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American Kestrel project sets the stage for Motus expansion in Minnesota

Written by Kristin Hall
Kristin Hall (MN DNR) with an American Kestrel fledgling

Kristin A. L. Hall is an MMN member and State Wildlife Action Plan Coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The decline of American Kestrels in North America is alarming. The Minnesota DNR prioritized the need to conduct research on this species as an action item within our Wildlife Action Plan. Population trends for American Kestrels based on the federal Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) indicate a significant decline of −2.68% per year from 1967 to 2015 in Minnesota. Our research approach is guided by a paper titled Research Recommendations for Understanding the Decline of American Kestrels (Falco sparverius) Across Much of North America (McClure et.al. 2017), specifically our research is focused on:

  1. Better understanding fledgling survivability through tracking fledglings using the Motus network for at least 1-year post-fledging.
  2. Understanding full-life cycle needs of adult kestrels by tracking them from known nest boxes via Motus telemetry.

Our project will help us better understand which of the kestrel’s life phases is most vulnerable to mortality, narrowing the current information gap on primary threats.

The kestrel work is a partnership with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Army National Guard. We were fortunate enough to get a pilot season under our belts in 2020 (one silver lining of a crazy year). The pilot project gave us an opportunity to determine which type of transmitter would work best for our research needs and also allowed us to dive into Motus technology (I am not a computer/radio or technology person). Though the learning curve on Motus has been steep for me, it is coming together. By the time I am on my last station, I’m sure I’ll be a pro.

Some of our early success: We successfully placed our first station and have 4 partnerships ready to host new stations to be deployed later this summer. We spent the early summer of 2021 deploying 24 transmitters on kestrels at 2 focal study sites and are looking forward to learning more about where these birds travel throughout the year as well as if/ when they return to their breeding areas. Of the 9 transmitters deployed in our pilot season we heard from two transmitters about six months after they left the original study site. I am thrilled to have picked up our birds in the network, especially this early in the project, it really validates the potential that this tracking system has as we work to build its reach and capacity.

This project is part of a partnership led by the Missouri Department of Conservation. You can read more about that project here.