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 is continuing to experience growth. A meeting of American Kestrel biologists established scientific connections and began the discussion of toxicological and genetic research goals. This scientific advisory committee consisted of about 30 scientists with active or developing kestrel research programs, and the meeting took place on The Peregrine Fund’s campus. Coordination was deemed the key to success, and the committee set a goal to generate a publication on various potential aspects of the American Kestrel’s decline.
With major support from Cornell University and a generous camera donation from Bosch, the American Kestrel webcams provided high-quality live streaming of a kestrel family occupying a nest box on the World Center for Birds of Prey campus. The video was available through both our website and Cornell’s site. A slideshow showcasing the progress of the kestrel chicks is displayed during the off-season, and videos showcasing the fledging and banding were uploaded for public viewing on YouTube.
Viewers were updated with mini-news posts on the website, and the webcams generated large amounts of discussion through various forms of social media, including the project’s Facebook page. Responses to the KestrelCam have been overwhelmingly positive, with many viewers reporting that they learned a lot about kestrel nesting and many more expressing interest in obtaining nest boxes of their own.
Thus, the KestrelCam streams have been deemed the strongest education tool for the AKP. There is no doubt that it carries the potential to increase citizen scientist participation across the Western Hemisphere. Some of the newly registered boxes indeed came from partners who originally viewed the KestrelCam stream and decided to register their own nest box. Viewers also had the ability to submit behavioral observations of their own, and those submissions are being reviewed to measure the accuracy of viewer-submitted behavioral data.
To date, 318 new citizen scientists have been recruited, with 585 newly registered nest boxes monitored, including expansion into Ecuador and Argentina. Expansion into Canada and South America was deemed to be a priority, as there is little data about kestrel populations and nesting success from those regions. The project also received a grant from the Michele and Agnese Cestone Foundation to expand the project into New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey – all of which are experiencing kestrel population declines.
The heartening success of the KestrelCams and the continued growth of citizen science participation have led to discussion of research questions that could be applied to the data the project is generating. A biologist will begin focusing on data modeling and specific scientific outcomes for the AKP’s data set.