The American kestrel is in free fall, and no one knows why


Published: 10Jan2020

Once prevalent in Montreal, the littlest falcon's downfall is a bellwether for hard times. “The story of the kestrel is happening to other bird species.”

Throughout the 1900s, North America’s littlest falcon was also described as the continent’s most common and widespread. Small but fierce and marked with bright plumage rare in the raptor world, the American kestrel could be seen throughout the continent, diving and swooping in fallow fields or under the stadium lights at baseball games, hunting for plump moths or small mice.

In the Montreal area, they lived in the suburbs, in places like Vaudreuil-Dorion and Île-Perrot, drawn by unused fields and abundant food.

Students and professors with McGill’s Avian Science and Conservation Centre bred the kestrels in captivity for nearly four decades starting in the 1970s, placing them in small cages in cardboard boxes. They reproduced well, and students and their teachers bred between 2,500 and 3,000 American kestrels over 40 years.

...“It’s like a big black hole — we have no idea why they’re declining,” said David Bird, professor emeritus of wildlife biology at McGill and a former bird columnist for the Montreal Gazette, who created and ran the university’s prolific breeding colony. “We saw after a while that they were breeding well, but the youngsters weren’t coming back. They weren’t surviving. What’s particularly interesting is that the story of the kestrel is happening to other bird species.”