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Valley Journals

Nature walk builds interest in kestrel population study

Apr 04, 2018 03:34PM ● By Keyra Kristoffersen

An American kestrel looks out from a HawkWatch International nestbox. (Ron Dudley)

On Feb 24, amid snow and freezing temperatures, a group of 16 were led on a field trip around the Redwood Nature Area by a mix of HawkWatch International, TreeUtah, and Seven Canyons Trust experts.

“HawkWatch International is about to launch our American kestrel study season so we thought it was a good opportunity for us to lead a field trip and try and raise awareness,” said Joseph Dane, the development and marketing director of HawkWatch International, a non-profit that works to protect raptors through scientific research and public education.

HawkWatch International is about to launch their American kestrel study season and hoped to entice volunteers to help gather information about kestrel breeding habits in the area.

In April of 2017, HawkWatch partnered with TreeUtah and the Seven Canyons Trust to do a tree planting and restoration project on the east side of the Jordan River at the Redwood Nature Area which is a protected wetland that the county set aside where the Millcreek joins the Jordan River. Efforts to try and restore parts that have been degraded along there have begun and a loop trail with interpretive signs have been placed for visitors to learn about the species of flora and fauna that they’ll see, as well as an outdoor classroom that TreeUtah uses for their summer nature camps.

“Since all three of us have projects in the area, we thought it was a good opportunity to come together and talk to the public about what our organizations do,” said Arly Landry of TreeUtah. “It's a little urban wildlife refuge, definitely underappreciated and not well known.”

The wetlands are home to cottonwood trees and the invasive Russian olive trees as well as rodents, and a host of raptors that include red-tailed hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper’s hawks and several species of owls.

The American kestrel, a small, colorful falcon species also makes its home there and HawkWatch International put up four nesting boxes for them four years ago. The kestrel has been in decline over the last several decades and the HawkWatch and other birding groups have been trying to find out why by conducting a study over the last five years and placing around 400 nesting boxes in various areas along the Wasatch Front.

Currently, they have around 50 volunteers who monitor these boxes several times a month in order to gather data on breeding patterns, predation, food sources, invasive species and competition with other birds.

“That information is helping determine if decline is due to breeding issues and season,” said Dane.

HawkWatch is also planning to broaden their research to include looking at problems stemming from migration and wintering time.

“Like most all birds in the wild, climate change, habitat loss and degradation are a big impact and probably a key influence behind their decline,” Dane said. “The whole point of the project is to figure out why so we can then start working with state or federal wildlife officials, whoever we have to work with to put conservation plans into place.”

Kestrels play an important role in the ecosystem, said Dane, because they devour a lot of mice and voles and is one of the only raptors that can hover hunt—fly in one place as they search the ground for food.

“They're a very charismatic bird, very colorful, people really like seeing them outside,” said Dane.

The visiting group—made up of families, college students, and an environmental science teacher—listened to experts from TreeUtah speak about their tree planting efforts in the community and Seven Canyons Trust speak about restoration projects at the Jordan River and Millcreek Confluence. All were treated to the sight of a few red-tailed hawks and one kestrel that just as they were leaving, began hover hunting just 50 feet in front of them.

 

“Utah's a great state for raptors and bird life,” said Dane.