The lesser kestrel breeds in the palearctic in Europe and northern Asia roughly between 30 and 50 degrees North latitude. The distribution includes altitudes of up to 500m above sea level. It is a migratory species, spending its winter in Africa, south of the Sahara. From February to April this bird is most numerous in northern Tanzania and southern Kenya.
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); ethiopian (Native )
This small falcon has a length of 30-36 cm with long pointed wings. The long tail has a broad black terminal band. This falcon has strong sexual dimorphism in its plumage. Males have a chestnut back and a blue-grey crown, neck, rump, and tail. Their belly is a creamy pink with small brown streaks. The eye ring is bright yellow while the feet are an orange-yellow. The undersides of the wings are white with a black tip. Females have a brown back and head with a pale belly. Both the back and belly are streaked with brown. The wings are also light with dark barring and black tips. Juvenile lesser kestrels look similar to the females.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Lesser kestrels are found in bushed, wooded, and open grassland and cultivation. They nest on mountain slopes, gorges, deep ravines, and other rocky terrain, all of which must have open areas around them for the birds to hunt. They are found most numerously in highland farming regions and on grassy plains during the winter range.
Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; forest ; scrub forest
Habitat and Ecology
Kestrels are carnivorous, feeding on small mammals, especially voles, however they are very adaptable to other prey selections. They will eat almost anything they can kill. Their selected prey is either the most abundant or most easily caught of the area. Other prey examples are young rabbits, birds, small bats, lizards, snakes, frogs, insects, earthworms, fish, and crabs. Kestrels can change their hunting style depending on the kind of prey, weather conditions, and their energy requirements. These predators take full advantage of their keen eyesight, sharp claws, and strong beak. They hunt from a perch or from the air. The vertebrate prey is pounced on from a rapid dive, then grabbed by the claws and killed by a bite to the base of the skull. Attacks on less active prey results from slow shallow dives where the kestrel lands and takes the prey directly into its beak.
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Status: wild: 6.2 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Breeding occurs during the months of March through June. Kestrels do not build nests. Instead they lay their eggs in a depression they scrape in the trees of the nesting location. They breed in colonies of up to 100 pairs. Females invest more time in nesting activities than males. Kestrels have a normal clutch size of 4 to 6, laid over a two day interval, but the range in number of eggs is 1 to 7. Incubation starts after the third egg is laid and lasts 28 to 31 days. Because incubation is delayed until the after the third egg, the first three eggs usually hatch on the same day with the rest following in the next couple of days. This means the last bird hatched is smaller than the rest. The difference in size allows the brood to be reduced by sibling rivalry if sources of food are short. Kestrel nestlings have been seen to kill and eat brood-mates, but most deaths occur because of failure to compete for food. Parents continue to feed their young for 2 to 4 weeks after hatching.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Falco naumanni
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.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Falco naumanni
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
There still is not complete data on the distribution of the lesser kestrel. This information is needed in order to adequately conserve the species. Important subjects to study include problems with the foraging habitat, pesticide contamination affecting reproduction success and food availability, problems with breeding colonies, winter ecology and how to develop and coordinate an international conservation strategy. The winter distribution seems to be the most unknown.
Trends in the breeding populations of the lesser kestrel clearly show this species is seriously threatened worldwide. This bird is protected by law, but not all of the breeding sites are in protected areas. Legal protection of all sites is necessary for conservation because most of the causes of death are hunting or taking young from the nests.
Estimations of the abundance of the lesser kestrel show that breeding numbers have dropped by 95% since the 1950's. Sharp declines are especially obvious in its European range. A marked decrease in breeding range appeared all over Europe, most notably in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Austria where lesser kestrels are no longer breeding.
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2012Least Concern
Status in Egypt
Casual breeder, regular passage visitor and winter visitor.
CITES Appendix II, CMS Appendix I and II. Research and management of the species, its sites and habitats have been carried out in France, Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and South Africa. A European action plan has been published. Conservation Actions Proposed
Encourage surveys and monitoring. Research limiting factors and habitat management. Promote national action plans. Promote appropriate agricultural policies, control of pesticides and zoned forestry. Construct artificial nests. Protect colonies. Encourage legal protection.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
This bird eats mice and insects that damage human crops.
The lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni) is a small falcon. This species breeds from the Mediterranean across southern central Asia to China and Mongolia. It is a summer migrant, wintering in Africa and Pakistan and sometimes even to India and Iraq. It is rare north of its breeding range, and declining in its European range. The scientific name of this bird commemorates the German naturalist Johann Andreas Naumann.
It is a small bird of prey, 27–33 cm in length with a 63–72 cm wingspan. It looks very much like the larger common kestrel but has proportionally shorter wings and tail. It shares a brown back and barred grey underparts with the larger species. The male has a grey head and tail like male common kestrels, but lacks the dark spotting on the back, the black malar stripe, and has grey patches in the wings.
The female and young birds are slightly paler than their relative, but are so similar that call and structure are better guides than plumage. The call is a diagnostic harsh chay-chay-chay, unlike the common kestrel's kee-kee-kee. Neither sex has dark talons as is usual in falcons; those of this species are a peculiar whitish-horn color. This, however, is only conspicuous when birds are seen at very close range, e.g. in captivity.
Despite its outward similarity, this species appears not to be closely related to the common kestrel. In fact, mtDNA cytochrome b sequence analysis (Groombridge et al. 2002) places it at a basal position with regards to the other "true" kestrels (i.e., excluding the American kestrel and probably the grey African kestrels too). Its divergence is tentatively placed to around the Miocene-Pliocene boundary (Messinian to Zanclean, or about 7-3.5 mya). The morphological similarity with the common kestrel is most puzzling, but still it appears to betray the present species' actual relationships: the lack of a malar stripe seems ancestral for kestrels, and the grey wing colour unites the lesser kestrel with most other Falco species, but not the other true kestrels.
The lesser kestrel is, as the name implies, a smaller and more delicate bird than the common kestrel, and it is entirely sympatric in its breeding range with it; they compete to a limited extent. Thus, the possibility that there is some form of adaptive advantage to the similar coloration deserves study. Considering that the lesser kestrel would in fact have an advantage if some would-be predators confused it with the larger species and consequently avoided it, it might be a case of Müllerian mimicry.
The lesser kestrel eats insects, but also small birds, reptiles and rodents (especially mice), which are often taken on the ground. It nests colonially on buildings, cliffs, or in tree holes, laying up to 3-6 eggs. No nest structure is built, which is typical for falcons. On their wintering grounds in West Africa, lesser kestrels favor a "latitude belt" through Senegal where locusts and grasshoppers are plentiful. Surveys of lesser kestrels wintering in January 2007 by Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux revealed them roosting communally. A roost in Senegal discovered during one of the surveys held 28,600 birds, together with 16,000 scissor-tailed kites Chelictinia riocourii.
It is widespread and plentiful on a global scale, and the IUCN have classed it as Least Concern. Apart from possible habitat destruction, it appears that indiscriminate use of pesticides has a strong effect on this species due to its insectivorous habits.
From John Gould's Birds of Europe.
Lesser kestrel with insect. Notice yellow talons - an easy way to distinguish between lesser and common kestrel
- BirdLife International (2013). "Falco naumanni". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Groombridge, Jim J.; Carl Jones; Bayes, Michelle K.; van Zyl, Anthony J.; Carrillo, José; Nichols, Richard A. & Bruford, Michael W. (2002): A molecular phylogeny of African kestrels with reference to divergence across the Indian Ocean. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 25(2): 267–277. doi:10.1016/S1055-7903(02)00254-3 (HTML abstract)
- "Falco_naumanni". Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan. Retrieved 2008-12-01.
- Surveys reveal raptor ‘super-roost’
- BirdLife International (2006) Lesser Kestrel - BirdLife International Species Factsheet. Retrieved 2007-MAR-1.
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