Urban Wildlife - Kestrel

Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) © Phil Palmer

Fascinating Fact about Kestrel

The kestrel is one of our smallest and most common birds of prey. It can often be seen hovering above road verges, either beating its wings rapidly or using the wind for its support. Unfortunately, kestrels are declining due to habitat and food supply losses in the farmland areas and they are becoming less common everywhere.

All about Kestrel

What to look for

The kestrel is only 32-35cm long, with a tail of 12-15cm and wingspan of 71-80cm. The kestrel is easy to recognise with its barred brown plumage, reddish back, pale under-parts, black cheek fl ashes and bar on the tail feathers. The male and female are almost alike, but the male has a blue-grey head, rump and tail, and the female has a brown barred head and tail. It has a good eye sight for spotting prey when hovering and strong claws for pinning it’s dinner to the ground.

When and where to see

The kestrel prefers the open country where its prey can be hunted from the air, such as farmland, heaths, marshes, uncultivated grassland, cliffs, coastal dunes, rivers and wooded valleys. However, it has also learnt to make good use of man-made habitats, such as town parks or roadside and motorway verges. It is usually seen on its own, hunting mainly during daylight, either hovering in the air or using a nearby perch, such as a telegraph pole, to search the area for prey.

Did you know?

  • The kestrel will hover for a long time waiting to spot its prey, and the minute it does, it pins its wings back against its body and swoops quickly to the floor.
  • The main prey of kestrels are field voles, mice, shrews, moles, rats, frogs, and lizards. Kestrels usually hover over one area, using their acute  eyesight to spot prey. Once prey is seen the kestrel dives out of the sky, swooping down and pinning its dinner to the ground with its strong claws. When there is plenty of food, the kestrel will hunt from a perch, launching into a shallow dive when its prey is spotted.
  • Kestrels don’t lay all their eggs at once. They lay eggs every few days to increase the chance of at least some of them surviving. It’s the female that
    incubates them, while the male brings food. The young can be capable of leaving the nest by the end of summer.
  • Kestrels do not build their own nests. They use old nests of other large birds such as crows and pigeons, or the eggs are laid in a hole in a tree, a crevice in a wall or cliff face, or on ledges on buildings.

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