A group of young men and women were not bothered by the rain as they trudged through the snow covered fields of Cardoza Farm, off Route 28A in West Falmouth, on Tuesday morning, March 17. Donning hooded sweatshirts and jackets, they talked and laughed, two of them carrying what would appear from a distance to be a 16-foot-long wooden pole.
Attached to the pole was a nest box, designed with a hole just large enough to allow an American kestrel to enter. The box was one of eight built by the group as part of a habitat improvement project initiated by The 300 Committee Land Trust, in collaboration with the Town of Falmouth and the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, to attract more of the species to the area.
Throughout the state, the number of kestrels is declining, said The 300 Committee stewardship coordinator Jack K. Sidar as he walked with the group. He said that historically, the species has had a strong presence on Cape Cod.
“They’re disappearing and no one knows why,” Mr. Sidar said, explaining why the committee decided to take on the cause. “Also, it’s just a beautiful bird.”
The kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America and is one of the most colorful raptors: males are recognizable by a blue head and wings with a reddish-brown back and tail; and females have the same reddish-brown color wings, back and tail. The species typically needs 20 to 40 acres of open space to hunt and to hatch their chicks, Mr. Sidar said.
“The 300 Committee doesn’t have enough habitat properties with open fields to do the project on its own,” he said.
So they reached out to the Falmouth Conservation Commission for permission to set boxes on town-owned land as well. Materials for the project were paid for through the Department of Marine and Environmental Services’ site improvement funds, according to conservation and land management technician Alexandra Brandt, who helps to bridge the two services.
“Conservation has been trying to team up with The 300 Committee more because they do so much for us as far as land stewardship,” she said.
With assistance from Barnstable County AmeriCorps Cape Cod volunteers, boxes were installed at Coonamessett Reservation, Breivogel Ponds Conservation Land, Teaticket Park, Sea Farms Conservation Area, and Peterson Farm. The 300 Committee plans to recruit volunteer birders to help monitor them through the remainder of March and April, and ultimately, will invite representatives of the division of fisheries and wildlife to “band” any kestrels thsat have nested in them. The state will receive copies of the data collected from the project, Mr. Sidar said, in the hopes that it will “help figure out why [kestrels] are on the decline in Massachusetts.”
When kestrels breed, he said that they need cavities like those provided in the nest boxes. In addition to the diameter of the entrance hole, the space inside the boxes and the height of the poles—which stand approximately 12 feet tall once in the ground—cater specifically to the American kestrel. Bluebirds, screech owls, and other cavity nesting birds will likely use the boxes if the kestrels do not reach them first, Mr. Sidar explained. The 300 Committee’s policy is to allow any native birds that nest in the boxes to remain there.
Arriving at a small clearing on the farm, the group dug a hole and worked together to lift the tall structure into an upright position. After packing dirt around its base, they began the walk back through the snow.
Asked why the project is important for the community, Ms. Brandt said, “Because the Cape has been so heavily developed over the past 30 years, and it’s just a chance to maintain some of the biodiversity... it’s important for the environment.”