While I’ve been monitoring nest boxes over the last 4 months in Marion and Levy counties in north central Florida, I have also been looking for kestrel nests in natural cavities. We suspect there are many kestrels nesting in natural cavities, but finding and monitoring these cavities on private land is difficult.
Because American Kestrels cannot excavate their own cavities, they rely on woodpeckers to excavate their nest sites. One particular property in Marion County has a large number of snags on its perimeter, and it is a hot spot for Red-headed Woodpeckers. Two nest boxes here were not used by American Kestrels, and I had seen two pairs in the area often, perched on snags. There were a number of suitable cavities here, so every time I drove by, I made note of kestrel activity in the area. I had previously observed a female enter a cavity at a distance, but have not yet seen any fledglings at that nest. Today, two female fledgling kestrels were hopping around the top of a huge pine snag very close to the public road. The large nest cavity stood out among the many smaller unsuitable cavities.
Both male and female adult kestrels were nearby hunting, while the two chicks hopped around the high branches and tested their wings. Only two chicks were visible, but it is possible that a few more were still in the nest cavity. These chicks had clearly just emerged from their nest cavity, as they were a bit clumsy and not willing to leave the snag. Fledgling kestrels are actually very quick learners; within a day or so, they will be extremely agile fliers and it will be difficult to tell them apart from their parents. I was lucky to find these chicks before they hopped off the snag. Over the next few days, the chicks will start following their parents around and joining them on their favorite perches that overlook their territory.