Falcon nesting encouraged by P.E.I. students

A group of Holland College students are working to help increase the population of the American kestrel falcons.

American kestrel population on the decline

A group of Holland College students is trying to help increase the population of the American kestrel falcons.

"By providing these nest boxes, we're providing a better location for these birds to nest and we're hoping we're going to increase the population on P.E.I. and within the Maritimes," said Dwaine Oakley, an instructor at the college.

The population of American kestrals — the smallest and most common type of falcon — is on the decline across North America.

Oakley and his students hope to reverse that trend. They believe maintaining the boxes will provide a much needed nesting place for kestrals.

"For the most part the decline is due to habitat degradation — so cutting down of large tracts of woods — they need a fairly substantial cavity and there's not many trees on P.E.I. that can compare to this type of habitat," Oakley said.

So Oakley's wildlife conservation students are preparing 35 boxes to be placed two kilometres apart across Queens County.

"We clean out either old nest material, nests from starlings which are invasive, make it a little bit cleaner for them," said student Haley Jeffery. "We'll take a little square of turf, stick that to the bottom, then we'll fill it in with shavings."

However, the kestrel faces competition for its nests from the European starling — an invasive species.

"But kestrels [are] bigger and stronger, they normally kick them out of the nest boxes when they come back," Oakley said. "We just have to make sure they have those wood shavings in there to lay the eggs on."

They're also installing tarps as a backup to the wood shavings because starlings like to take those wood shavings and throw them out.

The tarp will make sure the eggs always have a warm place to incubate.

The program has considered a success so far, as the boxes have an 80 per cent occupancy rate.

"The first place we went to we actually saw a kestrel fly overhead, so that's a really good sign the kestrels will be using the boxes," Jeffery said.

They hope to have 15 more kestrel boxes up in the near future.