Rust-colored back and tail, two parallel dark lines down the sides of the lighter-colored face; a spotted and streaked chest. The male has slate-blue wings, whereas the female's wings are rust in color. 7 cm (10.5 in) in length; 58 cm (23 in) wingspan. In flight, the wings of the American Kestrel appear sickle-shaped and the male has what appear to be white translucent dots on the trailing edge of the wing.
The breeding season begins in late March, peaks in April and May, and extends through early June. The American Kestrel is a cavity nester, although sometimes it will nest on cliffs. It will use an artificial nest box placed in appropriate habitat. Nesting habitat is open wooded areas or grasslands with scattered trees. The female lays 3-7 (usually 4-5) eggs in the cavity. The eggs are incubated by the female, and the male feeds the incubating female. After 29-31 days of incubation, the semi-altricial young hatch. The young are cared for by both adults for 30-31 days, then leave the nest.
The American Kestrel is commonly seen on roadside power lines, or in trees on the meridians between highways. It eats insects, small reptiles, and amphibians during the breeding season and more rodents and small birds during migration and winter. A notable feature of this bird is its ability to hover while searching the ground for rodents or other food. Some individual American Kestrels are migratory.
The American Kestrel occurs all year in most of the continental United States, except in the northern Great Plains, where it spends only summers. In the Southeast, it is common throughout the year, with more wintering birds seen in Florida, southern Georgia, coastal North Carolina and Virginia, and southeast Louisiana. The winter range of this species extends as far south as Panama.
With land use changes, nesting cavities have become limited. Nest boxes have been successfully used for this species in appropriate habitat, where nest sites are limited.
From a distance the American Kestrel may appear like many other falcons that occur in the area. Overall, a Kestrel will appear light underneath with a rusty hue from a distance. Adult male Merlins can also seem light underneath, but they appear chubbier and have broader wings.