Kestrels | Wildlife & Habitats | Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust
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The kestrel is one of our smallest but most common birds of prey. It can often be seen hovering above motorway verges and even nesting in the middle of our cities.

Kestrel Features

The kestrel is easy to recognise with its barred brown plumage, reddish back, pale underparts, 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.

The head and body of the kestrel is 32 - 35 cm. long, and the tail 12 -15 cm. long. The female is much heavier at 155 - 310 gm., compared with the male that weighs only 136 - 252 gm.

With a wingspan of 71 - 80 cm., the kestrel is a master of the air. It is capable of hovering apparently motionless even in the strongest winds. The kestrel hovers by matching the speed of the wind against which it flies, small adjustments are then made to the trim of its tail and wings, enabling the kestrel to keep its head perfectly still whilst watching for the movement of its prey. 


The kestrel prefers the open country where its prey can be hunted from the air, like farmland, heaths, marshes, uncultivated grassland, cliffs, coastal dunes, rivers and wooded valleys. However it has also learnt to use man-made habitats, such as roadside and motorway verges, or town parks, hunting mice and voles as they run across the busy road.

Food and Hunting

Kestrels eat about a fifth of their body weight in one day. The main prey they hunt are field voles, mice, shrews, moles, rats, frogs, and lizards. They occasionally take worms and insects as snack food.

Kestrels hunt by day, unlike many birds of prey. They usually hover above the ground using their acute eyesight to spot their victims. As soon as a small animal has been spotted the kestrel folds its wings and 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, and launch 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 on 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. A pair of birds will usually hatch from 3 to 6 young. The female incubates them straight away, whilst the male brings food. This means that the young are in different stages of development, increasing the chances of at least some of them surviving. The young generally leave the nest by late summer.

Kestrel and Man

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. Their numbers have increased dramatically over the last twenty years, partly due to their tolerance of modern farming methods.

Although much of the kestrels’ natural habitat has been lost, they have adapted to live happily alongside man, finding ideal hunting grounds and nesting sites on motorway verges and derelict land in towns.

You can also download and print this Kestrels fact sheet

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