Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

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Kestrel fact file

Kestrel description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderFalconiformes
FamilyFalconidae
GenusFalco (1)

The kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)  is our most common diurnal bird of prey, and is often seen hovering over farmland and at the sides of motorways (5). With its long tail and narrow wings, it is easy to distinguish from most other species (2). The sexes are distinct; in males the rump and tail are bluish grey and unbarred, whereas in females they are brownish-red with dark barring (2). Furthermore, the head is grey in males and brown in females (2). Juveniles are similar to females, but are usually more yellowish-brown (2). The call is a high-pitched 'kee-kee-kee' (2).

French
Faucon crécerelle.
Size
Wingspan: 68-78 cm (2)
Length: 31-37 cm (2)
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Kestrel biology

The kestrel feeds largely on small mammals, especially the short-tailed vole, and small birds such as house sparrows (5). Invertebrates are also very important components of the diet; earthworms taken from cereal fields are particularly important during winter (7). Kestrels hunt by sight, and when hovering they are able to remain still even in strong winds. Upon spotting their quarry, they plunge to the ground, seizing the prey with their talons (8).

Kestrels nest in holes in trees, old buildings or in the abandoned nests of other birds, especially crows (2). From mid-April, between four and five eggs are laid; these are incubated largely by the female for up to 29 days. In their first few days of life, the young are fed by the female on food brought to the nest by the male. Both parents then take on the hunting duties, until the young fledge after 27 to 39 days (5).

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Kestrel range

Common and widely distributed throughout Britain (5). The kestrel has a wide distribution in the rest of the world, from Europe and North Africa, through Eurasia, the Middle East, India, China and Japan (5).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Kestrel habitat

The kestrel exploits a broad range of habitats, including farmland, heaths, moors, parks, woodland edges and even city centres (5), but when feeding requires short grass or other low vegetation (6).

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Kestrel status

The kestrel is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Listed as a Species of Conservation Concern by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, but not a priority species (3). Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Amber List (medium conservation concern) (4).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Kestrel threats

Like many wild birds, the kestrel suffered as a result of the use of organochloride pesticides. The population declined rapidly during the 1970s, possibly as a result of agricultural intensification, habitat loss and a decline in populations of small mammal prey (3). Although the population seems to have remained stable during the last 15 years or so, there is some evidence that a further decline has occurred since 1994 (3).

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Kestrel conservation

The kestrel should benefit from agri-environment measures aimed at improving farmland habitats for wildlife. Prescriptions such as unsprayed field margins and leaving stubble fields unploughed during the winter should increase the populations of small mammals and birds on which kestrels feed. Set-aside fields also provide good habitats for mice and voles (6).

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For more on the kestrel:

 For more information on the kestrel and other bird species:

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Authentication

Information authenticated by the RSPB:
http://www.rspb.org.uk/

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Glossary

Agri-environment schemes
These schemes allow the government to compensate farmers for using methods that benefit the environment. The two main initiatives in the UK are the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and Environmentally Sensitive Areas. Since October 2000 these have formed part of the England Rural Development Programme (EDRP), administered by DEFRA, the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs. See http://www.defra.gov.uk/erdp/erdphome.htm for more on these initiatives.
Diurnal
Active during the day.
Incubate
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Invertebrates
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones), echinoderms, and others.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterstrom, D., & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. BTO Breeding birds in the wider countryside (November 2002):
    http://www.bto.org/birdtrends/wcrkestr.htm
  4. RSPB (2003) The population status of birds in the UK:
    http://www.rspb.org.uk//Images/5_20625.pdf
  5. Gooders, J. (1982) Collins British Birds. William Collins Sons and Co Ltd, London.
  6. RSPB (2003): Pers. comm.
  7. Lack, P. (1986) The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Calton.
  8. Greenoak, F. (1979) All the birds of the air. Book Club Associates, London.
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Image credit

Kestrel perched  
Kestrel perched

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