Watch Kestrels at the Great Salt Lake

The American kestrel is the smallest and most common falcon in North America.
American kestrel The American kestrel is the smallest and most common falcon in North America. © Shutterstock

Kestrel Nest Cam 2020: Update

It’s safe to say, 2020 is not turning out as we expected.  On so many fronts. 

By this time, we had hoped to be streaming live video footage of fuzzy kestrel chicks, filling your computers and phones with heartening chirps and the rhythmic pulse of warm breezes. But nature had other plans. For the first time in a decade, we do not have a pair of American kestrels nesting in our box at the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve.

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Why Are the Birds AWOL this Year? 

The answer is complicated, and the reality is that we may never know all the factors. We do know that early this spring, preserve managers found evidence that European starlings had tried to use the nesting box. Starlings are notorious nest-stealers. They are also a rampantly invasive species that can impact native wildlife and carry disease. Today there are more than 200 million starlings throughout North America. Amazingly—and bizarrely—we can actually link this invasion to Shakespeare. In 1890, a New York man released a flock of starlings in Central Park. He supposedly wanted to introduce every bird mentioned by Shakespeare to America. Surely, he never imagined what he was unleashing.

Shakespearean tragedy aside, it’s true these invasive starlings might have been an initial deterrent to the kestrels’ return. But other issues were also afoot. In May, we spotted a male kestrel flitting around the box. He even did some thrilling climbs into the air followed by deep dives—a sure sign he was trying to attract a female. Typically, a male will find a suitable nesting cavity and then put on a display to entice a mate. The lady ultimately decides whether or not to move in. This year, despite the male’s earnest and impressive advertising, no female appeared.  Sometimes, love just isn’t in the air.

American Kestrel
American Kestrel American Kestrel © Courtney Celley/USFWS

Hope Springs Eternal

While disappointing to nest cam viewers – and to us – there is good news from the preserve this spring.  There are American kestrels nesting at other sites and boxes. Unfortunately, they are out of our camera’s view. But it’s reassuring to know that, as you read this, there are kestrel chicks growing, squawking and fledging in the uplands of our preserve.  And, more importantly, even though our video isn’t rolling, our conservation work to preserve habitat for kestrels continues full steam ahead.

We’re partnering with HawkWatch International to learn more about why kestrel populations are in decline across the country. This year, HawkWatch is monitoring and checking each of the kestrel boxes at the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve. We hope that we’ll learn that the rest of the kestrel population is doing well, despite the camera box being left unused. We’re also working with Tracy Aviary and Raptor Inventory Nest Surveys on local kestrel tracking and conservation efforts.

You can get involved too. To help kestrels in your own neighborhood, remember to landscape using native trees and shrubs, and don’t use any kind of rodent poison or insecticides.

Check out other cams

If you’re still craving a wildlife fix, there are other animals in the spotlight right now. Watch other TNC cams around the globe.

Tune in next year

Life is anything but predictable. Nature often reminds us that there are limits to what we, as humans, can control. We’ll miss watching our kestrel family this year, but their absence reminds us to appreciate each chance we get to engage with the natural world. The smallest moment is a gift that can educate our minds, lift our spirits and feed our souls. All of this seems more important than ever these days. And yes, we’ll be here next year, waiting on pins and needles, and hoping for a chance to reconnect with the kestrels – and with all of you – to share the magic of nature.