The Kestrel is the commonest bird of prey that can be seen in Britain, and is widespread throughout western and northern Europe. Kestrels are found in any number of different habitats, from the largest city to remote hillsides.
Kestrels are perhaps most commonly seen on roadsides, hovering in search of food or perched on roadside wires, telegraph poles and fences.
These distinctive falcons are easily told from other birds of prey by their size, longish tail and noticeably pointed wings. Males and females appear, at long range, to be very similar, but a good view will show the numerous differences between them. However, both share a small hooked bill with a grey-black tip and yellow base, large black eye with yellow eyering and yellow feet with black claws.
Females are easily recognized by their larger size and shape alone, but the rufous and dark barred coloring makes them unmistakable. The head shows a brown crown and nape with fine dark streaks. The cheeks and throat are white with a prominent black mustache. The rufous mantle has dark bars, extending to the wing-coverts. The barred rump is slightly greyer brown. The tail shows six to seven prominent dark bars and a white tip.
The male’s head is blue-grey, with slightly paler cheeks, dark moustache and buff throat patch. The mantle and wing-coverts are chestnut with black spotting. The rump and tail are pale blue-grey, except for the broad black wing bar. Note the pinkish-white underparts showing distinctive black ‘teardrops’ from upper breast to belly. The undertailcovert area is whitish. The undertail is greyish with a black tip.
Kestrels have a whip-like, deep wingbeat in ‘normal’ flight, interspersed with glides.
In flight the differences between the sexes are clear. The grey of the male’s head and tail contrasts strongly with the chestnut and black of the wings, while the overall rufous tones of the female on the upperparts are easily seen. Check the tail pattern, too – look for all those bars.
This is the classic view of the Kestrel – head down, tail forward, flapping when necessary, hovering into the wind. When not in this position, Kestrels soar on wings that are held forward and a tail which is spread.
Juvenile Kestrels basically resemble the female, except for a brighter, redder-looking rump and bolder streaks on the underparts. The bare parts are much as those of the male and female, although the legs and feet may appear more orange in color.