The common kestrel is a familiar sight hovering beside roadside verges with its pointed wings and long tail. 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

Length: 31 – 39 cm

Wingspan: 65 – 82 cm

Weight: 135 – 315 g


Male common 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. Their primary and secondary flight feathers are black. They have yellow-brown underparts that are streaked with black.

Male kestrels have blue-grey heads with a black moustache and their chins are white. They have a hooked grey bill with a black tip. Their eyes are dark brown with a yellow eyering and their legs and feet are bright yellow.

Female kestrels are larger than the males and have browner upperparts with dark bars. Their crowns and napes are brown with darker brown streaks and their lower back and rump are blue-grey.

Juvenile kestrels are heavily streaked getting full adult plumage when they are 2-3 years old and sexual maturity at 1 year.


Kestrels 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 but will depend on food from their parents for a further 2-4 weeks.


Kestrels feed mainly on small mammals such as voles, mice and shrews, small birds as well as invertebrates such as worms, grasshoppers and beetles.


Where to see them

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.


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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