The agile Kestrel searches for prey from above, often hovering motionlessly before diving in for the kill.
Female left, and male right, Kestrels perched on a branch
Portrait of a Kestrel
Male Kestrel in flight hunting
Common Kestrel, European Kestrel, Eurasian Kestrel
32cm to 35cm
71cm to 80cm
136g to 314g
The Kestrel is a small, streamlined bird of prey with pointed wings and rich plumage.
The Kestrel is an elegant bird, both in flight and when perched. The male has a distinctive grey head and grey tail with a dark tip. The wing and back are a warm, brick-red shade, and the underparts are paler and spotted.
Female Kestrels are distinct from males. They are red-brown throughout with a more heavily spotted back and barred tail. Both sexes have black facial stripes and yellow legs, ceres (bill base), and eye-rings.
Juveniles are similar to adult females but have paler legs and bills, and more prominent streaking below.
The Kestrel is a dove-sized bird of prey with a large, broad tail and long, narrow wings.
Kestrels measure between 27 and 35 centimetres from their bill tip to the end of their tail.
Kestrels, like many birds of prey, are sexually dimorphic. Males weigh 136 to 253 grams, and females are significantly heavier at 154 to 314 grams.
Most Kestrels have a wingspan of 71 to 80 centimetres.
Kestrel in flight on the lookout for prey
Kestrels have amazing eyesight and are able to see and then catch a beetle up to 50 metres away.
Kestrels are generally silent, although they become more vocal in the breeding season.
The most commonly heard Kestrel call is a rapid ‘ki-ki-ki-ki’, although they also produce a slower ‘kee-kee-kee’ call.
Kestrels typically produce alarm calls in defence of their nest. They vocalise when humans or predators approach too closely. Adults also call to maintain contact with their partners and their young.
Common Kestrel Call
Simon Elliott, XC590630. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/590630.
Kestrels are expert hunters that find their prey from a perch or while hovering.
The field vole is the Kestrel's major prey source, although they will feed on many other small animals. Amazingly, these birds can identify potential hunting grounds by locating ultra-violet urine trails left by rodents.
Kestrels also feed on the following prey items:
Check out our comprehensive guide on the diet and feeding habits of Kestrels.
Baby Kestrels rely on their mother to tear bite-size strips of meat for them until they are strong enough to feed themselves. Males bring in food but do not directly feed the chicks.
Kestrels have remarkable eyesight that may be as much as eight times stronger than our own. These birds can spot prey from about 50 meters away, more than twice the length of a tennis court.
Male Kestrel hovering over prey
The kestrel is also known as the Windhover, due to its mastery of flight and ability to hover, an aspect that is celebrated by Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem of the same name. “High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing”.
Kestrels are widespread and common in many habitats in the UK. Read on to learn where you might spot these adaptable birds of prey.
Kestrels occur in just about any open or lightly wooded habitat, including farmland and even urban areas. Their only specific requirement is tall, safe places to perch like trees, cliffs, buildings, and pylons.
The Kestrel is a very widespread species in the United Kingdom. They occur practically everywhere except parts of northwestern Scotland. Elsewhere they are found throughout Europe and across the southern half of Asia to Japan in the east. They also migrate through North Africa to Tanzania.
Kestrels spend most of their time perched in prominent positions like poles, large trees, and rooftops. They also spend long periods in the air, remaining almost motionless as they hover above the ground in search of prey.
Check out our in-depth guide on Kestrel hovering.
Close portrait up of a Kestrel
The Kestrel is a common bird of prey in the United Kingdom. They have declined significantly since the 1970s, although they remain numerous, with an estimated population of over 30,000 pairs in 2016.
Look out for Kestrels along woodland edges, roadsides, and farmlands, or wherever there are suitable perches and grassy areas. They are easy to spot on telegraph poles or when hovering in flight.
Kestrel in flight from below
Perched kestrels have a noticeably upright posture. When in direct flight, the kestrel’s wingbeats are fast and shallow with a few glides.
Its most distinctive behaviour is the ability to hover in a fixed position on rapidly beating wings, with its head remaining unerringly still, or remain motionless on an updraught. It drops vertically on to prey, which is then usually carried away to be eaten on a perch.
Kestrels will also hunt by sitting on wires and posts and can sometimes be seen stalking earthworms on the ground. Its hovering flight distinguishes it immediately from that of the other common raptor: the sparrowhawk. It also flies on straight wings, rather than flexed.
Common Kestrel perched on a branch, in an upright posture
Kestrels were once the UK’s most common bird of prey, although that honour now goes to the Buzzard. Continue reading to learn about the Kestrel’s lifespan, predators and conservation status.
Most Kestrels do not survive to adulthood, although those that do can live for over ten years. The oldest recorded specimen lived for an impressive 24 years.
Adult Kestrels have few predators, although they are vulnerable to larger raptors like the Goshawk. Corvids, like the Hooded Crow, are a threat to their eggs and chicks.
Kestrels are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.
Kestrels are not endangered, although they have an amber conservation status due to significant declines in the late 20th Century.
Eurasian Kestrel (female)
Kestrels nest in the spring. Their eggs hatch after 27 to 30 days, and the young birds take their first flight after about a month.
Kestrels nest virtually throughout the UK. They do not build their own nests, preferring to use old nests from other birds like crows. They also nest on buildings, in rock or tree cavities, and in purpose-made nest boxes.
Would you like to learn more about Kestrel nesting? Read this guide to learn all about their breeding behaviour in the UK.
Kestrels usually lay a clutch of three to six eggs that measure about 40 millimetres long and 31 millimetres wide on average. Each egg has a buff ground colour and a covering of reddish spots.
Kestrels are a monogamous species. Pairs work together closely to raise their young, and they may well partner for life in the United Kingdom, as evidenced by some pairs remaining in their territory throughout the year.
Nest of a Common Kestrel
Young/Juvenile Kestrels waiting
Kestrels are not particularly aggressive. They will defend their nest against predators like crows but show little aggression towards other birds. Their nesting territory is relatively small, and they may share feeding areas with neighbouring pairs.
Kestrels usually roost on stable perches like utility poles, large trees, and cliffs, although they may use sheltered cavities like nest boxes in cold weather.
Kestrels usually hunt from a high perch or while in flight. However, they may descend to the ground to hunt earthworms, particularly after rain.
Two female Kestrels fighting over territory
The Eurasian Kestrel is a partial migrant, although you can see them in the UK at any time of year.
Kestrels are resident in the United Kingdom, although birds that breed in uplands tend to migrate south to lower altitudes for the winter.
Elsewhere, the species undertakes medium to long-distance annual migrations, and the UK population is also joined by some Scandinavian birds that visit to escape the harsh northern winter.
Kestrels are native to the United Kingdom. They are the only common Kestrel species in the region, although the odd Lesser Kestrel (F. naumanni) turns up from further south from time to time.
Male Kestrel eating a mouse
Kestrels are better known for their deft hovering abilities than their speed, despite belonging to the fastest bird family on Earth.
Data is lacking on Eurasian Kestrel flight speeds, although migrating Lesser Kestrels can fly at 31 miles per hour (50km/h) in level flight, and the American Kestrel is said to reach 39 miles per hour (63 km/h).
The Kestrel is one of the smallest birds of prey in the United Kingdom, but the true honour goes to the Merlin, another small raptor from the falcon family. If you consider owls birds of prey, the introduced Little Owl trumps them both with a maximum weight of just 206 grams.
Eleonora’s falcons are polymorphic. That is to say they have two different plumage patterns and colours which are apparent within the single species. They are also monotypic indicating that there are no sub-species.
Frequently known as simply a peregrine, this magnificent bird, whilst not the fastest in level flight, can achieve incredible speeds in excess of 300 kilometres an hour when diving on to its prey, making it the fastest of any bird or animal in the world.
The merlin is a predominantly ground nesting falcon and the UK’s smallest bird of prey. Preferring upland and moorland areas for breeding the bird may venture in to lowland regions during the winter when it is joined by migrating merlins from Iceland.
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