Kestrel

The Kestrel is best known for its hovering, like a harrier jump jet,  above motorway verges and railway embankments. A pigeon sized falcon with a short neck, long wings, and long tail. The Kestrel has a grey head, spotted chestnut back, grey tail with a black band, and buff underparts with dark spots. The wings are held straight in flight with a contrasting light inner wing and dark outer wing that gives it a black tip look. The female Kestrel is slightly larger, has a more barred back and more streaked breast. You mainly hear Kestrels when being mobbed, issuing a yickering “ke ke ke” call.

The Kestrel hunts for food in daylight and at dusk, hovering effortlessly with tail fanned and wings flapping or by holding position in a head wind. They will also pounce from a perch. They feed on shrews, mice, moles, baby rabbits, voles (especially yummy short-tailed voles), and chicks of ground-nesting birds. They will also eat large insects. When a tasty morsel is located, the Kestrel glides gently down and at the last minute lifts its wings above its back to drop on to its prey. The Kestrel is able to see near ultraviolet light, allowing it to detect the urine trails around rodent burrows as they shine in the ultraviolet part of sunlight. A pee seeking missile. The average Kestrel needs to eat 4-8 voles a day. 

Kestrels nest in barns, holes in trees or disused nests of larger birds. It does not build a nest as such. When the 4-6 eggs are laid, both parents will sit on the eggs which hatch after 30 days. Mum looks after the kids for first 14 days and certainly lets dad know all about it. She can be very quarrelsome, issuing a “wik wik wik wik” call. Once the youngsters get a bit bigger, they are fed by both parents. They fly after 30 days but rely on mum and dad for a further month while they learn to hunt and hover. The young need to eat 3-4 voles per day and as feeding 6 is a lot of voles (24), only 2-3 chicks on average survive.

The Kestrel is a widespread, sedentary resident with about 50,000 pairs. It is scarce in mountain and urban areas. Sadly, the Kestrel is in decline as modern farming leaves less land to support voles and small mammals. The name kestrel comes from the French ‘crecelle’ meaning ‘rattle’ - a reference to its call. The Latin name is ‘falco tinnunculus’ where ’falco’ derives from ’falcis’ for ‘sickle’ because of the shape of the claws and ’tinnunculus’ from ’tinnulus’ meaning ‘shrill’. An archaic name for a Kestrel is a windhover which sums it up perfectly. I have no idea why we went all French.

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