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Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

A familiar sight to many along the sides of the road, kestrels appear to hover effortlessly in one place for long periods in search of prey.

Common name: kestrel

Scientific name: Falco tinnunculus

Family: Falconidae (falcons and allies)

Appearance

Head: the male kestrel's head is grey and has a faint dark grey stripe under the eye. In females the head is brown.

Wings: the wingspan is a full 76cm. The upper wings are coloured red-brown and feature spotted black markings. 

Body: much like the wings the body is reddish-brown all over. The kestrel's tail is long and coloured differently according to gender. The male has a black-tipped, grey tail and the female's is red, streaked with black in a horizontal pattern.

Where to spot

The kestrel is common in urban areas where it has adapted well, and can often be seen hovering next to main roads and motorways searching for food at the field's edge. It's also found in woodland and on grassland, farmland and heathland. The kestrel does not frequent dense forests or mountains.

Feeding

The kestrel's most important food source is the vole, but it will also eat other small mammals like woodmice and shrews, as well as birds, invertebrates, and lizards. When hunting, it hovers over fields scanning for its prey and when the weather is worse, it hunts from a perch. An intelligent bird, the kestrel has learnt to wait for farm vehicles to disturb prey in the field, before swooping down to collect its food. It has incredible sight and can see and catch a beetle from a remarkable 50 metres away.

Breeding

The kestrel breeds at one year of age and raises a brood of four to six eggs between March and July. Nests are built on very high ledges often on cliffs or the edges of buildings and are used year after year. Sometimes it will use disused nests in trees, left behind by other birds.

Facts

  • The kestrel looks as though it is hovering over fields but it is actually flying into the wind. It is using its wings and tail to adjust its speed to match the wind.
  • Many kestrels do not secure a mate or a territory until two years old.
  • Typical lifespan is four years.