ABOUT OUR WORK
The Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research (CWKR) started in 1968 by Frances Hamerstrom, an author, naturalist, and ornithologist who did extensive work with the Greater Prairie Chicken and birds of prey in Wisconsin. She was the only female graduate student of the legendary Aldo Leopold at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
In 1968 Frances erected 40 nesting boxes on the Buena Vista Grasslands (BVG), which she monitored for 30 years until her death. At that point, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Aldo Leopold Audubon Society began revitalizing the project. The Aldo Leopold Audubon Society built and installed new nest boxes, and in 2004, Janet Eschenbauch took over the monitoring and began the banding effort.
CWKR is dedicated to spreading knowledge about kestrels and the zest for their conservation to the public by speaking to birding groups, assisting with college-level classes on ornithology and raptor biology, and providing hands-on experiences with field trips.
We currently maintain over 60 kestrel nest boxes in central Wisconsin. Kestrels take readily to these boxes, and each year approximately 60% of our nest boxes are inhabited. We monitor them frequently to keep tabs on nest development, including egg laying, hatching, and fledging.
We make it our goal to band as many kestrel adults and chicks as we can each year. These silver bangles are more than just fancy jewelry; they are labeled with unique identifiers that allow us to learn where the bird migrates to, which nest it inhabits year after year, and more. We've banded almost 2,000 kestrels since 2004!
Each time we band, we also take measurements of each bird's weight, age, and health. We also take one small non-flight feather and a .5 mm toenail sample, which are submitted to research labs for analysis. These tests can tell us where the birds migrate and how they are related to other kestrels.
Janet graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point with a degree in biology. She worked in at K-8 grade library for 25 years before taking over the Central Wisconsin Kestrel Research program in 2004. She and her daughter-in-law, Amber, continue to run the program today. Contact Janet.
Amber graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point with a degree in biology. She worked as a wildlife rehabilitation assistant before joining the Kestrel crew in 2006. She now co-leads the program with her mother-in-law, Janet.
Maureen graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point with a master's degree in environmental education. She is currently a middle school science teacher who regularly volunteers with CWKR's nest box and banding activities.
Sally graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point with a master's degree in environmental education. She is a retired environmental educator who continues to impact the field of conservation by volunteering with CWKR.
Gerry graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point with a degree in biology. He currently works as an industrial electrician with a passion for the outdoors. He is an outstanding birder and regular volunteer with CWKR.
Kestrel Nest Boxes
Naturally, kestrels would most commonly find a home in a dead tree with an open cavity. However, today's practices call for these tree snags to be removed to prevent the tree from falling over and causing damage or injury, and as a result natural kestrel nesting sites have all but vanished. Kestrels are in major decline all over their native range, likely in large part due to a lack of nesting sites.
To help combat this problem, we set up kestrel nest boxes in grasslands, and kestrels take readily to them! These boxes, which measure about a foot wide, a couple of feet tall and a foot deep, are mounted on tall poles with a metal sheath (called a "predator guard") in open grasslands. They have a hole for an opening in the front, and a door on the side to allow staff to access the nest for monitoring, banding, and annual housekeeping.
We currently maintain 60 boxes in the Stevens Point area, and there are nest box programs all over the country helping to prevent this species from becoming endangered. Interested in putting up a nest box? Click here!
Kestrel nest boxes are placed in open grasslands. Photos by Madison Audubon Society
Banding a kestrel is an amazing and involved process. Both Janet and Amber possess raptor banding permits, which are required by US Fish and Wildlife Service to allow them to carefully and respectfully catch, band, and release the birds.
We use scientifically-proven best practices while catching and handling the birds to ensure their and our safety, and these resilient little animals are unphased by these short disruptions in their day.
The benefits of banding birds are numerous. Each band has a unique number, which allows for researchers who catch these birds again in following years to track individuals' movements and nesting habits. We can learn so much from this activity, and need your help to continue!
American Kestrel Banding
American Kestrel Banding
In this video, you'll see how Janet and Amber catch an adult kestrel, document her age and health, and add a band to her leg before releasing her back into the prairie. Video by Madison Audubon Society.
Studying Health, Migration, and Genetics
As a benefit of catching and banding kestrel adults, we can also take the opportunity to learn more by taking samples to send to research labs. Each sample is invaluable and we are careful to take no more than we need.
First, we take one feather from the belly or back which is sent in to study where the birds migrate to in winter, see how the population changes, and start to learn how climate change impacts kestrels. This project is done in partnership with Boise State University, University of California Las Angeles, the American Kestrel Partnership and Hawkwatch International.
Second, we take .5 mm of a claw which we send to Boise State University to study the difference between short- and long-distance migrants. Claws regrow like human nails, so they grow back and otherwise do not negatively affect the birds. And the benefits of the knowledge they bring are incredible! We can do a lot better to protect wintering grounds of kestrels if we understand where they go.
Kestrels are beautiful. Their habitats are lovely. The families and community members who help us with this work are awesome. Here are a few photos from our years of work together.