USDA participants throughout Virginia are joining in to assist in the conservation of the American kestrel, the smallest falcon species native to North America. The kestrel is currently in decline, with the North American Breeding Bird Survey estimating that numbers are down 50 percent since 1966. A contributing factor has been farming practices that have been removing key habitat for kestrels and some of their prey. Kestrels nest in cavities they locate but don’t create, often using hollowed-out trees (alive and dead), and can be seen foraging along hedgerows, occasionally uprooted by farmers in search of more efficient land management.
Having kestrels around the farm is beneficial in several ways, including the birds’ preference for eating insects and small rodents like voles. One element of positive news is that kestrels in several Shenandoah Valley counties seem to be making use of artificial nesting boxes designed specifically for their species. More than 200 of these boxes are now in place in the northern part of the state, allowing the birds to continue providing pest control while simultaneously replenishing their numbers. Birds nesting in the boxes can also be more easily monitored during the breeding season by volunteers who can record the numbers of eggs, hatchlings and, ultimately, successful fledglings.
USDA has options for landowners who’d like to create kestrel habitat on their property. NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) currently offers Practice 649, called “Structures for Wildlife,” that includes the installation of nesting boxes. Your local NRCS field office can supply more information on attracting kestrels and other ag-friendly birds that have proven adaptable to nesting boxes. Soil Conservation Technician Maili Page in the Strasburg field office has been engaged in helping place and monitor the boxes for the last four years and invites contact from producers who’d like to learn more. Page is available by e-mail at email@example.com
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