Falco subbuteo



This raptor is a similar size to the Kestrel. When stationary, its pointed wings may reach the tips of the tail, or even further. The sexes are similar, though the female is slightly larger. Plumage is blue-grey on top, the underparts pale with distinct black streaking. A black moustache sits across white cheeks, it has a half a white collar on its chin, and the colouring around its legs make it appear like its wearing reddish trousers; beneath the tail is also red. Juveniles are brown with buffish underparts, and they don't have the red markings of the adults.


Predominately found in the lowland areas of the south and east of Britain, though there are recent records of breeding in Scotland. Mature trees on heathlands, scattered wood and farmland are the optimal breeding territories, and it usually hunts over water or in vast countryside.


This is an extremely agile bird who is the master of rapid pursuit. When flying the wings seem crescent-shaped and the downward wingbeats are full and strong. When involved in courtship, this bird perform aerobatics, gliding and plunging over its breeding territory.


Plucks majority of its prey from the air. Diet includes young Swallows, martins, Meadow Pipits, Swifts and Little Owls. Also eats insects such as dragonflies, grasshoppers and crickets, and is even capable of catching bats; Hobbies may thieve the prey of other birds.


Courtship occurs in May and June. Nests are in trees, usually in the abandoned nest of a larger bird. Female lays 2 or 3 eggs in June and she incubates them for 28-32 days, with a small amount of help from the male, who provides most of the food. Chicks are able to fly at around 30 days old, but they depend on their parents for a month afterwards.


This bird is a summer migrant to the region; it arrives at the end of April and beginning of May, then departs August-October. Approximately 2800 pairs breed in Britain.

Observation Tips

There is a generous but thin distribution of these birds across the south of England, and this is often not an easy bird to spot. New Forest in Hampshire and other similar heathland areas are worth a visit, and places with water where dragonflies will be in numbers are good to check, particularly around May.


Mostly a quiet bird, but has a high-pitched 'kiu-kiu-kiu' it may use near the nest or when disturbed.
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