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UMC students are keeping an eye on Crookston’s kestrels

Courtesy photo of a kestrel from Heidi Huges.

Even though he hasn’t seen a real one yet, Andy Albertsen is out to save the kestrels.

The University of Minnesota-Crookston senior has launched the Crookston Kestrel Watch Project to study them after a professor suggested the project as a way to delve deeper into Albertsen’s academic interest in wildlife.

The small colorful falcons are not threatened but, according to the Breeding Bird Survey, their population has declined slightly across the country since the 1960s and nobody can figure out why.

“Even though there’s a steady population now, if these trends continue, it can spell disaster for these birds in the future,” Albertsen said. “It’s better to be proactive versus reactive.”

Kestrels are found all over the country but are especially common in the Midwest because they like grassy habitats. March is a prime month to see them in the Grand Forks area.

Scientists say that kestrels tend to flourish when nesting boxes are provided for them, so that’s exactly what Albertsen is doing. Each box is a little larger than a shoebox. He plans to place 10 around the Crookston area and have volunteers monitor them to learn more about kestrels.

“It’s a good opportunity for people who want to be more active and to participate in a larger scale conservation monitoring project,” he said.

Snooping on avians

Heidi Hughes has a similar kestrel monitoring program in nearby Warren, Minn., and said once the bird-watching bug bit her, there was no going back.

“Human beings are snoops,” she said. “We like to watch people, and it’s much easier to watch a bird.”

She said kestrels are particularly interesting because of the way they hunt.

“They do things that defy gravity,” she said. “They hover and if they see a rodent they suspend themselves in space. When they home in, they’ll dive bomb it. They’re fun to watch and you can’t confuse them for another bird.”

Albertsen said he hopes to hold an event this summer to band young kestrels after they hatch and track their movements.

To learn more: Albertsen will make a presentation 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Crookston Public Library March 11 at 6 p.m. Hughes will be present also. Also see the kestrel watch’s website at and the Grand Cities Bird Club at

Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.

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