Carotenoids are important as pigments for bright coloration of animals, and as physiologically active compounds with a wide array of health-related functions. Carotenoid-dependent coloration may have evolved as a signal to conspecifics; however, factors that may limit availability of carotenoids are poorly known. We investigated how the acquisition of carotenoids may be constrained by availability in the environment, diet, genetic make-up and health status of wild American kestrels (Falco sparverius). Plasma concentrations of siblings at the time of fledging showed a high degree of resemblance; however, a cross-fostering experiment revealed that variance was largely explained by nest of rearing, rather than nest of origin, thus indicating a low genetic component. A multivariate analysis of attributes of nestlings (sex, size, plasma proteins, immune function), parental reproduction (laying date, clutch size) and rearing conditions (brood size, size hierarchy, nestling mortality) showed only a small significant effect of leucocyte differentials on carotenoid concentrations of nestlings. A strong environmental effect on plasma carotenoids was demonstrated by levels of adult kestrels being correlated within mated pairs, and having a significant association with the abundance of voles, the primary prey species, per territory.