From Mélie’s Garden
When we arrived last week to celebrate Christmas on Fishers Island, I noticed a new nesting box on Middle Farms across from the driving range. I was very curious to know what kind of bird it was going to attract. I soon found out that it was a kestrel nesting box that Ken Edwards had built, along with three others that he has placed around Middle Farms on museum property. Ken was inspired to build the nesting boxes by an article, “Nest Boxes Making a Difference for American Kestrels” in the 2015 spring issue of Connecticut Wildlife magazine, which is printed below.
Ken said that Penni Sharp’s interest in bird life had inspired him and a number of years ago, he built 24 wood duck nesting boxes out of cedar scraps from the demolition of the old Museum. He placed the boxes near ponds on the Island and of the 24 he built, 18 were used by the wood duck.
The American Kestrel are part of the falcon family and were native to the Island years ago, before they were put on the Connecticut Shore’s Endangered Species list. I wonder if Henry L Ferguson, Sr. named his original house near Middle Farms “Falcon Hill” for that reason. The Kestrels like to nest in open spaces, so Middle Farms and the Parade Grounds are ideal places.
The new kestrel boxes are also made of cedar due to its rough surface, which makes it easy for the baby birds to climb. Ken said that he has placed screening inside to aid in their climbing. The nesting boxes are placed on pipe, to prevent predators like snakes and raccoons. There is a small door on the side for cleaning. Ken has organized a group of volunteers to check the boxes to make sure that starlings have not moved in. Once the kestrels are established, they can manage the starlings themselves.
The boxes will be checked in April and May to see if nesting has taken place. Hopefully these boxes will be as successful as the platforms that have been built on the Island for the ospreys. Ken reported that there were 25 osprey babies in nests this past year! If the Middle Farms boxes are successful, he hopes to put some on the Parade Grounds next year.
A Reprint of the Connecticut Wildlife article.
Nest Boxes Making a Difference for American Kestrels
Article and Photography by Min Huang
DEEP Wildlife Division
Connecticut Wildlife, March/April 2015
Due to the diligent and tireless work of several people throughout Connecticut, the American kestrel is making a comeback in our state. This bird’s status will soon be downgraded from “threatened” to “species of special concern” on Connecticut’s List of Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern Species List. There is hope that in five years, when the mandatory status update of the List is again upon us, that the kestrel can be removed from the list entirely.
Although kestrel habitat (open grassy or shrubby areas with short vegetation and natural tree cavities or nest boxes) is relatively limited in the state, the Northeast Kestrel Project, headed by Tom Sayers and John Stake, demonstrated that kestrels will occupy nest boxes in much closer proximity to one another than previously thought. In fact, in many instances, territory size for successful pairs is more than 70% less than that reported in the literature. This, in effect, greatly increases the amount of available habitat in the state for these pretty little falcons.
Another valuable nugget of information learned is that once kestrels become established in a locale and are successful, increasingly less European starling management is needed. In essence, once kestrels reach a critical mass or threshold, they seem to be able to fend off starlings on their own. This can greatly increase occupancy rates and, in turn, increase productivity.
2014 Breeding and Nesting Season
The 2014 kestrel breeding season in eastern Connecticut was another banner year. Within the Northeast Kestrel Project study area (Tolland County and eastern Hartford County), 71 nest boxes were available to breeding kestrels. A total of 31 pairs nested, resulting in a 42% occupancy rate. Of these, 25 successfully fledged young (81%). The 31 occupied boxes is an all-time high for the study area and the third consecutive increase from a low of 18 in 2011. A total of 97 young were banded out of the 25 successful boxes.
Andy Rezeznikiewicz of Connecticut Audubon in Pomfret monitors 25 boxes in Windham County and had four occupied boxes with a 75% fledgling success rate and 13 young produced. Several of the boxes were overrun by squirrels and starlings, reducing the occupancy rate.
Art Gingert and Mike Dudek manage and monitor a large number of nest boxes, predominantly in Litchfield and Hartford Counties. In 2014, 88 boxes were available for kestrels to use. Of those, 28 boxes were occupied by kestrel pairs, for an occupancy rate of 32%. Fledgling success was 61%. A total of 64 fledglings was produced, with all but two of the fledglings banded by bird banders.
All together, the three main contributors to kestrel production in the state had a total of 184 available nest boxes in the spring of 2014. Of these, 63 boxes were occupied by kestrel pairs (34% occupancy rate). A total of 45 pairs successfully raised young, for a fledging success rate of 71% and 174 fledglings produced. A minimum mean 30% fledgling survival rate translates to a minimum of 52 kestrels added to the population in 2014.
The 2014 nesting season results are, once again, a testament to the tireless efforts of the three main kestrel projects and the fledgling (excuse the pun) stewardship program. The efforts of these volunteers are a shining example of how great conservation results can be realized with a concerted effort.
Plans are already in motion by the main contributors to expand the number of available nest boxes for the 2015 breeding season. There will likely be a 10% or more increase in availability throughout the scope of the three main project areas in the 2015 breeding season.
Within the Northeast Kestrel Project area, 2014 marked the final year of a radio telemetry project to assess fledgling survival rates, dispersal behavior, and habitat use. Fledgling survival rates over three years were in the range of about 30%, which is similar to most raptors. Most chick mortality occurs within two weeks of leaving the nest box, although predation events occur throughout the period before migration. In addition, 15 geo-locators were attached to adult females to obtain an understanding of migration timing, stopover hotspots, and wintering affiliations. The hope is to recapture these birds in spring 2015 to download the data from the geo-locators.
As part of the banding program, 53 adults and 97 fledglings were banded in 2014. Bird banders also had 13 recaptures of previously banded birds. As the number of recaptures increases over the years, researchers will get a better estimate of adult survival rates. The banding program also is providing critical information on occupancy of boxes – where certain kestrels nest and whether or not they return year after year to the same box. So far, the answer to the latter question seems to be no.
An article in the January/February 2014 issue of Connecticut Wildlife requested the help of citizens who might be interested in becoming American kestrel nest box stewards. Steward responsibilities include identification of possible kestrel habitat and routine monitoring of any nest boxes that might be put up in those areas. This effort requires dedication and intensive, regular monitoring to ensure the survival of young kestrels year after year.
Six citizens in eastern Connecticut, under the supervision of the Northeast Connecticut Kestrel Project, actively participated in the stewardship program during the 2014 breeding season: Ray Hardy, Dave Stevens, Randy Dill, Lance Magnuson, Scott McCall, and Gary Crump. Efforts by the dedicated stewards resulted in the installation of 10 new kestrel nest boxes. Of those new boxes, two boxes were successful, resulting in the fledging of eight young kestrels.
The results of this initial year of the stewardship program are promising. As volunteers learn more about the rigors of being a kestrel steward, success rates will increase and new kestrel hotspots will be created. In western Connecticut, at least two or three potential sites will receive stewardship nest boxes in 2015. In addition, Art Gingert will be installing a number of new nest boxes in that part of the state.
Collaborators continue to seek willing participants in the stewardship program. The more sites that can be “saturated” with kestrels, the more optimistic the long-term outlook will be!