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Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

The kestrel feeds largely on small mammals, especially the short-tailed vole, and small birds such as house sparrows (3). Invertebrates are also very important components of the diet; earthworms taken from cereal fields are particularly important during winter (4). Kestrels hunt by sight, and when hovering they are able to remain still even in strong winds. Upon spotting their quarry, they plunge to the ground, seizing the prey with their talons (6). Kestrels nest in holes in trees, old buildings or in the abandoned nests of other birds, especially crows (2). From mid-April, between 4 and 5 eggs are laid; these are incubated largely by the female for up to 29 days. In their first few days of life, the young are fed by the female on food brought to the nest by the male. Both parents then take on the hunting duties, until the young fledge after 27-39 days (3).
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The small raptor which appears to stand still in mid-air ('hovering') is a kestrel. It is an excellent mouse hunter. While hovering in the air, it is not necessarily looking for the animal itself but for its urine trail. Kestrels are capable of seeing ultraviolet colors, which is also found in urine. So they are able to detect the well hidden mice. They like to nest in large bird houses, specially designed for these birds.
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Description

The kestrel is our most common diurnal bird of prey, and is often seen hovering over farmland and at the sides of motorways (3). With its long tail and narrow wings, it is easy to distinguish from most other species (2). The sexes are distinct; in males the rump and tail are bluish grey and unbarred, whereas in females they are brownish-red with dark barring (2). Furthermore, the head is grey in males and brown in females (2). Juveniles are similar to females, but are usually more yellowish-brown (2). The call is a high-pitched 'kee-kee-kee' (2).
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Distribution

Geographic Range

Falco tinnunculus is a widespread kestrel species, found throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. Its range spans from Great Britain to China and as far south as South Africa. In Europe, F. tinnunculus is migratory and winters in southern Europe and sub-saharan Africa. However, the majority of the breeding population in Europe is non-migratory.

Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native )

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Range

Common and widely distributed throughout Britain (3). It has a wide distribution in the rest of the world, from Europe and North Africa, through Eurasia, the Middle East, India, China and Japan (3).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Falco tinnunculus is among the smallest of all raptors. Adults range in weight from 150 to 190 g, with females tending to be larger than males. Common kestrels have longer tails and wingspans relative to their body size than most other falcons, which allow them to be easily distinguished from related species. Common kestrel plumage ranges from gray to brown. The back is usually a darker color than the breast, both are covered in dark brown or black spots. The wings are tipped in black on the dorsal side and are pale underneath. Males often have a more bluish-gray heads and tails. Females are more of a reddish-brown color and have barring on the tail. In both sexes, there is a darker stripe or spot underneath each eye.

Hatchlings are mostly white or very pale brown. Older juveniles have feather patterns similar to adults, but the feathers are noticeably less sleek in juveniles and down is clearly visible. Juveniles more closely resemble adult females than adult males.

Range mass: 150 to 190 g.

Range length: 30 to 36 cm.

Range wingspan: 70 to 80 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: female larger; sexes colored or patterned differently

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Behaviour Populations in the northern part of the species’s range tend to be migrant, with others resident (del Hoyo et al. 1994). Migrant birds leave their breeding grounds between August and October, and those arriving in sub-Saharan Africa do so from October onwards (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). The return journey begins from February through until April (the exact time probably dependent on food availability), and is often undertaken in small mixed groups with F. naumanni and occasionally F. vespertinus (Brown et al. 1982, Snow and Perrins 1998, Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). The species can be solitary or gregarious, being most often seen singly but sometimes travelling in flocks of up to 10 individuals, especially on migration. Larger groups may congregate at sources of abundant food. It is mainly diurnal (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). Habitat The species tolerates a wide range of open and partially forested habitats, and has been recorded up to 4,500 m (del Hoyo et al. 1994). Diet It feeds mainly on small mammals, particularly in northern Europe, with insects possibly more important in Africa and the Mediterranean (del Hoyo et al. 1994). Breeding site The locations of nests are variable, with rock ledges, buildings and abandoned corvid nests being commonly reported sites (del Hoyo et al. 1994). Management information Birds require suitable perches and roosting sites, usually provided by trees, telegraph poles, buildings or rock faces (del Hoyo et al. 1994).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Common kestrels prefer open, grassy fields and farmlands, which give them sufficient open areas to hunt. They can sometimes be found in forested areas and marshlands. Common kestrels occupy a wide range of altitudes, from sea level to almost 5000 m.

Range elevation: 0 to 5000 m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; chaparral ; forest ; scrub forest

Wetlands: marsh

Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural

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Depth range based on 4 specimens in 3 taxa.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 3 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 0
  Temperature range (°C): 9.637 - 12.471
  Nitrate (umol/L): 3.994 - 6.894
  Salinity (PPS): 34.704 - 35.245
  Oxygen (ml/l): 6.137 - 6.447
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.306 - 0.630
  Silicate (umol/l): 2.444 - 4.938

Graphical representation

Temperature range (°C): 9.637 - 12.471

Nitrate (umol/L): 3.994 - 6.894

Salinity (PPS): 34.704 - 35.245

Oxygen (ml/l): 6.137 - 6.447

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.306 - 0.630

Silicate (umol/l): 2.444 - 4.938
 
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This bird exploits a broad range of habitats, including farmland, heaths, moors, parks, woodland edges and even city centres (3), but when feeding requires short grass or other low vegetation (8).
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Common kestrels feed primarily on small mammals, including voles (Arvicolinae) and mice (e.g. Apodemus sylvaticus). They sometimes feed on amphibians, reptiles and other birds. Common kestrels hunt by soaring 10 to 20 m above the ground and diving quickly onto their prey. They may also been seen hunting on foot for small mammals and insects, especially beetles and grasshoppers. If prey is abundant, common kestrels will sometimes kill more than they need and cache what they do not eat.

Animal Foods: birds; mammals; amphibians; reptiles; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods

Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Insectivore )

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Associations

In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Animal / predator
adult of Falco tinnunculus is predator of adult of Timarcha tenebricosa

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Ecosystem Roles

In some areas, common kestrels are key predators of small, herbivorous mammals, including voles and mice, and help control rodent and small mammal populations. Although they fall prey to goshawks and other raptors, they are not a primary food source for raptors.

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Predation

Common kestrels are not typically preyed on, but are taken occasionally, especially as fledglings. Goshawks (Accipiter gentilis) are known to prey on common kestrels. Suspected common kestrel predators include peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus), sparrowhawks (Accipiter nisus), eagle owls (Bubo bubo) and tawny owls (Strix aluco).

Known Predators:

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Known prey organisms

Falco tinnunculus preys on:
Clethrionomys glareolus
Lavia frons

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Common kestrels primarily communicate visually and acoustically. Given their solitary nature, most of these communications are limited to the mating season (see 'Reproduction: Mating Systems'). An alarm call, described as "kee-kee-kee," is heard from a member of the pair when young are threatened. Territorial displays, however, occur year-round.

When territory is threatened, common kestrels may fly under the intruder while fanning their tails, shivering (see 'Mating Systems') and slowly rising under the intruding bird. Sometimes, the defending bird will attack the intruder.

Common kestrels perceive their environment mainly by sight since hunting from the air is a predominantly visual behavior. They have also been observed on foot, hunting by sound and sight.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

There is little data on the lifespan of F. tunnunculus in the wild. Predation, pollution, resource limitation, and road accidents contribute to early mortality in this species. Only about 66 % of common kestrels survive their first two years in the wild.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
15 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
16.2 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
16.0 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 23.8 years (wild)
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Reproduction

Common kestrels become quite vocal during the mating season, displaying a variety of calls. However, most of the calls are used year-round and the birds merely become more talkative during courtship months. One call, described as sounding like "quirrr-rr quirrr-rr," is made by both sexes during mating behaviors and by the female when she becomes interested in mating. A common visual display is a slow, "shivering" flight in which both sexes beat their wings quickly but shallowly. It may look like only the tips of their wings are beating. This display usually takes place immediately before or after mating. Vocal calls, such as the "quirrr-rr" call, accompany this display, signaling excitement between the pair. Mating pairs are often seen flying quickly together at great heights. This flight is characterized by sharp wing beats and a slight rocking motion. The end of this display is sometimes marked by the pair diving dramatically to the nest with wings thrown into a sharp "V" shape.

From the beginning of courtship until egg-laying, males hunt for the females and brings them prey as gifts. During this time, females becomes increasingly sedentary and spend the majority of their time in the nest.

Breeding density is most affected by available resources, such as nesting sites and food.

Common kestrels normally form pair bonds for long periods of time, if not for life. Rarely, males have multiple mates. This occurs in 1% to 2% of birds in some studies.

Mating System: monogamous ; polygynous

Common kestrel breeding and courtship behaviors begin in February or March. The breeding cycle ends about a month after fledging, which occurs in late August. Breeding occurs in April and May in the northern hemisphere.

Common kestrels nest on ledges, in buildings, in trees, or use abandoned nests of other bird species. They do not make their own nests, but may rearrange materials already present in the nesting site. A clutch consists of 3 to 7 eggs which hatch in 26 to 34 days. Fledging normally occurs within the first month after hatching, but young are still dependent on their parents until hunting skills are sufficient, which takes about 7 or 8 weeks. The young will reach sexual maturity by the next breeding season but most common kestrels do not mate during their first year of maturity.

Breeding interval: Common kestrels breed once yearly.

Breeding season: Common kestrels breed in April and May in the northern hemisphere.

Range eggs per season: 3 to 7.

Range time to hatching: 26 to 34 days.

Range fledging age: 27 to 32 days.

Range time to independence: 7 to 8 weeks.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 years.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 years.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization

Both sexes help in raising young. Females are sole incubators of the eggs. Hatchlings are altricial when they hatch, but grow very quickly and must be fed frequently. Males usually catch food for hatchlings while females tend to them. After fledging, young are dependent on their parents for food for the next month, since hunting and flying skills are slower to develop.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female)

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Falco tinnunculus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 20
Specimens with Barcodes: 35
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Barcode data: Falco tinnunculus

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 11 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.  Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.  See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

AACCGATGATTATTTTCAACAAACCACAAAGACATTGGTACCTTGTACTTACTCTTTGGAGCATGAGCAGGCATAGCCGGTACCGCCCTC---AGCCTCCTTATCCGAGCAGAACTTGGCCAACCAGGAACTCTCCTAGGAGAC---GACCAAATCTATAATGTCATCGTCACCGCCCATGCCTTCGTAATAATCTTCTTCATAGTTATACCCATCATAATCGGAGGATTTGGAAACTGACTAGTCCCTCTTATA---ATTGGAGCTCCCGACATAGCATTCCCCCGCATAAACAACATAAGCTTCTGACTACTTCCTCCATCCTTCCTACTACTCCTAGCATCCTCCACAGTAGAAGCCGGAGCCGGAACAGGATGAACTGTATACCCCCCTCTAGCGGGCAACCTAGCCCATGCTGGCGCCTCAGTAGATCTG---GCCATCTTCTCCCTACACCTTGCAGGTGTATCCTCCATCCTAGGAGCAATCAACTTTATCACAACAGCTATTAACATAAAACCCCCTGCCCTATCACAATACCAAACCCCACTATTCGTATGATCCGTACTCATCACCGCCGTACTCCTACTGCTCTCACTCCCAGTCCTAGCTGCT---GGCATCACCATATTACTAACCGACCGAAACCTAAACACCACATTCTTCGACCCCGCCGGAGGAGGAGACCCCATTCTCTACCAGCACTTATTCTGATTCTTCGGCCACCCAGAAGTCTACATCCTAATTCTCCCAGGCTTTGGAATTATCTCACACGTCGTAACATACTACGCAGGCAAAAAA---GAGCCATTCGGGTACATAGGAATAGTCTGAGCCATGCTATCGATCGGATTCCTAGGCTTTATCGTATGAGCCCACCACATATTCACCGTAGGAATAGACGTAGACACCCGAGCATACTTCACCTCCGCCACCATAATTATCGCCATCCCAACCGGCATCAAAGTATTCAGCTGATTA---GCCACACTACACGGAGGC---ACCATCAAATGAGATCCACCGATACTGTGAGCCTTGGGCTTCATCTTCCTCTTCACAATTGGAGGACTAACAGGTATGGTACTAGCAAACTCCTCATTAGACATTGTCTTACACGACACATACTATGTAGTTGCCCACTTTCATTACATC---CTCTCAATAGGAGCTGTATTTGCCATCCTAGCTGGATTTACCCACCGATTCCCACTATTTACTGGATACACCCTCCACCCCACATGATCTAAAACCCACTTCGGAATTATATTCACAGGCGTAAACCTAACATTCTTCCCCCAACACTTCCTAGGTCTAGCCGGCATACCACGA---CGTTACTCAGACTACCCCGACGCCTACACC---CTATGAAACACCCTATCCTCTATCGGCTCCTTAATCTCAATAACAGCTGTAATTTTACTAATATTCATCATCTGAGAAGCATTCGCAACAAAACGAAAAGTC---CTCCAAACAGAACTAACTACCACCAAC
-- end --

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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in 10 years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

History
  • 2012
    Least Concern
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This species is evaluated as of "least concern" by the IUCN.

US Migratory Bird Act: no special status

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Status in Egypt

Regular passage visitor and winter visitor.

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Status

Listed as a Species of Conservation Concern by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, but not a priority species (5). Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Amber List (medium conservation concern) (7).
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Population

Population
The global population is estimated to number > c.5,000,000 individuals (Ferguson-Lees et al. 2001), while national population estimates include: c.10,000-100,000 breeding pairs and c.1,000-10,000 individuals on migration in China; c.100-10,000 breeding pairs and c.50-1,000 individuals on migration in Korea; c.10,000-100,000 breeding pairs and c.1,000-10,000 individuals on migration in Japan and c.10,000-100,000 breeding pairs and c.1,000-10,000 individuals on migration in Russia (Brazil 2009).

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats

Past population declines resulted from the heavy use of organochlorine and other pesticides in the 1950s-1960s (del Hoyo et al. 1994). In Malta, the species was exterminated by shooting, though it has since returned (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). The population in much of the rest of Europe has shown a more recent steady decline, thought to be due to agricultural intensification (Snow and Perrins 1998). The species is vulnerable to the effects of potential wind energy development (Strix 2012).

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Like many wild birds, the kestrel suffered as a result of the use of organochloride pesticides. The population declined rapidly during the 1970s, possibly as a result of agricultural intensification, habitat loss and a decline in populations of small mammal prey (5). Although the population seems to have remained stable during the last 15 years or so, there is some evidence that a further decline has occurred since 1994 (5).
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Management

Conservation

The kestrel should benefit from agri-environment measures aimed at improving farmland habitats for wildlife. Prescriptions such as unsprayed field margins and leaving stubble fields unploughed during the winter should increase the populations of small mammals and birds on which kestrels feed. Set-aside fields also provide good habitats for mice and voles (8).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of common kestrels on humans.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Common kestrels are important in controlling agricultural pests, especially mice and voles. They are also used in falconry.

Positive Impacts: controls pest population

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Wikipedia

Common Kestrel

The Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) is a bird of prey species belonging to the kestrel group of the falcon family Falconidae. It is also known as the European Kestrel, Eurasian Kestrel, or Old World Kestrel. In Britain, where no other kestrel species occurs, it is generally just called "the kestrel".[2]

This species occurs over a large range. It is widespread in Europe, Asia, and Africa, as well as occasionally reaching the east coast of North America[citation needed]. But although it has colonized a few oceanic islands, vagrant individuals are generally rare; in the whole of Micronesia for example, the species was only recorded twice each on Guam and Saipan in the Marianas.[3]

Description[edit]

Typical in-flight appearance of a Common Kestrel

Common Kestrels measure 32–39 cm (13–15 in) from head to tail, with a wingspan of 65–82 cm (26–32 in). Females are noticeably larger, with the adult male weighing 136–252 g (4.8–8.9 oz), around 155 g (5.5 oz) on average; the adult female weighs 154–314 g (5.4–11.1 oz), around 184 g (6.5 oz) on average. They are thus small compared with other birds of prey, but larger than most songbirds. Like the other Falco species, they have long wings as well as a distinctive long tail.[4]

Their plumage is mainly light chestnut brown with blackish spots on the upperside and buff with narrow blackish streaks on the underside; the remiges are also blackish. Unlike most raptors, they display sexual colour dimorphism with the male having fewer black spots and streaks, as well as a blue-grey cap and tail. The tail is brown with black bars in females, and has a black tip with a narrow white rim in both sexes. All Common Kestrels have a prominent black malar stripe like their closest relatives.[4]

The cere, feet, and a narrow ring around the eye are bright yellow; the toenails, bill and iris are dark. Juveniles look like adult females, but the underside streaks are wider; the yellow of their bare parts is paler. Hatchlings are covered in white down feathers, changing to a buff-grey second down coat before they grow their first true plumage.[4]

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

In the cool-temperate parts of its range, the Common Kestrel migrates south in winter; otherwise it is sedentary, though juveniles may wander around in search for a good place to settle down as they become mature. It is a diurnal animal of the lowlands and prefers open habitat such as fields, heaths, shrubland and marshland. It does not require woodland to be present as long as there are alternate perching and nesting sites like rocks or buildings. It will thrive in treeless steppe where there are abundant herbaceous plants and shrubs to support a population of prey animals. The Common Kestrel readily adapts to human settlement, as long as sufficient swathes of vegetation are available, and may even be found in wetlands, moorlands and arid savanna. It is found from the sea to the lower mountain ranges, reaching up to 4,500 m (14,800 ft) ASL in the hottest tropical parts of its range but only to about 1,750 m (5,740 ft) in the subtropical climate of the Himalayan foothills[5]

Globally, this species is not considered threatened by the IUCN.[6] Its stocks were affected by the indiscriminate use of organochlorines and other pesticides in the mid-20th century, but being something of an r-strategist able to multiply quickly under good conditions it was less affected than other birds of prey. The global population is fluctuating considerably over the years but remains generally stable; it is roughly estimated at 1–2 million pairs or so, about 20% of which are found in Europe. There has been a recent decline in parts of Western Europe such as Ireland. Subspecies dacotiae is quite rare, numbering less than 1000 adult birds in 1990, when the ancient western Canarian subspecies canariensis numbered about ten times as many birds.[4]

Food and feeding[edit]

Common-Kestrel-4.jpg
Common-Kestrel-2.jpg

When hunting, the Common Kestrel characteristically hovers about 10–20 m (33–66 ft) above the ground, searching for prey, either by flying into the wind or by soaring using ridge lift. Like most birds of prey, Common Kestrels have keen eyesight enabling them to spot small prey from a distance. Once prey is sighted, the bird makes a short, steep dive toward the target. It can often be found hunting along the sides of roads and motorways. This species is able to see near ultraviolet light, allowing the birds to detect the urine trails around rodent burrows as they shine in an ultraviolet colour in the sunlight.[7] Another favourite (but less conspicuous) hunting technique is to perch a bit above the ground cover, surveying the area. When the birds spot prey animals moving by, they will pounce on them. They also prowl a patch of hunting ground in a ground-hugging flight, ambushing prey as they happen across it.[4]

European Pine Vole (Microtus subterraneus), a typical Common Kestrel prey since prehistoric times
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Common Kestrels eat almost exclusively mouse-sized mammals: typically voles, but also shrews and true mice supply up to three-quarters or more of the biomass most individuals ingest. On oceanic islands (where mammals are often scarce), small birds – mainly passerine – may make up the bulk of its diet[8] while elsewhere birds are only important food during a few weeks each summer when inexperienced fledglings abound. Other suitably sized vertebrates like bats and swifts,[9] frogs[citation needed] and lizards are eaten only on rare occasions. However, kestrels may more often prey on lizards at southern latitudes, in northern latitudes the kestrel is found to more often deliver lizards to their nestlings during midday and also with increasing ambient temperature.[10] Seasonally, arthropods may be a main prey item. Generally, invertebrates like camel spiders and even earthworms, but mainly sizeable insects such as beetles, orthopterans and winged termites are eaten with delight whenever the birds happen upon them.[4]

F. tinnunculus requires the equivalent of 4–8 voles a day, depending on energy expenditure (time of the year, amount of hovering, etc.). They have been known to catch several voles in succession and cache some for later consumption. An individual nestling consumes on average 4.2 g/h, equivalent to 67.8 g/d (3–4 voles per day).[11]

Reproduction[edit]

The Common Kestrel starts breeding in spring (or the start of the dry season in the tropics), i.e. April/May in temperate Eurasia and some time between August and December in the tropics and southern Africa. It is a cavity nester, preferring holes in cliffs, trees or buildings; in built-up areas, Common Kestrels will often nest on buildings, and generally they often reuse the old nests of corvids if are available. The diminutive subspecies dacotiae, the sarnicolo of the eastern Canary Islands is peculiar for nesting occasionally in the dried fronds below the top of palm trees, apparently coexisting rather peacefully with small songbirds which also make their home there.[12] In general, Common Kestrels will usually tolerate conspecifics nesting nearby, and sometimes a few dozen pairs may be found nesting in a loose colony.[4]

Male F. t. tinnunculus bringing food to nest

The clutch is normally 3–6 eggs, but may contain any number of eggs up to seven; even more eggs may be laid in total when some are removed during the laying time, which lasts about 2 days per egg laid. The eggs are abundantly patterned with brown spots, from a wash that tinges the entire surface buffish white to large almost-black blotches. Incubation lasts some 4 weeks to one month, and only the female hatches the eggs. The male is responsible for provisioning her with food, and for some time after hatching this remains the same. Later, both parents share brooding and hunting duties until the young fledge, after 4–5 weeks. The family stays close together for a few weeks, up to a month or so, during which time the young learn how to fend for themselves and hunt prey. The young become sexually mature the next breeding season.[4]

Data from Britain shows nesting pairs bringing up about 2–3 chicks on average, though this includes a considerable rate of total brood failures; actually, few pairs that do manage to fledge offspring raise less than 3 or 4. Population cycles of prey, particularly voles, have a considerable influence on breeding success. Most Common Kestrels die before they reach 2 years of age; mortality til the first birthday may be as high as 70%. At least females generally breed at one year of age;[13] possibly, some males take a year longer to maturity as they do in related species. The biological lifespan to death from senescence can be 16 years or more, however; one was recorded to have lived almost 24 years.[13]

Evolution and systematics[edit]

This species is part of a clade that contains the kestrel species with black malar stripes, a feature which apparently was not present in the most ancestral kestrels. They seem to have radiated in the Gelasian (Late Pliocene,[14] roughly 2.5–2 mya, probably starting in tropical East Africa, as indicated by mtDNA cytochrome b sequence data analysis and considerations of biogeography. The Common Kestrel's closest living relative is apparently the Nankeen or Australian Kestrel (F. cenchroides), which probably derived from ancestral Common Kestrels settling in Australia and adapting to local conditions less than one million years ago, during the Middle Pleistocene.[15]

The Rock Kestrel may be a distinct species F. rupicolus, more distantly related to the Common Kestrel proper than the Nankeen Kestrel; its relationship to the other African and South Asian kestrel taxa remains insufficiently studied. The Canary Islands subspecies are apparently independently derived from Continental birds.[16]

The Lesser Kestrel (F. naumanni), which much resembles a small Common Kestrel with no black on the upperside except wing and tail tips, is probably not very closely related to the present species, and the American Kestrel (F. sparverius) is apparently not a true kestrel at all.[16] Both species have much grey in their wings in males, which does not occur in the Common Kestrel or its close living relatives but does in almost all other falcons.

Subspecies[edit]

Rock Kestrel (presumably male)
Female Rock Kestrel
F. t. canariensis on Gran Canaria
F.t. from Hurghada

A number of subspecies of the Common Kestrel are known, though some are hardly distinct and may be invalid. Most of them differ little, and mainly in accordance with Bergmann's and Gloger's Rules. Tropical African forms have less grey in the male plumage.[4]

Temperate areas of Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia north of the Hindu Kush-Himalaya mountain ranges to the NW Sea of Okhotsk region. Northern Asian populations migrate south in winter, apparently not crossing the Himalayas but diverting to the west.
  • Falco (tinnunculus) rupicolus Daudin, 1800Rock Kestrel
NW Angola and S Zaire to S Tanzania, and south to South Africa. Probably a distinct species, but its limits with rufescens require further study. It differs markedly from the other subspecies of the F. tinnunculus complex. In particular, the females have what in other subspecies are typically male characteristics such as a grey head and tail, and spotted rather than barred upperparts. The Rock Kestrel has less heavily marked, brighter chestnut upperparts and its underparts are also a bright chestnut that contrasts with the nearly unmarked white underwings. Females tend to have more black bands in the central tail feathers than males. The open mountain habitat also differs from that its relatives.
Sahel east to Ethiopia, southwards around Congo basin to S Tanzania and NE Angola.
Has dark heavily marked birds and has a foxed red phase but not reliably identified in the field. Breeds East Asia from Tibet to Korea and Japan, south into Indochina. Winters to the south of its breeding range, from northeastern India to the Philippines (where it is localized, e.g. from Mindanao only two records exist).[17][18]
Arabian Peninsula except in the desert and across the Red Sea into Africa.
Northern Cape Verde Islands.
Madeira and western Canary Islands. The more ancient Canaries subspecies.
Eastern Canary Islands: Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, Chinijo Archipelago. A more recently evolved subspecies than canariensis.
Western, Nilgiris and Eastern Ghats of India; Sri Lanka. Heavily marked, has rufous thighs with dark grey head in males.[19]
Somalia, coastal Kenya, and Socotra
Southwestern Cape Verde Islands.

The Common Kestrels of Europe living during cold periods of the Quaternary glaciation differed slightly in size from the current population; they are sometimes referred to as paleosubspecies F. t. atavus (see also Bergmann's Rule). The remains of these birds, which presumably were the direct ancestors of the living F. t. tinnunculus (and perhaps other subspecies), are found throughout the then-unglaciated parts of Europe, from the Late Pliocene (ELMA Villanyian/ICS Piacenzian, MN16) about 3 million years ago to the Middle Pleistocene Saalian glaciation which ended about 130.000 years ago, when they finally gave way to birds indistinguishable from those living today. Some of the voles the Ice Age Common Kestrels ate – such as European Pine Voles (Microtus subterraneus) – were indistinguishable from those alive today. Other prey species of that time evolved more rapidly (like M. malei, the presumed ancestor of today's Tundra Vole M. oeconomus), while yet again others seem to have gone entirely extinct without leaving any living descendants – for example Pliomys lenki, which apparently fell victim to the Weichselian glaciation about 100.000 years ago.[20]

In culture[edit]

The Kestrel is sometimes seen, like other birds of prey, as a symbol of the power and vitality of nature. In "Into Battle" (1915), the war poet Julian Grenfell invokes the superhuman characteristics of the Kestrel among several birds, when hoping for prowess in battle:

"The kestrel hovering by day,

And the little owl that call at night,
Bid him be swift and keen as they,

As keen of ear, as swift of sight."

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889) writes on the kestrel in his poem "The Windhover", exalting in their mastery of flight and their majesty in the sky.

"I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding"

A kestrel is also one of the main characters in The Animals of Farthing Wood.

Etymology[edit]

The name "kestrel" is derived from the French crécerelle which is diminutive for crécelle, which also referred to a bell used by lepers. The word first appears in 1678 in the work of Francis Willughby.[21] The Latin word tinnunculus is derived from tinnire which too stands for jingle, ring or echo like a bell. The kestrel was once used to drive and keep away pigeons.[22]

Archaic names for the kestrel include windhover and windfucker, due to its habit of beating the wind (hovering in air).[23]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ BirdLife International (2013). "Falco tinnunculus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Mangoverde World Bird Guide [2009]
  3. ^ Orta (1994), Wiles et al. (2000, 2004)
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Orta (1994)
  5. ^ Orta (1994), Inskipp et al. (2000)
  6. ^ BLI (2008)
  7. ^ Viitala et al. (1995)
  8. ^ Wiles et al. (2004)
  9. ^ Mikula et al. (2013)
  10. ^ Steen et al. (2011a)
  11. ^ Steen et al. (2011b)
  12. ^ Álamo Távio (1975)
  13. ^ a b AnAge [2010]
  14. ^ Possibly to be reclassified as Early Pleistocene.
  15. ^ See Groombridge et al. (2002) for a thorough discussion of Common Kestrel and relatives' divergence times.
  16. ^ a b Groombridge et al. (2002)
  17. ^ Peterson et al. (2008)
  18. ^ Rasmussen, PC & JC Anderton (2005). Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide. Volume 2. Washington DC and Barcelona: Smithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions. p. 112-113. 
  19. ^ Whistler (1949): 385-387, Rasmussen & Anderton (2005): 112-113
  20. ^ Mlíkovský (2002): pp.222-223, Mourer-Chauviré et al. (2003)
  21. ^ Swann, H. Kirke (1913). A dictionary of English and Folk-names of British Birds. London: Witherby and Co. p. 134. 
  22. ^ Weekley, Ernest (1921). An etymological dictionary of modern English. London: John Murray. p. 801. 
  23. ^ Oxford English Dictionary

References[edit]

  • Álamo Tavío, Manuel (1975): Aves de Fuerteventura en peligro de extinción ["Birds of Fuerteventura threatened with extinction"]. In: Asociación Canaria para Defensa de la Naturaleza (ed.): Aves y plantas de Fuerteventura en peligro de extinción: 10-32 [in Spanish].
  • AnAge [2010]: Falco tinnunculus life history data. Retrieved 2010-AUG-01.
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