The Kennedy Wild Bird Food Guide to the Kestrel

The common kestrel (not to be confused with the American kestrel) is a remarkable bird that can be found in most parts of the UK. In this guide, we take a look at all there is to know about the kestrel bird, including its amber listed status, what it looks like (including in-flight) and what the kestrel eats.

What does a kestrel look like?

Kestrels are large birds measuring between 32-39cm from head to tail, boasting an impressive wingspan of 65-82cm depending on their size. Female kestrels are notably larger than their male counterparts, weighing on average 184g (compared to the male average of 155g). However, compared to many other birds of prey they are actually considered to be quite small.

A kestrel’s plumage is chestnut-brown with black spots, while its breast is a paler shade of brown. The male has a grey-ish head while the female is completely chestnut brown. Have you seen a kestrel hovering near you? You should be able to identify it from the picture below.

Female kestrel

female kestrel

Male kestrel

male kestrel

Sparrowhawk or kestrel: what’s the difference?

The two are very similar and you might struggle to tell them apart from a distance, but you can identify a kestrel by its hover. Kestrels are often seen hovering by the roadside looking for prey, whereas the sparrowhawk prefers to utilise any cover to prey on small birds.

What does a kestrel sound like?

Have a listen to the clip below to see if you’ve heard the sound of the kestrel before.

What do kestrels eat?

You’ll spot a kestrel hovering around 10-20 meters off the ground when hunting for food. They have a keen eye for spotting small prey from afar. The common kestrel eats a variety of small mammals, from mice to voles. They’re even known to eat small birds, bats and insects on occasion. 

Interesting kestrel facts: behaviour and habitat

Aside from its hover-and-hunt tactics, the kestrel has many other interesting features and facts. Here are a few of our favourites.

  • Kestrels have adapted to urban areas and are no stranger to city life.
  • They have ‘Amber List’ status due to their declining numbers since the 1970s.
  • There are known to be 46,000 breeding pairs in the UK.
  • They are well-known for their appearance when in flight. Just take a look at the remarkable picture below!

kestrel in flight

You’ll find the kestrel in most parts of the UK, from the Isles of Scotland to the south-western tip of England. However, unlike most birds, they don’t like vast wetlands, forests or mountains. If you’re looking to attract smaller birds than the kestrel into your garden, we recommend our fat balls for birds – garden birds love them!

If you’ve spotted a kestrel (or any other birds) near you, don’t forget to log the sighting on our birdspotter map!