At a glance

The common kestrel is a relatively small bird of prey with pointed wings and a long tail. It is the second most common bird of prey in the UK after the buzzard, and is a familiar sight hovering beside roads and motorways or the edges of woodland as it searches for prey. Since the 1970s and the change in farming practices, they have adapted well to urban environments and can survive in city centres.

Key facts

Scientific name: Falco tinnunculus
Status: Resident breeding species

Breeding birds: 46,000 pairs

Conservation status: Amber

Family: Falcons

Length: 31 – 39 cm
Wingspan: 65 – 82 cm
Weight: 135 – 315 g
Typical lifespan: 4 years

What do kestrels look like?

Adult male kestrels have chestnut coloured upperparts with heavy black spots. Their rumps and tails are blue-grey and the tail has a black subterminal bar with white tips. The primary and secondary flight feathers are black, and they have yellow-brown underparts that are streaked with black.

Kestrels have blue-grey heads with a black moustache and their chins are white. The hooked grey bill has a black tip and yellow cere, the eyes are dark brown with a yellow eye-ring, and their legs and feet are bright yellow.

Female kestrels are larger than the males and they have browner upperparts with dark bars. The lower back and rump are blue-grey and the tail is brown with black bars. The primary fight feathers are dark brown, and the secondaries are streaked with brown. On the head the crown and nape are brown with darker brown streaks

Juvenile kestrels are heavily streaked and don’t get full adult plumage until they are 2 or 3 years old.

How do kestrels breed?

Kestrels start breeding in April or May and some form pair-bonds for life. They nest in holes on ledges and cliff faces or buildings. They may also use holes in trees and will sometimes nest in colonies of up to 10 pairs. They build their nest from sticks and straw by simply lining the hole.

Kestrels lay 3-6 smooth, white eggs with brown markings. They are incubated by the female for 27-30 days during which time she is fed by the male. Chicks are fed by both parents and leave the nest at 27-35 days after hatching but will depend on food from their parents for a further 2-4 weeks. They reach sexual maturity at 1 year.

What do kestrels eat?

Kestrels feed mainly on small mammals such as voles, mice and shrews, small birds as well as invertebrates such as worms, grasshoppers and beetles. They hunt their prey by hovering above before swooping down and catching it on the ground.


Where can I see kestrels ?

Kestrels can be seen all year round in a wide variety of habitats such as moors, heaths, farmlands and urban areas. They can often be spotted hovering beside main roads or perched high on a tree branch or telephone wire on the watch for prey.

What do kestrels sound like?

Marco Dragonetti/xeno-canto

Did you know?

Kestrels can see in ultra-violet light which helps them track small mammals such as voles which leave a trail of urine that glows under UV light.

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2 Responses

  1. I’m pretty sure I just saw three kestrels perched on a large log in the middle of Stourbridge Common in Cambridge – is that possible?
    The colouring was right – light brown wings with the black banded/speckled pattern, some black and white on the face, the small, hooked raptor’s bill, and most tellingly of all, the wide black and white fan tail that opened up as they took off when I approached. The angle of stance was about right too – about 45°.
    The only reason I have any doubt is that I haven’t seen three kestrels together like that. Perhaps they were siblings, still adolescent?

    1. Sounds like sibblings. We have a pair with 3 juveniles..nesting in a hole on the wall of an old farmhouse. They must be around 1month old now.They spend the day perched outside their nesting place, watching the village farm life, and calling out when ever one of their parents returns from hunting.I managed to get some interesting closeups using binos and mobile fone😅

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