The second most common bird of prey in the UK is the kestrel, a falcon with razor-sharp vision. It is approximately 34cm long with pointed wings and a long tail. Its hunting behaviour of hovering above the ground with its tail fanned out is a very distinctive characteristic.
Mainly brown in colour with dark spots the males have a blue-grey head, whereas the females are all brown. Kestrels have yellow legs and black claws and their hooked beaks are short and also coloured yellow and black.
Resident throughout the UK their natural habitat is farmland, grassland and heathland as well as urban and suburban areas. Kestrels used to be a familiar sight in Dorset hovering beside roadside verges and are famously known as the ‘motorway hawk’ because of their habit of hunting along verges. When not hovering, they can sometimes be seen sitting on posts or telegraph poles keeping a sharp eye out for their prey of small mammals, birds, worms and insects.
A favourite food is the field vole. Where voles are scares, for instance in urban areas, they will take birds. It is said that a kestrel can spot a beetle from 50 metres away.
Protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, their numbers have fallen by half since the 1970s and their conservations status is Amber. It is not known why their numbers have dropped so dramatically, but it is possible kestrels suffer from secondary poisoning by eating voles and mice that have ingested poison meant for rats. Agricultural intensification may also have reduced field vole numbers and these active birds need to eat several voles a day to survive.
Kestrels are not nest builders although they will use abandoned nests. They prefer to lay their eggs in natural cavities such as holes in trees or cliff faces. In urban areas kestrels will lay their eggs on rooftops or a simple hole in a wall. Kestrels lay four to five eggs in April or May and the chicks hatch about a month later. They spend another five weeks on the ‘nest’ before fledging.
When calling they make a number of shrill “kee-kee-kee” sounds, often around the nest site.
According to the RSPB there are 46,000 breeding pairs in the UK.
When did you last see a kestrel? Do let us know.
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