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Naturalist’s Notebook: Tail Patterns in American Kestrels

By John Schmitt
American Kestrel tail feather patterns

November & December 2012
Kern County, California

Here are some studies of an American Kestrel with an unusually marked tail. This beautiful adult male is typical in all regards except for its tail; rather than the usual mostly rufous tail with a single broad black subterminal band, this kestrel’s tail is an attractive configuration of rufous, blue-gray, and white with multiple broken black bands.

Over the past week, this kestrel’s confiding nature has allowed me superb scope views for more accurate studies. This marks only the third time that I’ve observed wild kestrels with unusually marked tails, but in recent years I have seen a few published images of male kestrels with weird-looking tails.

Owing to the lack of insects in this cold season, the few hunting forays of this kestrel that I’ve observed have all been directed at small birds.

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library

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