All about the 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.
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 flashes 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.
Did you know?
- 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 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.
- The eggs are laid in April at two or three day intervals. This means that the young are in different stages of development, increasing the chances of at least some of them surviving. A pair of birds will usually hatch from three to six young. The female incubates them for 10-14 days, whilst the male brings food. After this, both parents feed their offspring. The young generally leave the nest by late summer.
- Kestrels were once hunted by gamekeepers. However, they are now one of the few birds of prey that gamekeepers and farmers tolerate as they eat the rats, moles, and insects that farmers see as pests.
Kestrels are declining due to habitat and food supply losses in the farmland areas and they are becoming less common everywhere.
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.
Where to see
The kestrel is most likely to be seen in open countryside or near maind roads and motorways. 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.