Data from bird surveys, nest box monitoring programs, and migration corridors indicate population declines for American Kestrels in North America. Rates of decline vary geographically but most are long-term (1966-2009) and persistent within the last decade. Causes of population declines are largely unknown and limited to speculation because of insufficient data and insufficient use of existing data, highlighting the need to generate data and models for informing conservation strategies.
The American Kestrel Partnership has experienced continued growth and has begun producing a bi-annual newsletter to remind and excite partners about the spring nest season and to summarize the year’s results in the fall.
Our website (kestrel.peregrinefund.org) has received a substantial upgrade that allows for improved usability, communication, and data entry. Additional upgrades will add data visualization tools and further improve usability.
With our partners, Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Boise State University’s Intermountain Bird Observatory, we produced the KestrelCam, which is viewed by thousands of people in the spring, making it a powerful outreach and education tool. In April 1013, the KestrelCam recorded the first-ever record of a fight between an American Kestrel and an invasive European Starling within a nest box. A written account of the fight is under review for publication.
We partnered with Boise State University on an “adopt-a-box” program where people in and around Boise can adopt a nest box and receive updates regarding their box in lieu of placing their own box. This program allows residents of the Treasure Valley to participate in the Partnership while ensuring the integrity of Boise State’s ongoing nest box study.
We are also collaborating with Boise State University in data analysis. Boise State has a database of more than 4,500 American Kestrels banded since 1992. We are currently using Boise State’s dataset to conduct mark-recapture analyses to determine survivorship of American Kestrels in Southwest Idaho. The results from the mark-recapture analysis will help us to build a model of kestrel population dynamics. Using this population model, we will be able to identify weak points in the life-cycle of the American Kestrel and identify the most pressing hypothesized causes of population declines.
To date, our partners have registered more than 1,600 nest boxes and recorded over 6,000 nest observations into our website. A challenge of citizen science is developing new methods to examine large datasets collected by amateurs and in an unconventional manner. Because many of our partners monitor their nest boxes in a haphazard fashion, traditional methods to determine nest success are not useful for our dataset. Therefore, one of our major goals has been to develop a method to determine the success of the nests monitored by our partners. Our new method of calculating nest success relies on our knowledge of the timing of the kestrel nest-cycle to search our database for nests monitored in such a way as to determine whether or not the eggs hatched.
In developing our new method for determining nest success using citizen science data, we observed that partners who monitor > 10 nest boxes are more likely to monitor them in such a way that we can determine nest success than are partners who monitor < 10 boxes. We are therefore actively trying to recruit partners such as Audubon chapters or hawking clubs that will install kestrel trails instead of individual boxes. The California Hawking club and the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club will install and monitor trails of nest boxes—there is a high likelihood that those nest boxes will be well-monitored.