Delaware receives a grant to support conservation of smallest falcon in North America
Delaware receives $120,000 from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Restoration Program to support the conservation of the smallest falcon in North America.
The American kestrel was placed on the state endangered species list in 2013 after suffering a more than 93% population decline in the Mid-Atlantic region due to factors such as habitat loss and climate change.
A year later, DNREC’s Brandywine Zoo began installing kestrel nesting boxes statewide to help the species rebound, and to gain a better understanding of their decline and population distribution.
That program expanded in 2016 when the Delaware Kestrel Partnership was formed between state agencies and local organizations.
There are now 79 nesting boxes across the state that work to help DNREC biologists study the bird from birth, and band them to track their health and movement over time.
The new federal grant will fund the installation of 10 Motus Wildlife Tracking System towers and the placement of Motus tags on healthy kestrels.
The tags are backpack-like radio transmitters that are safely placed on the birds and do not impact their flight or health. Motus towers will track and record the movement of any tagged bird within a 12 mile radius.
Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife Raptor, Grassland, and Forest Bird Biologist Jordan Brown says this works in tandem with the nesting box program.
“So between the two, banding and tagging the birds, we should be able to ultimately understand more about their migration, as well as their survival. And maybe even where they go to nest when they leave here as fledglings,” she said.
Motus is an international network, and any Motus tagged animal, including birds, bats, and bugs, will be tracked by the towers.
The data is sent to a centralized database and management system used by a worldwide community of researchers.
There are already 9 motus towers in the state that are being used to track different species.
Brown says with the installation of 10 more towers in the next 2 years, Delaware could become the first state to have full coverage.
“Now is that a big feat? I’m not sure. We are quite small, especially compared to our neighbors in Pennsylvania. But certainly I think it would be helpful not only for our own interstate projects but for everyone else in the region,” Brown explained.
The first Motus tower is being installed at the Delaware Nature Society’s Abbott’s Mill Nature Center in Sussex County.
Two more will be placed within the Little Creek Wildlife Area in Kent County.
And one will be located at the Augustine Wildlife Area Port Penn tract in New Castle County.
Outside of those locations, DNREC is looking to work with landowners in the areas where more coverage is needed. The towers can be placed in fields, or attached to existing buildings and structures.
Other states in the mid-Atlantic region, such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, have undertaken American kestrel conservation efforts, including installing nesting boxes in suitable habitats.
There are motus tracking systems scattered across both states.
“There is a collaborative approach with all of this both nationwide as part of the Atlantic Flyway, and in just the Mid-Atlantic region,” said Brown. “There has been lots of talk about kestrels, especially the last few years, so we're hoping to organize something a little bit larger so that we can all collaborate on the same project and understand the kestrels together, or maybe we'll understand that they're different from region to region.”
While the expansion of motus infrastructure in the state will help track the American kestrel, there is still a need for more nesting boxes for the purpose of boosting the bird’s population.
Out of the 79 nesting boxes, only about 7 are active each year.
Having them more widespread is key. The Delaware Kestrel Partnership is looking for interested landowners to host nesting boxes. The program would take care of the installation, maintenance and monitoring of the kestrels, and the landowner can be as involved as they’d like.
The nine nesting boxes hosted by the Delaware Nature Society have supported the successful hatching of 55 kestrel chicks over seven years.
Those interested in hosting a nesting box can visit de.gov/kestrels for more information.