The smallest type of falcon, the American kestrel, has been listed as endangered in Delaware since 2013.
A monitoring program is collecting valuable information that's being used not just in Delaware, but internationally. Its goal is to determine what exactly threatens the American kestrel by tracking new nestlings and continuing to monitor them as fledglings.
74 nest boxes have been installed on public and private property in Delaware since 2014 as part of a cooperative program involving the Brandywine Zoo, Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife and other organizations. Recently, people concerned about the kestrel's future visited with a two-week old bird on the grounds of Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library in Greenville.
Jacque Williamson of Brandywine Zoo climbed a ladder and pulled out a small gray bundle of feathers, gently examined it and showed the bird to a few visitors before returning it to the nest.
"We're not entirely sure what their decline is caused by, which is one of the things we're trying to do with our project," Williamson said.
Feather samples are also collected and sent to the American Kestrel Genoscape Project, which is putting together a DNA map of the North American kestrel population. Each monitored kestrel will also be fitted with an ID leg band.
Senator Tom Carper, D- Delaware, briefly held the two-week old kestrel. The senior Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee said endangered species is one of the panel's concerns.
"The good Lord has given us an amazing planet to live on, and I think His expectation for us is to be guardians, including little birds like the one we're visiting here today," Carper said.
Earlier this year, the Brandywine Zoo won a Plume Award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Avian Scientific Advisory Group for its leadership in the kestrel monitoring program. Members of the Delaware Nature Society, Delmarva Ornithological Society, Delaware Wildlands and Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research also make up the Delaware Kestrel Partnership.
While there is great concern about the kestrel's future, veterinarian Dr. Erica Miller, who's affiliated with Tri-State Bird Rescue, says each hatchling shows promise.
"Every one of them that's hatched out, every new kestrel, is the potential for many generations to come as long as we continue to preserve their habitat so they have a place to breed," Miller said.