Illinois College senior Taylor Joray has a passion for animals and conservation, and last summer he got the opportunity to do some firsthand conservation fieldwork by designing his own American kestrel nest-box monitoring project.
Joray, a biology and environmental biology major from Aurora, contacted the Peregrine Fund of Boise, Idaho, and the Kane County Forest Preserve in Geneva, Ill., for guidance in designing a summer research project. He worked with them in early 2012 to develop a project aimed at preserving the American kestrel, a North and South American raptor species that is in decline in the United States.
In researching this bird, Joray found that American kestrels (Falco sparverius) are the smallest falcon species in North America. Averaging about eight to 10 inches in length with a 24-inch wingspan, kestrels are about the size of a mourning dove. According to Joray, “kestrels occupy a wide variety of habitats, ranging from meadows, grasslands and farm fields, to cities and suburbs. They favor open areas with short ground vegetation which are ideal spots for them to find their prey.”
Although these birds are still the common falcon species found in North America, they are undergoing a nationwide decline. “Luckily, kestrels take readily to human-made nest-boxes. Nest-boxes are beneficial because they provide safe nesting sites for the kestrels,” Joray said. “These boxes offer insight into the breeding cycle of these birds which can provide clues as to why their population is declining.”
With the help of family and friends and the West Aurora High School shop class, Joray built and installed 12 kestrel nest-boxes in various forest preserves throughout Kane County, Ill. The boxes were located on nine-foot tall wooden posts and included a hinged top to allow Joray to monitor occupancy and clean them.
Joray monitored these boxes once a week from early May to mid-August, recording occupancy and hatchling survival. “The results were not spectacular this first year, with only one box successfully fledgling kestrel chicks, but I found that the project was definitely worth it. Even though kestrel occupancy rates were not high, the project provided insight as to why kestrels might not be using the boxes. At one point, the non-native European starling was occupying eight out of the 12 nest-boxes, so their direct competition with kestrels may be a cause in the kestrels’ decline.” He shared his research findings with Matt Giovanni of the Peregrine Fund.
Overall, Joray says, “I wouldn’t trade this summer for anything. Watching the kestrel chicks progress from tiny eggs to fully grown fledglings was an awesome experience. I have plans of expanding the project in coming years, and I’m looking forward to continuing to help this awesome little bird of prey.”
Joray was one of five interns who received support in 2012 from Illinois College’s Environmental Issues Internship Program. The program is funded by a grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation.
Margaret A. Cargill is the granddaughter of William Cargill, cofounder of Cargill Inc. The Margaret A. Cargill Foundation was created upon the philanthropist’s death in 2006, and assists programs that reflect her passions and priorities including the environment; the arts; services to families, children and the elderly; disaster-related relief, recovery and development; planned health; and animal welfare.