Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Flint EMC, DNR Put up Nest Boxes to Ease Kestrel Housing Crunch

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Flint Energies are helping ease a middle Georgia housing shortage for southeastern American kestrels, a small falcon listed as rare in the state.

Flint Energies, an electric cooperative serving 17 central Georgia counties, put up 10 power poles and wildlife biologists recently added kestrel nest boxes on each at Fall Line Sandhills Natural Area and a nearby state-owned tract, both in Taylor County. The lack of nest sites is a limiting factor for this species, said Nathan Klaus, a senior wildlife biologist with the DNR Wildlife Resources Division.

“I believe next week if you come out here there’ll be (a kestrel) sitting on top of each pole,” Klaus said with a grin after Flint Energies’ 1st class lineman Craig Montgomery and Chad Albritton attached the first box last week.

Klaus has good reason for the optimism. Nest boxes added earlier in the project started by Jonathan Stober, a wildlife biologist with Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center at Ichauway, have boosted kestrel numbers at Fall Line Sandhills from six nesting pairs a few years ago to more than 20. On a recent sunny day, a few of the colorful raptors perched alone on power lines high above the older boxes, apparently staking out claims.

Kelly Trapnell, a public relations specialist with Flint Energies, said the not-for-profit company is “proud to be a small part of this project to boost the kestrel population in our service area.”

“It will be exciting to watch with the rest of the community as the kestrel population grows along our rights of way and safely in nesting boxes on our poles in Taylor County," she said.

Assessing populations of southeastern American kestrels is one of the high priorities in the Georgia Wildlife Action Plan, the strategy that guides Wildlife Resources and DNR efforts to conserve biological diversity. The partnership with Flint Energies is aimed at restoring the Taylor County kestrels, one of three small populations in Georgia.

The southeastern American kestrel probably was once widely distributed throughout Georgia’s Coastal Plain, roosting and nesting in hollow trees and abandoned red-cockaded woodpecker cavities, and preying on lizards, mice, large insects and occasionally small birds. But as the state’s native open habitat types were lost to agriculture, intensive silviculture, development and a lack of fire, kestrels and other grassland birds disappeared from most of their former ranges.

Power-line rights of way provide suitable kestrel habitat, as does ongoing thinning and burning to restore the landscape at Fall Line Sandhills near Butler. Klaus and Stober attribute the missing ingredient – cavities for nesting – to fewer older snags and hollow trees, and the lack of cavities created by red-cockaded woodpeckers, a federally endangered species no longer found in the area.

In late spring, Klaus, Stober and volunteers will check the boxes and band chicks as part of monitoring local kestrel trends.

Partners in the project include Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center and The Environmental Resources Network, or TERN, which provided a grant to build the boxes.

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