REXBURG, Idaho (KIFI)- Kestrels or sparrow hawks are integral to a farm having a successful growing season. The bird of prey will eat many of the pests found in a farm's field such as rodents, grasshoppers and even sparrows.
The Henry's Fork Wildlife Alliance is a non-profit group formed in 2019 with the mission to help people connect with wildlife in a positive manner. One such way the alliance is hoping to do that is by helping people build boxes that will become new homes for the kestrel.
"The idea of this program began when my uncle noticed that, his barn is generally just covered in starlings and sparrows that defecate on everything and were really noisy, those would all disappear whenever he had a couple of kestrels move into the barn to nest in. And so he really wanted to know how you could get more of those. And so the nest boxes were kind of a solution," said Caitlyn Wanner, the project coordinator for the Henry's Fork Wildlife Alliance.
The boxes are not too dissimilar in appearance to what you might expect of a bat box. They are made out of wood, with a small hole big enough for the bird to sneak in and out. The reason for the small hole is that as Wanner puts it, the kestrel is America's smallest falcon.
The birds like the boxes for a variety of reasons, Wanner said.
"Kestrels are cavity nesters, which means that they make their nests in the cavities of trees and but they're not able to dig out a tree hole for themselves. So they rely on other critters to make the nests for them. And so in this area, if there are fewer old cottonwoods and things that have natural tree cavities, then the kestrels can't nest in that area," Wanner said.
Wanner adds having something like the box can make it easier for the bird because they hunt close to their homes.
"In the summertime, kestrels will hunt within about a mile of their nest area. So you can have a big old field with lots of grasshoppers and mice and a kestrel won't be able to use it if there's not a nest location around for them to use. So by putting up a nest box, you can create instant habitat for them that they will then move in and then use the surrounding area to hunt."
If you want to place a box near your home Wanner says the best thing you can do is keep it somewhat low and sheltered.
"You want them about 8 to 20 feet off the ground and you want them in a place where you can mimic kind of the shelter and insulation that they would normally get if they were inside of a tree."
The reason for the lower placement is to make sure the nest box doesn't overheat.
"They can go on poles, buildings, and things. But you want to put them in a place where they are going to not get the prevailing wind blowing rainwater into the entrance hole and where they're going to get afternoon shade because we're getting hot summer days and those are really bad. When you get six chicks crammed into a little space, it can really overheat," Wanner said.
Wanner adds making sure the ground underneath the shelter is just as important as having the nest.
"You also want to put them in an area for the fledglings. When they fall out of the nest, they kind of hide and cover while their wings are getting stronger. So you don't want to put them in a place that has an active dog that can just run up and eat them, or a place that's going to see, you know, heavy machinery or over hard concrete create with no shelter for the chicks because we want those to actually be coming back year after year and using the same site."
The Alliance sponsors events for people to build their own boxes they will also be attending the Ahston and Driggs Farmers Market selling the boxes to those who would want a box in near their home.