Wildlife & Habitat

  • American Kestrel

    American Kestrel

    The American kestrel (Falco sparverius), can be seen frequently seen at Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The Service has tried to encourage this very showy falcon by setting up nest boxes on the refuge. The kestrel may be known locally as a “sparrow hawk” and is the smallest raptor in America. It is a very dapper bird with deep chestnut back, blue-grey wings, and bold splashes of white and black. Though many people may not realize they have seen this falcon, they are surprisingly common in residential areas. In fact, it is the most common falcon in North America, and is found in a wide variety of habitats, including urban areas. At 19–21 centimeters (7–8 in) long, it is also the smallest falcon in North America. Although both sexes have distinct markings, the male is definitely the showier of the two with deeper colors and more distinct delineations of its markings.

    Like many birds of prey, the American kestrel hunts by hovering in the air and then diving down to the ground to snatch-up grasshoppers, lizards, small rodents or perching birds. It can be found nesting in tree cavities, cliff sides, or even on building ledges. Both the male and female help in incubating and caring for the young and often return to the same breeding area year after year.

  • Osprey


    The osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is a very visible resident of Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Because there are several nest platforms on the Refuge, they often can be seen flying around areas open to the public. Ospreys live near water and feed almost exclusively on fish. Because of this penchant for seafood, another common name is “fish hawk.” Ospreys are large birds of prey, having a wingspan of up to 5 feet and weighing up to 4 ½ pounds. Given their large size, they are quite distinctive with their white head, black eye patch, and black wings.

    Ospreys are well adapted to their fish eating lifestyle, having the ability to move their toes so that there are two in front and two behind (better to grip the slippery fish). They also are very flexible and can tilt their wings to shield their eyes from the glare of the sun bouncing off the water. This ability allows them to better see their food just below the water’s surface. Ospreys can seal their nostrils when diving for fish and have barb-like scales on their feet to better grasp their slick prey.

    As long as they have access to open water (and fish!), ospreys can live in many different habitats, and aren’t readily disturbed by the proximity of people. Because of this adaptability, they are found on all continents except Antarctica. They are a true conservation success story, having rebounded from a steep population decline due to pesticide use (DDT) in the 1970s.