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.
Breeding birds: 46,000 pairs
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.