Dickinson’s kestrel (Falco dickinsoni)

French: Faucon de Dickinson
GenusFalco (1)
SizeHead-body length: 28 - 30 cm (2)
Male weight: 169 - 207 g (2)
Female weight: 201 – 235 g (2)
Average wingspan: 67 cm (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

Often observed flying low and fast, with rapid wing beats interspersed with short glides, Dickinson’s kestrel is a smallish, stocky kestrel with big eyes, comparatively heavy bill and large feet (2) (4). The plumage of Dickinson’s kestrel is predominantly streaked dark-greyish, with a paler greyish-white head, rump and tail, which is strongly barred with black. The lighter coloured head and rump, and evenly distributed colouration allows Dickinson’s kestrel to be easily distinguished from contiguous kestrel species, such as the grey kestrel (Falco ardosiaceus). Individuals may vary in colouration between localities, with both darker and paler morphs occurring. Females are marginally larger than males, while juveniles are very similar in appearance to mature adults, but with whitish barring on the lower flanks and thighs, blue-green not yellow cere and eye ring, and in some individuals, a browner tinge to the pelage, especially on the head (2) (4).

Dickinson’s kestrel is a resident of south-central and south-eastern Africa, with predominant populations in Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia (1). Dickinson’s kestrel is not a migratory species but local movements may occur (2).

Dickinson’s kestrel is largely associated with wooded savanna bordering open grasslands or scrub habitat, but is also found around cultivated land, such as coconut palm plantations, often near standing water, and in open wooded areas dominated by palms (2) (4).

Kestrels are famed for their charismatic hunting behaviour of hovering above the ground before dropping onto prey. Dickinson’s kestrel, however, rarely hovers and prefers to hunt from an exposed perch, such as a dead tree, scanning for prey on the ground beneath (2). Most active at dusk and dawn, Dickinson’s kestrel targets a variety of prey species including small mammals, lizards, amphibians and insects, and there is some evidence of individuals specialising on hunting fruit bats (4). Bush and cane fires can attract foraging Dickinson’s kestrels, as exposed escaping animals provide an easy source of food (2). 

The timing of the breeding season differs between localities. Breeding in the southern extremities of the species range occurs in early summer, with eggs laid between September and November (5). The female incubates a clutch of two to four eggs for a period of approximately 30 days in a nest constructed in a cavity of a large tree, such as a baobab, or in an old Hammerkop (Scopus umbretta) nest (2) (5). Offspring fledge after 33 to 35 days (4).

As large areas of suitable habitat remain, and the species is believed to be common where palms are present, Dickinson’s kestrel is not considered globally threatened (4). However, some local populations are considered to be threatened or decreasing, such as those in Malawi where deforestation is reducing nesting habitat, and in South Africa, at the edge of its range, where the breeding population may be as low as 50 breeding pairs (2) (5).

The global population of Dickinson’s kestrel is considered stable, and, although no accurate information regarding densities is available, predictions based on available habitat and continuity suggest this may be in the tens of thousands (4) (6).

For more information on Dickinson’s Kestrel, see:

For more information on falcon and kestrel conservation projects, see: 

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

Authenticated (02/02/10) by Dr Alan Kemp, retired Curator, Ditsong National Museum of Natural History, and Research Associate, Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town.

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2010)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (January, 2010)
  4. Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. (2001) Raptors of the World. Helm Identification Guides, A & C Black Publishers, London.
  5. The Peregrine Fund Global Raptor Information Network (January, 2010)
  6. Birdlife International (January, 2010)