The Kestrel is perhaps our most numerous and familiar bird of prey. It can be seen hovering or perched conspicuously in a wide variety of rural and urban situations and is well known to motorists throughout the country for its habit of exploiting the updrafts and rough grasslands along the new habitat corridors of motorways and trunk roads.


Photo: M Davison

Kestrels nest in a wide variety of sites, including rock ledges, old stick nests in trees, nest boxes and ledges or holes in buildings. In common with other falcons, they do not build a nest, but merely scrape a shallow depression into which they lay their eggs. Kestrels feed mainly on small rodents, which they hunt from perches or by hovering flight. They are adaptable hunters and will take a wide variety of other prey, including small birds, lizards, insects and earthworms. This flexibility in diet does enable them to live in many kinds of environment, from busy towns and cities to open moorlands. They are however predominantly birds of open country and are generally absent from dense woodland areas.

National threat assessment


Artwork: Paul Leonard

The Kestrel population fluctuates and the fluctuation is linked closely to the availability of prey, largely voles etc., which contributes c75% of their main food supply. When vole numbers are low a significant percentage of Kestrels may not breed. However; the main threat to the species is associated with incompatible farming practices that reduce available habitat and adversely affect food supply. With the rapidly increasing global demand for food this situation is unlikely to change without intervention from the EU and the UK Government.

Amber conservation status has been awarded because the species is in decline, as evidenced by the 2009 British Bird Survey which has reported a 36% reduction in the Kestrel population. Ironically the ubiquitous presence of Kestrels seen hovering or perched above grass verges may induce raptor workers and birdwatchers alike to divert their attention away from this species, whilst concentrating on other more vulnerable species. Consequently a decline in the local population may go unnoticed for some time.

NERF regional summary

Nationally the Kestrel population is known to be declining. However; from the data collected across the NERF region, it appears that the species is faring reasonably well in some of our areas. All groups report Kestrels present in their respective study areas, however only three groups undertake any detailed monitoring with the best results being produced by groups with nest box schemes. It is, therefore, difficult to assess the current status of this species without fuller comparative data from all areas; perhaps this is an issue that needs to be addressed by NERF, as many of the NERF member groups do not study this species in detail and the national decline may be being mirrored within the NERF region and going unnoticed.