Yorkers think of peregrine falcons, or red tailed hawks, as the local raptor that’s common. But in reality it’s the American Kestrel that nobody knows about!” 

Here’s how Bob says you can ID a kestrel.  “If you are walking down a city street in New York, and you look up – to a fire escape, or antenna or a wire and you see a bird that is about the size of a blue jay or a robin, but it has blue wings, it’s a male kestrel, brown wings: female kestrel.”  

They also have two vertical black stripes on their face, long, pointed wings, and a hooked beak built for ripping into flesh.

To hear what they sound like, go here.

Kestrels breed in New York, and the city is home to a hundred to 150 nesting pairs. It’s assumed that many migrate. But Bob would like to know for sure.  If you spot one this winter, he'd like to know.

“We’re trying to figure out how many overwinter in New York, or does the bulk of the population head south for the winter,” he said. “We think most of them stay here in New York City for the winter.”

Slogging their way through the snow like the rest of us.  

To learn more about the New York City kestrel survey, or to read reports of sightings and see more photographs, go here.

Male Kestrel
Male Kestrel ( photo courtesy of Robert DeCandido )
Male Kestrel
Male Kestrel
Perching female
Perching female ( Photo courtesy of Robert DeCandido )