Greater kestrel (Falco rupicoloides)

Also known as: white-eyed kestrel
  
French: Crécerelle aux yeux blancs
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderFalconiformes
FamilyFalconidae
GenusFalco (1)
SizeHead-body length: 33 – 36 cm (2)
Average Wingspan: 84 cm (2)

The greater kestrel is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

The greater kestrel is a member of the Falco genus, also known as the ‘true falcons’, a widespread group of raptors, recognised for their impressive aerial agility (4). Distinguished from similar species by its whitish eyes, the greater kestrel is also often referred to as the white-eyed kestrel. The body is small to medium sized, with a largely rufous coloured plumage, and contrasting waves of black streaks on the back and wing-coverts, and black barring on the belly and sides. The head and chest are slightly paler, while the tail is grey, with broad black bands and a terminal white tip. Despite being slightly larger in size, the female is very similar to the male, but juveniles are distinguished by black streaking, rather than barring, a rufous rump and tail, and brown eyes (5). 

Three subspecies are often recognised. Falco rupicoloides arthuri is distinguished from the nominate subspecies, F. r. rupicoloides, by its smaller size, while F. r. fieldi is also smaller than F. r. rupicoloides, but is paler than F. r. arthuri (5).

The greater kestrel occurs in three distinct populations across a very large range, from Ethiopia and Sudan in the north, to South Africa, Botswana and Namibia in the south. F. r. rupicolooides has the largest range of the three subspecies, and is found throughout South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and southwest Zambia. F. r. fieldi and F. r. arthuri are found in isolated populations in East Africa, with F. r. fieldi restricted to north, and east Ethiopia, and northwest Somalia, and F. r. arthuri restricted to northeast Tanzania and Kenya. The greater kestrel is a non-migratory species, but seasonal movements may occur in response to fluctations in rainfall and the availability of foraging habitat (2).  

The greater kestrel is typically found in open grassland, but occurs in a variety of open habitats, including semi-deserts, steppe, savanna, scrub and acacia woodland (5). Requiring scattered trees for perching and nesting, the greater kestrel has also been known to take advantage of electricity pylons where trees are sparse (6).

The greater kestrel may be seen above grasslands, using its long broad wings to fly silently with slow, shallow wing beats, interspersed with short glides (5). Hunting from a perch, or whilst hovering above the ground, the greater kestrel uses its acute eyesight to spot prey scurrying amongst the vegetation beneath. Insects are the main prey, but lizards, amphibians and small mammals, will also be taken, while small birds are occasionally caught on the wing after aerial pursuits (2). Bush fires often attract foraging greater kestrels, as exposed escaping animals provide an easy source of food. During times of plentiful food, quarry will be cached under a rock and retrieved at a later time (5).

Male greater kestrels use dramatic aerial displays, involving hovering, dives and roles, all the while showing off the silvery-white feathers under the wing, to attract a mate (5) (7). The timing of this varies between localities, but the breeding season generally peaks between September and October (5). In common with other Falco species, the nest of another bird, such as a black or pied crow (Corvus capensis or C. alba) or secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) is reused and three to four eggs are laid, and incubated for 32 to 33 days (2) (4). The chicks will fledge after 30 to 34 days in the nest, and may remain with the female for a further 30 days (2).  

The greater kestrel is not considered to be seriously threatened, due to its extremely large range, and the absence of significant threats (1) (5). Density estimates, and the availability and continuity of suitable habitat, suggest that a population of six figures is conceivable (5) (8). The species may have also benefited in parts of its range from woodland clearing, which creates more open habitat (9). However, the greater kestrel does not appear to be suited to agricultural landscapes, as it exhibits a preference for natural grasslands, over exotic crop species. Consequently, greater kestrel populations could become threatened by encroaching farmland (5). 

Not currently of conservation concern, the greater kestrel is perceived as common throughout most of its range. Furthermore, a particularly high abundance has been observed in Transvaal State, South Africa, and it is found in a large number of protected areas throughout its range (2).

For more information on Greater Kestrel, see:

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

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

Authenticated (20/04/10) 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.
http://www.fitzpatrick.uct.ac.za/docs/alan.html

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (January, 2010)
    http://www.cites.org/
  4. Perrins, C. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford University Press. Oxford.
  5. Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. (2001) Raptors of the world. Christopher Helm, UK.
  6. Ledger, J.A. and Hobbs, J.C.A. (1999) Raptor use and abuse of powerlines in southern Africa. Journal of Raptor Research, 33: 49-52.
  7. Kemp, A. (2010) Pers. comm.
  8. Birdlife International (January, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/
  9. South Africa Bird Atlas Project 2 (January, 2010)
    http://sabap2.adu.org.za/