Bird Sightings : Hebrides : Kestrel
(Common Kestrel, Windhover, European Kestrel, Eurasian Kestrel, Old World Kestrel, Stonegall, Stangilla, Stone Yeller, Standgale, Standgall, Stand Hawk, Steingale, Stanniel, Stanyel, Stannyel, Stannel Hawk, Stanchel, Tower Falcon, Church Falcon)
Gaelic: Speireag-ruadh, Deargan allt
Photograph © Andy L
Garrabost - Point - Isle of Lewis - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
20th November, 2006
"Male Kestrel hunting in Garrabost"
Our Kestrel photographs
- Kestrel (Common Kestrel, Windhover, European Kestrel, Eurasian Kestrel, Old World Kestrel, Stonegall, Stangilla, Stone Yeller, Standgale, Standgall, Stand Hawk, Steingale, Stanniel, Stanyel, Stannyel, Stannel Hawk, Stanchel, Tower Falcon, Church Falcon)
- Falco tinnunculus
- Gaelic: Speireag-ruadh
- AMBER LIST, UK 37,000 breeding pairs BTO
- WI: Uncommon resident breeder Uists (10-99 breeding pairs), rare breeder Lewis/Harris (Less than annual breeder) and passage visitor (under 30 records?)
- Distribution: Europe, Asia, Africa
- Habitat: Prefers open country: grassland, heathland, moorland, farmland (also in urban areas & roadsides). Often chooses a high perch: trees, telephone post & wires etc watching for prey. (Will use a crow's nest)
- Diet: Mostly small mammals - voles, birds, insects, earthworms, frogs
- Only "brown" falcon in UK. Head to tail 34 – 38cm (13 - 15in) Female usually largest. Mostly cinnamon-brown above with dark spots. Creamy below. Long tail of both sexes has black tip & narrow white rim. Pointed wings. Black eye stripe.
Male: Blue-grey head & uppertail (tail unbarred)
Female: Brown head & brown tail with fine black bars (some do have grey in their uppertails)
(Juveniles & adult females similar so can be tricky). More yellowish-brown above. Breast streaking darker, less distinct pattern (diffuse). Primary feathers sometimes pale-tipped, forming pale band along front edges of wings
Hovers 10 - 50m above ground, tail spread fan-like. Very little gliding. Prey in sight a Kestrel makes a short & steep dive toward it.
- Max recorded age 15yrs 11mths
- Listen to a Kestrel (RSPB site)
- Similar birds: Sparrowhawk, Merlin, hobby
Intensive farming has caused a loss of Kestrel habitat (and voles) and led to it's decline. It is now on the Amber List. The Kestrel has adapted to man-made environments and sometimes lives in the centre of cities.
Kestrels usually pair for life. They use the old nests of other birds or they nest on cliff ledges (and man-made structures, like towers or bridges) or in holes in trees. They do not make nests of their own. The names Tower Falcon and Church Falcon refer to the Kestrel sometimes using these places to breed.
The Latin name tinnunculus means ringing call or ringing bell, and refers to the call of the Kestrel.
The name Kestrel is based on it's French name Crécerelle. This comes from crécelle meaning to rattle, again refering to the bird's call.
A kestrels hovers facing into the wind, so it is actually moving through the air, but staying in position relative to the ground. This is called wind-hovering (or kiting). Whilst hovering, the bird's keeps it's head almost still whilst it adjusts the rest of it's body and quickly flaps it's wings to maintain it's lookout position.
A Kestrel daily needs 4 - 5 voles (or their equivalent) to supply it's energy.
Kestrels are often seen hovering beside major roads searching for food. To a small rodent (A Kestrel's favourite food), a busy road is a boundary, so the number of rodents increases. Thousands of kestrels are killed or badly injured by road vehicles. The undergrowth of verges is often taller than in nearby fields etc, creating a corridor with lots of voles...
A vole's urine shows up under ultra-violet light. Kestrels can see well into the ultra-violet spectrum so a vole's urine trail is like an arrow pointing to the vole or it's nest.
Most of the Kestrel's names like Stannal are variations on Stone Yeller - bird that yells from the rocks.
My friend was very surprised when a Kestrel chased a small bird into her caravan. There are many records of Kestrels pursuing their prey into buildings.
The Kestrel is the most common European bird of prey.
On the BTO web site there is an article about Kestrels breeding in 2006:
"... Kestrel has continued to decline in Scotland, with numbers down by nearly two-thirds since the start of the survey in 1994. Kestrels were seen on only 12% of sites visited in 2006...". see full article
I asked BTO about how well the Kestrels produced in 2007
"With regards to Kestrels, although we don't have the majority of the data back from recorders yet, the general consensus was that they, like Barn Owls, had a good breeding season despite the rain due to the high vole densities experienced across the country. Afraid i can't put any figures on that as yet. Over the longer-term, NRS data suggest that brood sizes have declined, which may or may not be related to the population declines experienced in the north of the UK".
Dr Dave Leech
Head of Nest Record Scheme
British Trust for Ornithology"
Kestrel records in the Western Isles
Uncommon resident breeder Uists (10-99 breeding pairs), rare breeder Lewis/Harris (Less than annual breeder) and passage visitor (under 30 records?)
On the chart below the darker the shade of blue the more abundant the bird is during a month or the more likely you are to see it.
(Source: Outer Hebrides Birds Checklist)
Many thanks to Frank Stark for his advice on ID of juvenile and female Kestrels
Other local bird photographs
Sources of information for the bird sightings section