Lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni)

French: Faucon crécerellette
Spanish: Cernícalo Primilla
GenusFalco (1)
SizeLength: 30 – 36 cm (2)

The lesser kestrel is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (3). It is also listed on Appendices I and II of the Convention on Migratory Species (4).

The lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni) is a small kestrel with long pointed wings and a long tail marked with a black band at the end. Males and females are distinguishable by colouring. Males have a pale brown back and blue-grey feathers on the crown, rump, neck and tail. The belly is creamy pink with small brown streaks. In females, the back and head are mid brown and the belly is pale. Both back and belly are streaked with brown. Males and females have white undersides to their wings, with black tips (2). The eye ring is bright yellow and the feet are yellow to orange. The ankles and feet lack feathers (5).

Found in Europe and northern Asia between latitudes of 30 and 50 degrees North at up to 500 metres above sea level. The lesser kestrel is migratory, moving to sub-Saharan Africa during the winter, and congregating most abundantly in northern Tanzania and southern Kenya (1).

An inhabitant of highland farming regions and grassy plains in the winter range, the lesser kestrel prefers open or wooded grassland and cultivated areas during the summer breeding season. It nests in areas with mountain slopes, gorges and deep ravines surrounded by open areas for hunting (2).

Travelling in loose flocks of hundreds of birds, this sociable species will also roost together in trees, but migrate singly or in flocks of less than 50, at altitudes of around 2,000 metres. The lesser kestrel’s flapping flight is shallow and rapid and is more conspicuous to prey than the subtle gliding flight that is more normally used. Hunting, usually for small mammals, makes excellent use of the lesser kestrel’s powerful eyesight, sharp claws and strong beak. It dives almost silently from a perch or from mid air and pounces on prey with the claws, before swiftly killing its prey with a bite to the back of the head (2).

Breeding takes place between March and May, and eggs are laid, not in nests, but in scraped out depressions in trees. Again, lesser kestrels nest as colonies and pairs will display to each other to strengthen the pair bond. The female invests more time than the male in incubating the four to six eggs she lays, and rearing the chicks when they hatch after 28 to 31 days, but the male will contribute by fighting to defend their territory. The chicks hatch over several days and so the last to hatch is smaller than the others. This individual is most likely to die as it cannot compete effectively for food, and when food is particularly scarce it may be killed and eaten by its siblings. The chicks are fed for two to four weeks, and then must learn to hunt for themselves (2).

The main cause of decline of the lesser kestrel is habitat loss and degradation as a result of agricultural intensification, afforestation and urbanisation (6). Pesticide contamination is indirectly affecting the lesser kestrel due to reductions in prey, and directly affecting it during the breeding process. Hunting and egg-stealing have also contributed to sharp declines in numbers. Populations have been reduced most in the European range, particularly in Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria, where lesser kestrels are no longer breeding (2).

The lesser kestrel is protected by law, but its breeding sites are not, and numbers of breeding birds have dropped by 95 percent since the 1950s (2). Research and management of the species and its habitat have been carried out in several countries and both a European and an International Action Plan have been implemented. These encourage surveying and monitoring, the construction of artificial nests, and research into factors limiting the kestrel’s survival and habitat management. The most immediate priority is to enforce the legal protection already in place (6).

For more information about the lesser kestrel and other bird species:

For the International Action Plan for the lesser kestrel:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2011)
  2. Animal Diversity Web (November, 2004)
  3. CITES (November, 2004)
  4. CMS (November, 2004)
  5. Aberdeen University Natural History Centre (November, 2004)
  6. BirdLife International (November, 2004)