|The American kestrel, Falco sparverius.|
The kestrel in the photos is a male. He is between eight and ten inches long. Female kestrels are slightly larger. Both genders have two vertical black stripes on white faces, black talons, dark eyes, and reddish brown backs and upper tail surfaces. Males have bluish grey wings.
As I watched, the kestrel hunted using a sit-and-wait strategy: it perched high, bobbing and turning its head to scan the ground below for prey. Had it found something worthwhile, it would have swooped down to grab it with sharp talons. Kestrels are fast, graceful, and deadly. They sometimes also hunt by hovering stationary in the air, looking down. And they fly distinctively -- pointing their wings down and back with each stroke as if rowing, interspersed with periods of fast stiff-winged glides, until soundlessly falling upon prey.
It is not unusual to see a kestrel flying over a New York City street with a mouse dangling from its talons. Kestrels can find lots to eat here, and plenty of places to live. They are secondary cavity-nesters; they build nests in cavities, but they do not excavate them. They use holes made by woodpeckers, naturally occurring holes in trees and cliffs, and spaces in buildings and other man-made structures.
American kestrels are in New York year round. They breed across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. In winter, the northern-most breeders migrate south and some that breed further south migrate as far as Central America.
I have seen kestrels flying down Broadway in Manhattan, sitting on windowsills of fancy apartment buildings, and perching on traffic lights at busy intersections. When I drive on the New Jersey Turnpike I see them perched on utility poles scanning for prey in the short grass on the shoulders of the highway. The one in the photos is the first I have seen in Brooklyn's new park. I hope is stays.