Kestrel hovering in a very familiar pose © Pete Walkden
Kestrel hovering in a very familiar pose © Pete Walkden

The Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) easily recognised hovering alongside roads, once common but now declining in numbers

A small/medium sized falcon with long wings and tail; the tail is fan shaped when the Kestrel is hovering. Confusion with the Sparrowhawk is possible however the Kestrel tends to hold its wings straighter and flaps almost continually when in flight; the Sparrowhawk tends to glide more often and has a definite bend to the wing at the carpals. The back and upper wings of the Kestrel are chestnut coloured with lines of small black spots, the wings are dark towards the tips. The rump and upperside of the tail are grey on the male Kestrel, and brown with dark barring on the female. The female has a wider dark terminal band to the the tail than the male.

Length: 32-37cm; wingspan: 68-80cm

Status in UK
50,000 pairs, fluctuating, but marked decline in Scotland over past 15 years; AMBER listed; resident

Population Trends
Kestrels suffered from the effects of organochlorine pesticides up until the 1970’s but then their numbers recovered; this was however a short-lived trend and since then numbers have declined, especially in Scotland. There has also been a moderate decline throughout Europe. In the UK the decrease in numbers is thought to be linked to agricultural intensification and its effect on the populations of small mammals that the Kestrel depends on; a lack of nesting sites may also be a contributary factor (see below).

Habitat and Distribution
Widespread throughout the UK, Kestels can be found in many different habitats incuding towns; however, they tend to prefer open country, road/motorway verges and scrubland.

Kestrels nest in old buildings, holes in trees and will take over old corvid nests – they re-use the same sites every year unless displaced. The Hawk and Owl Trust introduced The Kestrel Highways Project in 2009 to provide more nesting sites for Kestrels close to roads (but not directly next to) throughout the UK as part of a study to see if a lack of nesting sites is responsible for the drop in Kestrel numbers – the study is ongoing, for more information please follow the link.

Kestrels breed from 1 year of age and have a single brood each year of 4-5 eggs.

Small mammals, particularly voles, are the main prey, birds and insects, such as dung beetles, as well as earthworms are occasionally taken.

Other Diurnal Birds of Prey