Kestrel

Falco tinnunculus

32-35cm

Appearance

This is a small bird of prey; it has long wings and tail, but its neck is short. The sexes differ. Male has a reddish-brown back which is spotted, a blue-grey head and tail and creamy-buff underparts with dark spots; there's a black band at the end of the tail. Female bird is larger; her plumage is more brown, she has a pattern of dark bars on her upperparts, and a pale breast with dark streaking. The tail is barred along its length. Juvenile birds are similar to females, but their streaking is more obvious, and the upperparts are more reddish-brown.

Habitat

Can be found across the majority of Britain and Ireland, with the exception of north-west Scotland, and numbers are less in Ireland. This bird makes the most of urban habitats such as roadsides, but is most often found in meadows and commons, coastal grassland and moors.

Character

Most often seen alone, this bird hunts predominately during the day, though also just after dusk. It has a characteristic way of hovering with its tail fanned and its wings beating; it waits for the right moment to pursue its prey, though it may also begin pursuit from a perch.

Food

Diet consists mostly of small mammals, particularly short-tailed voles, though also shrews, mice and occasionally larger animals like moles and rabbits. Birds such as larks, pipits and Starling are often caught and larger birds such as Blackbird and Collared Dove are hunted too. Beetles, other insects and worms are also part of the diet.

Breeding

Breeding begins in February. Birds scrape out a space for their eggs, most often on cliff ledges, in buildings, or in old nests of other birds. Birds perform aerial courtship displays. Female incubates 4-5 eggs (the male takes an occasional shift) for 28-29 days. Young can fly after 32-37 days, but still rely on their parents for a month afterwards.

Population

Most of the Kestrels in Britain are resident, though upland birds are known to leave their territories during winter, headed to lower-lying areas. There are approximately 46 000 pairs in Britain and up to 10 000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

These birds can often be spotted simply by observing out of a car window from a road. Kestrels on the coast often provide closer and longer views, particularly of the characteristic hovering spectacle.

Voice

Makes a persistent, high-pitched 'kee-kee-kee', usually in close proximity to the nest.
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