Salt Lake County is teaming up with HawkWatch International to help study and track the smallest falcon in North America known as the kestrel falcon.
Mike Shaw is a volunteer with the organization. Right now he’s reaching up into one of the 150 nest boxes the organization has put out across the Wasatch front and pulling out the baby kestrel falcons.
“When we have these in our hands, it doesn’t happen very often, and we hope we never see this bird again but, while we have it in our hand we’re going to put a distinct marker on it," he says. "It’s called a leg band. It’s issued by the federal government with a unique number. And that way if anybody ever finds this bird in the future we’ll be able to track it back to this location.”
Shaw and other scientists and volunteers at HawkWatch are studying the falcons because they’ve noticed that the kestrel population is declining. Research from observation indicates the population has declined as much as 64% since the mid 1960’s. HawkWatch Senior Scientiest Dave Oleyar says they hope the boxes help them better understand why.
“So we’re hoping that essentially doing this will, one, let us know can we say is it landscape? Is it land cover change that’s driving kestrel decline or not? So we’ll be able to hopefully answer that question," Oleyar says. "And overall just nest success. And maybe it’s not nest success, maybe it’s the fact that they’re just not producing as much young in one type of setting as the other, or they’re not surviving as well.”
Julie Peck-Dabling is the Salt Lake County Open Space and Urban Farming Program manager. She says the County was excited to form the partnership with HawkWatch because of the great educational opportunities it could provide.
“It gives the community the opportunity to know more about their Earth, this population around here of birds, and to really get in touch with open space in Salt Lake County,” she says.
Organizers at HawkWatch say they hope to continue growing the program and add 50 to 75 more boxes next year.