Eurasian Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus

Eurasian Kestrel

Eurasian Kestrel, Austria, April 2008, © Markus Jais

Names

English: Eurasian Kestrel, Common Kestrel
Scientific: Falco tinnunculus
German: Turmfalke
Spanish: Cernícalo vulgar
French: Faucon crécerelle

Taxonomy and Subspecies

[GRIN 2011] currently recognizes 11 subspecies.
The following subspecies occur in Europa:
  • F. t. canariensis on the western Canary Islands and Madeira.
  • F. t. dacotiae on the eastern Canary Islands.
  • F. t. tinnunculus in all other parts of Europe.
The taxonomy of the world's kestrels is still being researched. See [GRIN 2011] for details on the Common Kestrel and other species.

Size

Length: 33-38 cm
Wingspan: 68-82 cm
Weight: 163-290 g

Maximum Age

16 years in the wild, 18 years in captivity. [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]

Habitat

Eurasian Kestrels need open areas with low vegetation for hunting. Often found in agricultural areas and nesting in buildings like churches, castles or other barns. Also found in cities where it hunts in open areas, for example along railways or streets.

Distribution

Can be found in almost all of Europe except Iceland some areas in the very north of Scandinavia. Outside of Europe, the Eurasian Kestrel can be found in large parts of Africa (avoiding the Sahara and rainforests in western Africa) and Asia.

Migration

Birds from northern and eastern Europe are migratory and move to southern Europe or Africa. Birds from central Europe often stay in the breeding areas, especially the males [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
Some birds move quite far. [Mebs & Schmidt 2006] write about one bird from Bavaria that moved 4083 km to Mali (Africa) and another bird from Sweden that moved more than 6,000 km to Sierra Leone.

Breeding and Reproduction

Does not build a nest of it's own. Breeds in cliffs, building or in trees in nests of other birds like crows. Nestboxes are often taken. Also breeds high in mountains. In Switzerland, the highest nest was found 2,850 meter above sea level [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
Like all raptors, Eurasian Kestrels will attack other raptors that are too close to their next, for example Golden Eagles (pers. observation).

Eurasian Kestrels can breed when one year old [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. Clutch size is normally 3-7 eggs. Nests with 9 eggs are known but that many eggs are probably laid by two females in most cases [Kostrzewa 1993].
Incubation time is 4 weeks and the young stay in the nest for 28-32 days.

Food and hunting

Small Rodents are the most important prey. Where it occurs, the Common Vole Microtus arvalis or the Field Vole Microtus agrestis are often the most important prey. Other small rodents as well as shrews are also taken. Beside rodents, insects (like beetles or locusts), small birds, reptiles and earthworms are also taken. Birds are especially often taken during late spring and early summer when many young songbirds are available [Mebs & Schmidt 2006], [Kostrzewa 1993].
Eurasian Kestrels either hunt from a perch or while hovering. Hovering yields more prey, up to 10 times more than from a perch [Kostrzewa 1993]. But hunting from a perch needs a lot less energy, this is why during the winter, hunting from a perch is used more often than hovering.

Population

European population between 330,000 and 500,000 pairs [BirdLife 2004]. This makes the Eurasian Kestrel one of the most common raptors in Europe. Populations stable in many countries but decreasing in others, especially in France, UK, Ireland and some countries in eastern Europe.
Largest populations in Germany (41,500 - 68,000), France (72,000 - 101,000), UK (36,800), Russia (40,000 - 60,000) and Spain (25,000 -30,000) [BirdLife 2004].

Threats

Reasons for the above mentioned decline in some countries are mostly intensive agricultural practices and the resulting loss of suitable habitat and prey. Predation by Goshawks can be a reason for decline in some areas [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
Many kestrels are killed by cars. The areas along roads often have only short vegetation which makes them good for hunting but also very dangerous for the falcons.
In some places, not enough suitable nesting places are available. Many openings in old buildings like churches are now closed and the Eurasian Kestrels can't no longer use them for breeding.
Pesticides can harm the birds themselves or kill important prey.

Conservation

Artificial nestboxes can help to support populations, especially in cities where no alternatives are available.
A nature and wildlife friendly agriculture is the most important conservation measure for Eurasian Kestrels. That includes maintaining fallow land and a restrictive use of pesticides or, even better, organic farming.
Hedgerows and groups of trees in agricultural areas should be preserved. They often contain nests of crows and other birds that are important for the falcons. Also, prey availability is often high along hedgerows.

Status IUCN/BirdLife

Least Concern (LC)

Status Global Raptor Information Network

Lower risk

Interviews about the Eurasian Kestrel

Interview with Gordon Riddle about the Eurasian Kestrel the UK

References

[BirdLife International 2004] BirdLife International. 2004. Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. BirdLife Interntional. Cambridge, UK. (Eurasian Kestrel species account available at: http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/BirdsInEuropeII/BiE2004Sp3590.pdf)

[GRIN 2011] Global Raptor Information Network. 2011. Species account: Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 3 Oct. 2011

[Kostrzewa 1993] Kostrzewa, Renate & Kostrzewa Achim (1993). Der Turmfalke. Aula-Verlag.

[Mebs & Schmidt 2006] Mebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel (2006). Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.

Books

Forsman, Dick (1999). The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East A Handbook of Field Identification. Poyser

Kostrzewa, Renate & Kostrzewa Achim (1993). Der Turmfalke. Aula-Verlag.

Mebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel (2006). Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.

Websites

BirdLife Species Factsheet for the Eurasian Kestrel

GRIN species account for the Eurasian Kestrel

kestreling.com - searching for and watching kestrels