The American Kestrel is the smallest raptor in North America. It is the smallest member of the Falcon family. It ranges from 22-30cm(9-12inches) in length and has a wingspan of up to 55cm(22inches). Females are larger then males. The appearance from one sex to the other is very different. The wings of the male are a blue/grey colour with the back being rusty/brown,while the females wings are more rusty/brownish in colour,as are their backs. The wings like all falcons are pointed. Both have a strong moustache around the eye,which can often be seen when in flight with binoculars. Perched it is very obvious and a big field mark to look for. They bob their tails alot when perched also. The tails of both males and females are a rusty colour with a thick black band at the end. Something to look for which doesnt exist on Merlins are as Colin and I have named them "Christmas Treelights" along the trailing(back) edge of the wings.(I also call them beads). The chest of the male is light to very bright rust coloured.
Kestrels can often be found hovering over fields or grassy type areas. They are hunting rodents,when doing this. American Kestrels are also often seen sitting on hydro wires. Watch for their bobbing tails. At migration time they often fly very early in the morning,starting at first light and often are the last birds flying on a good day. One day I counted 44 before 9am.
Cheats:Remebering our elimination identification,if U see a small bird,immediately U can hone in on 4 species. Sharpie,Coopers,Kestrel and Merlin. U have eliminated 11 species. Check if the wings are pointed. If the wings are distinctly pointed(triangular as opposed to rounded like a Sharpshinned Hawk) U are down to 2 of 15,and have given yourself a much better chance of identifying the bird correctly. Merlins often flap all the way,and their speed is sometimes incredible. We see several hundred Kestrels and around 50 Merlins,chances are its a Kestrel. Look for the "moustache",the "Christmas Tree Lights" and the rusty tail. Remember to keep on a bird if there is time.All species will often tilt slightly giving you just the angle U need to decide what it is. Over the winter in your spare time learn all 15 species we see regularily in southern Ontario. This will allow you to go through them in your head very quickly when trying to ID by elimination. If U find a nesting bird you are unsure of,officially very very few(some say none) Merlin nests are known of in Toronto. Kestrels nest in cavities(holes).