Now that a diminutive falcon has delighted 38,000 fans at Target Field — and thus become a national sports celebrity — the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center is inviting the public to help study the little bird: an American Kestrel.
USA Today called the falcon a “new star outfielder” for the Minnesota Twins.
In Detroit, a sports writer for the Free Press described the bird’s debut in Minneapolis this way: “During a game at the Twins’ new ballpark — Target Field — last week, a bird of prey drew plenty of attention as it swooped through the air, snaring insects lured by the bright stadium lights. When its acrobatic acts were shown on the video scoreboard, the crowd went crazy. One close-up featured the bird eating a large moth clutched in its talons.”
You can see the video here.
Enthralled fans bestowed high honor on the falcon by naming him (yes, it was a male) after legendary outfielder Kirby Puckett: Kirby the Kestrel.
This little bird, of course, can’t match the Puckster’s size. The kestrel is the smallest falcon seen in North America, about the size of a robin.
What puzzles the Raptor Center is that scientists at its St. Paul facilities have seen a precipitous decline in the number of kestrels in clinics where injured birds come for rehabilitation — from 107 admissions in 2000 to only 22 last year. The pattern runs contrary to what the center is seeing in other birds. Admissions of Cooper’s hawks, for example, have doubled, from 54 in 2000 to 114 last year.
“At this point, no one knows whether these findings are correlated, or even whether the reduction in kestrel admissions represents a decline of the species in the wild,” the center said in a release announcing a citizen science project it’s calling Kestrel Watch.
The project is fashioned after Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count, which began in 1900 and now is the longest running citizen science project known.
The center offers clues on where people might look for kestrels. As an edge species, they need both open hunting grounds, such as fields or meadows, and stands of trees to nest and roost. Thus, the American kestrel flourished as pioneers cleared the eastern forests.
Now, though, kestrels face many challenges in the wild. And information on their conservation is sparse, the Center said.
“To join Kestrel Watch, all you need to do is brush up on your observation and reporting skills,” the center said. “When you see a kestrel, record the day and time of your observation. Make note of what the bird was doing. Was it hunting? Perched? Feeding? How many kestrels were there? If you feel comfortable identifying the bird’s gender, report that, too.”
Sightings can be reported here.
The center, of course, also welcomes donations which it can collect through GiveMN.org.