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14 Incredible Kestrel Facts: Behavior, Predators & More!

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kestrel bird

Kestrels are predatory birds known for their keen eyesight and striking plumage. These birds of prey are members of the Falconidae family, including falcons, hawks, and harriers.

Since kestrels can survive in city centers due to their adaptation to man-made environments, they’re a common sight in many areas. Therefore, the keen interest in these birds is understandable. Here are some interesting facts about kestrels:

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Top 14 Kestrel Facts:

1. Kestrels Put on a Show

If you’re a sports fan who frequents stadiums and grounds in night games, you might have seen kestrels flying around the premises. While they’re not actually looking for a game to watch, these birds are drawn to the bright lights and open spaces.

In fact, kestrels often engage in a behavior known as “hovering.” It happens when the bird of prey hangs in the air while flapping its wings at a constant speed. The kestrel uses the wind to stay in one spot, making it look like it’s hovering in the air.

The behavior serves two purposes: to spot potential prey and to impress a mate. You don’t have to be at a sports ground to spot kestrels. Many of their hunting flights have been captured by TV sports cameras too.

kestrel bird hovering in the air
Image Credit: TheOtherKev, Pixabay

2. Kestrels Defecate on Their Nests

As nasty as it sounds, kestrels defecate on the nest cavity’s wall when nature calls. They do not even remove the feces afterward. The wastes remain on the nest wall.

Apart from that, a kestrel’s nest is a pretty smelly place. The feces are accompanied by remains of uneaten prey on the nest floor.

3. Kestrels Have a Wide Prey Variety

The principal diet of kestrels is rodents. However, they’re not too particular about what they eat and will go for any small animal they can find, including reptiles, amphibians, fish, crustaceans, insects, and even other birds.

If they live in towns, kestrels will prey on sparrows too. You might also see them eating bats or lizards.

kestrel bird on a person's hand in gloves
Image Credit: Snap_it, Pixabay

4. Vole Numbers Influence Kestrel Numbers

Voles are small, burrowing rodents that form the primary diet of kestrels in some areas. The favorite prey of these birds of prey is the water vole.

The number of kestrels in an area is determined by the population density of their favorite prey. If the vole population is low, the kestrel population will also decline. The same happens in reverse.

When there’s a high number of voles in an area, the number of kestrel young who fledge (leave the nest) also increases.

5. Kestrels Have Excellent Vision

Like most birds of prey, kestrels have excellent eyesight. It allows them to see their prey from a distance and to take them by surprise when they swoop down to catch them. Even if there’s little light, kestrels can spot their prey. That’s why they can hunt for prey until dark.

Kestrels also have a keen sense of hearing, which helps them to locate their prey even when it is hidden from view. Their sense of smell is not as well developed as their eyesight and hearing, but it is still quite acute.

close up of kestrel bird
Image Credit: reitz27, Pixabay

6. Kestrels Are Prey for Larger Birds of Prey

While kestrels are top predators in their environment, they are not at the top of the food chain. Larger birds of prey, such as eagles and hawks, will often hunt kestrels for food.

Kestrels have a few defenses against these predators. First, they are swift and agile in the air, which makes it difficult for predators to catch them. They also have sharp claws and beaks that they can use to defend themselves.

However, larger birds of prey, such as Barn Owls, Cooper’s Hawks, and American Crows, can still threaten kestrels. Even rat snakes and fire ants can be deadly to kestrels.

7. Male and Female Kestrels Do Not Share Habitats

You’d think the male and female would always stick together. However, that’s not the case. In winter, the females prefer open habitats. Meanwhile, males like to live in places with more trees.

The phenomenon is due to females migrating to the southern regions first. Then, they establish their territories in these places and wait for the males to arrive.

On the other hand, males remain in their northern territories until the last possible moment. By the time they arrive south, the only places left for them are wooded and tree-filled.

kestrel bird perching on a tree branch
Image Credit: WFranz, Pixabay

8. Kestrels Track Vole Urine Trails

It sounds like a bizarre way to track your prey, but since kestrels can see ultraviolet light like other birds, they can follow the vole urine trails to their prey.

When voles urinate, they leave a trail of urine behind them. The trail is visible to kestrels because it reflects ultraviolet light. Kestrels will follow the trail to its source, where they find their prey. The tracking method is especially useful in low-lit conditions, such as dawn or dusk.

9. Kestrels Save Their Food

Have you ever wondered what kestrels do with the food they cannot finish? Unlike some other birds, they hide the surplus prey in tree roots, fence posts, grass clumps, and tree limbs.

They return to this food in lean times when other food sources are scarce. By caching their food, Kestrels increase their chances of surviving tough times. They may also hide their food to keep it from thieves.

kestrel bird on long grass
Image Credit: marliesplatvoet, Pixabay

10. The Countryside Calls Them Windhover

The hovering flight of the kestrel is a familiar sight in rural areas, where it is often known as the Windhover. The male has blue-gray upper parts, orange underparts, and a black-and-white barred tail.

The female and juvenile are brown above, with streaked brown, white, and buff underparts. Since both males and females present a hovering stature, where they fly in the air and look over the ground for prey, the name Windhover is quite appropriate.

11. Kestrels Are Not Colonial

Colonial birds are those that live near other birds of the same species. Kestrels, on the other hand, are not colonial. Instead, they are solitary birds that prefer to live and hunt alone.

However, if there’s a large vole population in an area or a certain year, multiple kestrels may be found in the same vicinity. But even then, they do not share territories or nests.

close up of kestrel bird
Image Credit: PBarlowArt, Pixabay

12. Kestrels Are Sneaky Robbers

In many instances, kestrels have been seen stealing prey from short-eared owls and sparrowhawks. The kestrels will wait until the larger bird of prey has caught its dinner.

They will swoop in and snatch the prey right out of the other bird’s talons when the moment is right. The kestrels are quite brazen about their thievery and will often take the food right in front of the other bird.

13. Most Young Die Due to Starvation

The most common cause of death for young kestrels is starvation. Out of all the chicks that hatch, only about 30% will survive to see their first birthday.

The majority of these deaths occur during the first few weeks of life. The chicks are simply not getting enough to eat and starve to death. Females typically lay three to six eggs, but only two to four of the chicks will make it to adulthood.

kestrel bird on a glass surface
Image Credit: Georg_Wietschorke, Pixabay

14. Kestrels Are a TV Classic

Kes is a 1969 film in which a young boy befriends a kestrel. The film is set in the Yorkshire mining town of Barnsley and was based on the 1968 novel A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. In the film, Billy Casper (David Bradley), a 15-year-old with few prospects in life, finds hope when he takes up falconry, and forms a special bond with a kestrel he names Kes.

Billy’s difficult home life and the bullying he suffers at school make for a hard-hitting and realistic portrait of working-class life in the 1960s. However, despite its gritty subject matter, Kes is also a warm and uplifting film with plenty of humor and hope.

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Where Can You See Kestrels?

You’ll see kestrels near their habitat. Some examples include farmlands, meadows, and forests. You might even see them near your house if you live in a rural area.

Kestrels perch on top of trees, poles, and other high points. From there, they can scan the area below for potential prey. So, if you see a kestrel perched atop a power line or fence post, it’s probably looking for its next meal.

If you’re lucky, you might even see a kestrel hunting. These birds are fast and agile, making them excellent hunters. They typically hunt small mammals, such as voles, shrews, and mice. But they will also eat reptiles, amphibians, birds, and insects.

Since they’re predatory birds, you don’t want to attract them to your backyard. In addition, kestrels will eat small pets, such as birds, rabbits, and guinea pigs. If you have these animals, keep them in a secure enclosure.

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Final Thoughts

Despite being one of the smallest birds of prey, kestrels are fierce and agile predators. They are known to be one of the few birds of prey that will take on much larger prey items, such as rabbits and hares. Kestrels also prey on small prey, such as voles.

You can see them hovering in the air, looking for prey. They are a common sight in urban areas, too, as they have adapted to living in our environments.

Featured Image Credit: dpexcel, Pixabay

About the Author Jeff Weishaupt

Jeff is a tech professional by day, writer, and amateur photographer by night. He's had the privilege of leading software teams for startups to the Fortune 100 over the past two decades. He currently works in the data privacy space. Jeff's amateur photography interests started in 2008 when he got his first DSLR camera, the Canon Rebel. Since then, he's taken tens of thousands of photos. His favorite handheld camera these days is his Google Pixel 6 XL. He loves taking photos of nature and his kids. In 2016, he bought his first drone, the Mavic Pro. Taking photos from the air is an amazing perspective, and he loves to take his drone while traveling.