To become involved in the American kestrel nest box program as a citizen scientist there is no prerequisite to your experience or education but you will need to contact me via email (email@example.com) to let me know where you would like to monitor nest boxes. Then I can provide you with the contact information for landowners who have boxes they aren't monitoring and the locations of the nest boxes.
The level of commitment is variable depending on the individual landowner, the volunteer and how remote the nest boxes are located. Ideally all nest boxes would be checked during the breeding season to allow for feather sampling to take place. However, here are the three levels of commitment:
Minimal: clean out the nest box in the fall or early spring and repair any damages and then email me the results from each nest box by April 1st.
Normal: check box every 1-3 weeks from May to July for nesting activity or progression of the nestlings and clean out the boxes in fall/early spring and then email me the results from each nest box by April 1st.
Maximum: check every few days/weekly from May to July for nesting activity or progression of the nestlings and clean out the boxes in fall/early spring and then email me the results from each nest box by April 1st. This level may be required is starling are using the nest box(es) in your area.
There are really only two time frames of the year (summer and everything else) when any work can be done with kestrel boxes. The interesting portion is during the summer when the kestrels are using the nest boxes while the fall is the best time to clean out the nest boxes. The different seasons are explained below.
Summer: This is the busiest time of the year for monitoring kestrel boxes. Ideally you start to monitor the boxes in late April to early May (depending on your location in the province) to remove starling nests. Checking every 1-3 weeks will allow you to determine a very rough timeline of when kestrel chicks may hatch and allows you to clean out starling nests/eggs. The purpose of knowing when kestrel chicks hatch is to be able to estimate when the chicks will be between 18-23 days old (I will be adding an action camera kestrel nestling age guide in the next couple of months). This is the prime time frame for taking feather samples, which means you may need to check back more frequently (once a week instead of every 2-3) around the time you think the chicks will hatch. There is no golden rule for a time that kestrels start to nest. In the Peace Region in 2017 there were three distinct waves of kestrel nests with the first wave fledging between July 8-17th, the second wave between July 22-27th and the third wave between August 3-9th. Therefor, checking the boxes every 1-3 weeks through the summer until the third week of July will ensure you do not miss any nesting attempts by kestrels.
Fall/Winter: The fall is my preferred time to clean out the kestrel boxes because the ground is dry and it is easy to access the boxes. Cleaning the nest box, replacing the wood chips, repairing any damaged pieces and submitting your findings is best done in the fall to avoid the snow and cold of winter and the mud and time constraints of spring.
Spring:Not the ideal time to clean out the kestrel boxes because of the potentially muddy conditions and time constraints. If you wait until the spring squirrels may have taken up residence in the boxes and have given birth to young. At this point do not remove the squirrels because of the young that are present.
There are not very many tools required to monitor the nest boxes but at minimum you will need a ladder and a hammer. I also like to have a pair of metal kitchen tongs, a paint scrapper and a cheap paint brush to help clean off the whitewash, remove the wood chips and to sweep out the leftover particles.
If you are also maintaining the nest box you will also need a screwdriver to remove any damages pieces but a cordless drill would be much more effective, especially if you have to remove the nest box from the tree to conduct the repairs. The nest boxes are secured on the tree with two 3" screws in both the top and bottom of the nest box.
Monitoring and Maintaining Nest Boxes:
There are three different levels of monitoring and maintaining nest boxes (details below) and each has its own permitting requirements depending on the stress it causes the kestrels.
Maintaining Boxes: When cleaning the nest boxes or conducting any maintenance after the kestrel leave for the season you do not need a permit, however you need to make sure you are doing this after the kestrels are no longer using the boxes. I recommend cleaning the boxes between September and March with September and October being my preferred months.
Monitoring Boxes - Non-intrusive: This method of monitoring kestrel boxes is considered non-intrusive because you do not open the nest box or put any cameras into the nest box entrance. Instead you watch the nest box from a distance that does not disturb any of the kestrels that may be using the box (I'd recommend at least 100m to start with). This method allows you to watch the kestrels behaving naturally and confirm they are going into the nest box. Because this method is non-intrusive you do not need a permit.
Monitoring Boxes - Intrusive: This method is, as the name suggests, intrusive to the nesting kestrels. This method involves any form of opening the nest box to look inside or any form of using a camera or mirror to also look inside the nest box. The only exception here is if you installed a nest box camera prior to the kestrels nesting in the box. My preferred method is to use an action camera attached to an extension pole to insert into the entrance so that you don't have to open the box (causes additional stress) and you don't need a ladder. With many action cameras now you can live view the camera on your phone or tablet to be able to see what is inside the nest box. If you do not have an action camera but you do have a phone that fits through the entrance all you have to do is put it on video mode and slip the camera lens into the entrance. Do not reach into the box to see if anything is in there! You could have kestrels or squirrels or other creatures that can leave serious injuries to your hands of the bite them. Squirrels in nest boxes can be very aggressive when you block the entrance, even young squirrels.
As a minimum the information to send me is what used the box that summer when you check/clean the box(es) in the fall.
e.g. Box #24 check in September - used by kestrels
As a maximum the information sent should include the following for each species and each box:
A) Box # and Species = information for each box and the species that used it. If you started out with squirrels and kestrels took over send the information for the box letting me know squirrels were in the box on XX date when you checked and the kestrels were using the box on XX date when you rechecked.
B) Territory Date = when kestrels were first observed near the nest box.
C) First Eggs = when you first saw an egg(s) and how many - we can back date to the approximate first day.
D) Total Eggs = maximum number of eggs you observed.
E) Number of Chicks Hatched = how many chicks you saw or how many chicks + missing eggs. It is uncommon for a kestrel egg to break. I have seen a number of boxes with 4 of the 5 eggs hatch and the 4 chicks fledge with the 5th egg remaining unbroken after they have left. So if a chick dies in the nest and there are 3 chicks and 1 egg when there were originally 5 eggs I will count that as 4 chicks hatched.
F) Number of Chicks Fledged = estimate of how many chicks were old enough and healthy enough to fledge. If the chicks have most of their feathers and there are no runts you can count the "fully" feathers chicks as fledged (for the purpose of this program). If there are any skinny runts unfortunately they probably won't fledge.
Box #24 - American Kestrel
Territory = April 28
First Eggs May 15 - 2 eggs
Total Eggs = May 28 - 5 eggs
# Chick Hatched = June 22 - 5 chicks
# Chicks Fledged = July 1 - 4 chicks (1 runt)
If you only check the box once per year thats good, if you check it twice thats good, if you check it 8 times thats good. I would like to see the long term nest box use for kestrels, which is why there is only a once a year minimum to check the box. However, if I get sent more detailed information that wont hurt and could provide interesting insight into the different areas of the provinces or regions. I will only record the maximum of 6 pieces of information so if you send me more dates etc I will only put the information detailed above into the spreadsheet.
When installing the kestrel nest box(es) there are a few things to keep in mind:
1) Install the box on the edge of open field (kestrels want a wide open approach) near preferred hunting areas is a big part of attracting kestrels. Pasture is the best option with hay land being the next best option or a mix of hay and pasture. Cultivation is also possible but it is the last choice for kestrels.
2) The best locations are along the south or east sides of tree lines or shelter belts where there are little to no branches that are near the nest boxes. Without branches near the boxes it provides easier access to the boxes, fewer places for predators to hide and the boxes are easier to find by the kestrels.
3) Ideally you will face the box away from the prevailing wind (or at a 90), have it partially shaded from the hottest sun (hot areas of the province) and have the entrance face into the open field or at a minimum a bit less than parallel. The key is to have an open flyway that is easy to see. If your choice is between the entrance facing into a treed area or slightly into the wind I would recommend the wind because kestrels are unlikely to use the treed entrance and squirrels are more likely to use it.
4) Install the box 8ft or higher.
5) The box can be installed on a tree, post or building.
6) When installing it on a tree (I have 99% of the boxes on trees) you don't want any branches or shrubs within reach of the box or in the flight path. Aspen trees work really well since they often do not have any branches. You do not need very many trees around the nest box/territory since most areas have power lines that kestrels use as perches to hunt from.
7) If you don't have a tree or a tall post you could attach two 2x4s on each side of an existing normal fence post, which would allow you to mount the box 8ft or higher and still be near trees.
8) Each kestrel has a territory of approximately one quarter section (160 acres) but the habitat and prey abundance varies on how big their territories are.
More information coming soon.
Warne in the Wild and its owner(s) and the landowners where boxes are located are not responsible for any actions, incidents, injuries etc. that may occur while you are volunteering for the kestrel nest box program including; but not limited to, travel to and from the site(s) and activities done on site. You are solely responsible as a volunteer and agree to be solely responsible when you become a volunteer.