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The Kestrel is the most common of the falcons seen in Britain. A familiar sight, with its pointed wings and long tail, hovering beside a roadside verge. Kestrels are in decline as a result intensive management of farmland and so it is included on the Amber List. They are very adaptable, and can survive right in the centre of cities.

Kestrels are most easily distinguished by their typical hunting behaviour which is to hover at a height of around 10–20 m over open country and swoop down on prey, usually small mammals, lizards or large insects.

Other falcons are more adapted to active hunting on the wing. Whereas Kestrels are not very fast in their swoop, and so rarely catch other birds on the wing. In addition, kestrels are notable for usually having much brown in their plumage.

Kestrels require a slight headwind in order to hover, hence a local name of windhover for Common Kestrel. their diet is chiefly small mammals, Mainly Voles also insects. Kestrels do not build their own nests, but use nests built by other species, often an old Crows’ nest.

Quick Facts

32-37 days

Number in Britain
110,000 (declining)

Conservation Status UK

Status in UK
Migrant/Resident Breeder, Passage/Winter Visitor

34 cm



Open grassland, heath, farmland, towns

First Record
8th Century

Egg Size
39x31 mm

Clutch Size
4 -5 eggs

Egg Weight
21 g

28-29 days

Number of broods

First clutches laid
Early May

Age at First Breeding
1 years

Maximum Recorded Age
15 years, 11 months

  • Kestrels will use holes in trees, nest boxes, cliff ledges and even old crows nests to lay their eggs.
  • The survival rate in their first year is only 30-40%. Starvation is the main cause of death.
  • Kestrels were once one our most abundant bird of prey in Britain, now the Buzzard has taken over.
  • They are the most scattered birds of prey in Britain, breeding throughout the mainland and offshore islands, although they rarely breed on Shetland.
  • Kestrels have extremely good eyesight, even in bad light. This allows them to hunt very nearly until dark.
  • Rodents are their main diet, however they will also consume other prey, including earthworms, lizards, insects, even bats.
  • On average an adult weighs only 220gms, their size can be deceiving.
  • In a good vole year more young kestrels fledge.
  • Kestrels hunt from perches mainly in winter to conserve energy. Hunting by hovering is much more beneficial but uses lots more energy.
  • Kestrels rob other birds of their prey, such as Barn Owls and Sparrowhawks.

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