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ARL Wildlife Rehabilitation Center

InterNest Explorer
June 2012 Volume B


 Kestrel Comeback!


Raptors, or birds of prey, are always some of the most popular animals that we treat at the wildlife center. Not many images are more inspiring than that of a Red-tailed Hawk being released back into the wild; nothing is more exciting than releasing a baby Great-horned Owl outside for the first time. With their sharp hooked beaks and large, powerful talons, birds of prey are as intimidating as they are beautiful. Some birds of prey, such as the American Kestrel, do not fit into the stereotypical "giant bird" mold, however. The number of Kestrels along the Atlantic coast has dropped over the past few years; however, it appears they're making a comeback - and the wildlife center is helping to do our part by preparing four fledgling Kestrels for release!



kestrel on door
A fledgling kestrel watches from above

Kestrels are the smallest falcon in North America; at only 7-8 inches long, they subsist mainly on small mammals, lizards, birds, and insects. They are cavity nesters, making their homes on the sides of cliffs, roofs of buildings, and the discarded nest cavities of other birds. The female will lay up to seven eggs in a clutch, and the male will assist her in incubating the eggs as well as caring for the young.



Unfortunately, the prevalence of West Nile virus in over 300 different types of wild birds has had a devastating effect on the Kestrel population: the number of nesting pairs in Pennsylvania dropped by over 50% in 2004. A study performed at Hawk Mountain sanctuary in Kempton, Pennsylvania found that 95% of the adult Kestrels in the area had been exposed to the West Nile virus during their lifetimes. Many scientists theorize that the Kestrel's reliance on passerines as a food source has been the reason for the sharp decline: it has been shown that birds of prey can contract West Nile virus orally after eating infected prey. Jill Argall, wildlife center director and licensed rehabilitator, has been working to help wildlife for over twelve years. "I used to have fifteen to twenty Kestrels each summer," says Jill. "Sometimes we would get them when they were still hatching from their eggs. Now, we've gone years at a time without treating a single Kestrel. In the past decade or so, there's been a definite decrease."




kestrel perching
A Kestrel fledgling awaits a life in the wild

Fortunately, it appears as if the Kestrel is making a comeback: population increases have been noted in several areas along the east coast, including Pennsylvania. And at the wildlife center, we have definitely noticed a change as well! We have already received four Kestrels. Two were hit by cars and were successfully treated for internal injuries; one fell from his nest; and another was transferred all the way from state college by another rehabilitator so that he could be raised with other Kestrels. All four are hunting, eating and flying and are almost ready for release. "This is the most Kestrels we've had in eight or nine years," says Jill. "Hopefully, this is a sign of something good."









 Written by Bree Bigelow; photos by Bree Bigelow

















  Jill Argall, Director

Wildlife Rehabilitation Center

6000 Verona Road
Verona, PA 15147

Phone: 412-793-6900
Fax: 412-793-6283
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Our Mission
To rehabilitate and release injured and orphaned wildlife and to provide educational programs to regional residents in order to help foster an appreciation for conservation and a harmonious existence between humans and wildlife.