Wildlife & Nature to See in April : Kestrels

Wildlife to See in April : Kestrels

Easter is typically seen as a time of new life, and for the majestic kestrel April is no exception, as female birds get down to the important task of nesting.

© Laurie Campbell: Kestrel

© Laurie Campbell: Kestrel

The kestrel is a most satisfactory bird to watch, perking up many traffic jams by hunting alongside motor ways for small rodents, hovering neatly 20-30 feet above the ground in all but the most ghastly weather. It’s this resilient flying style that has led to its nickname of the ‘Windhover’. Another reason to look out for them is as Britain’s most widespread falcon, you stand a good chance of actually seeing one, particularly as they hunt mostly in daylight.

Having bred in February, females will have located a nest site during early Spring. Whilst they are adaptable about where they nest, kestrels never build their own nests, instead preferring to use abandoned crows’ nests, hollow trees, ledges on buildings or nest boxes. She will lay a clutch of 3-6 eggs in late April or early May, and sit on these for around 27 days per egg until they hatch, whilst the male delivers prey to her. Once her fledglings reach 14 or so days old, she can finally begin to hunt, never straying far from the nest.

Watching a kestrel hunt is a truly startling experience, as the seemingly serene bird drops towards the ground at break-neck speed, with wings almost closed behind it, like a skydiver not deploying their parachute until the last second. At this point they touch down on the unsuspecting rodent with immensely sharp talons, and take off again to dine on a telegraph pole or other perch site. Whilst field voles are their most common prey, they have also been known to eat a variety of small birds, including larks, pipits and finches.

© Laurie Campbell: Kestrel

© Laurie Campbell: Kestrel

To tell apart females from males, try to gauge the colour of their crowns, as males have blue-grey head feathers, compared to the female’s brown colouring. Hatchlings are white and downy, whilst juvenile birds have the same colouring as the females, although the dark stripes on the underside of their wings are wider. If you are lucky enough to see a pair, the female can also be identified as slightly bigger than the male.

Whilst there is a tendency to view such a small, delicately patterned bird as intrinsically British, in fact the kestrel is wide-spread across parts of Asia, Africa and Europe. In the cooler parts of its range, such as northern Europe, the birds will migrate south after breeding, but in temperate Britain our species stay all year round. In terms of range, it is a most adaptable creature, living in woodlands, on coasts and happily alongside humans as long as there is ample vegetation.

To see rehabilitated kestrels take part in flying displays, visit the Raptor Foundation in Cambridgeshire, http://www.raptorfoundation.org.uk l where the volunteers are passionate and knowledgeable. This April I plan to visit one of their twilight flying displays, to see kestrels and other birds of prey strut their stuff during a fascinating talk.

So, now you know the important stuff, learn some random kestrel facts in our

True or False Quiz http://www.gotoquiz.com/kestrel_true_or_false_quiz

Article by Lizzy Dening You can follow Lizzy on Twitter or go to her website