American Kestrel populations are declining across much of North America and scientists are puzzling over the reason. A partnership of scientists including The Peregrine Fund’s American Kestrel Partnership, Boise State University, HawkWatch International, UCLA’s Center for Tropical Research, First Solar, and Wild Lens are hoping to get to the bottom of the mystery. The collaborators are hoping that the public will also want to join in on the project by supporting the research through a crowdfunding campaign that starts today.
The Peregrine Fund’s American Kestrel Partnership (AKP) Director, Dr. Chris McClure says, “Most people have seen American Kestrels, but this historically common little falcon has become a rare sight in many regions of North America, where populations have been declining for several decades.”
“We don’t have sufficient data to understand why these long-term, wide-spread population declines are occurring,” says Boise State University’s Dr. Julie Heath, “we need more information to understand where the birds are having trouble in their life cycle.”
Identifying the reason for this decline has been challenging. Explanations for population declines may include land use, climate change, depredation by Cooper’s Hawks and other birds of prey, competition with European Starlings for nesting cavities, and environmental contaminants such as rodenticides, heavy metals, and brominated flame retardants (used in electronics and textiles).
The next step in gathering needed information to help American Kestrel populations is to better understand how these birds are spending their time. UCLA evolutionary biologist Dr. Kristen Ruegg says, “It’s very hard to develop a conservation strategy when you don’t know where the bird spends half of the year.”
Fortunately, Ruegg and Dr. Tom Smith, a UCLA professor and the director of the Center for Tropical Research, have described a genetic-based method for identifying populations of migratory birds at finer spatial scales than has previously been possible. Ruegg says, “Now that we can identify genetically distinct groups at such a fine scale, we can pinpoint where they breed, migrate and winter, which means we can assess where they’re facing challenges that are causing population declines.”
The team of scientists has already collected some of the data needed to move forward with the study, but is in need of funding to support the analysis. To help raise a total of $40,000 in funding, we are kicking off a crowdfunding campaign. “It’s an ambitious goal, but our hope is that the American Kestrel is a compelling enough species for people to want to help,” says McClure. “They’re beautiful and charismatic little falcons that also have a positive impact on the environment for humans because they eat insects and mice.” With a bit of support from humans North America’s smallest and most colorful little falcons have a fighting chance.
To make a donation to the American Kestrel crowdfunding project, visit www.GoFundMe.com/AmericanKestrelReturn to news releases