Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

French: Faucon crécerelle
GenusFalco (1)
SizeWingspan: 68-78 cm (2)
Length: 31-37 cm (2)

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).

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).

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).

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).

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).

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).

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).

For more on the kestrel:

 For more information on the kestrel and other bird species:

Information authenticated by the RSPB:

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
  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):
  4. RSPB (2003) The population status of birds in the UK:
  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.