Kestrels (All About)
The kestrel is our most common and abundant bird of prey. It flies by day and is very easy to see and identify. It hovers in the air with fast-beating wings surveying the ground below for prey. It has really good vision and when it spots a large insect or a mouse, a pygmy shrew or indeed — in Counties Tipperary and Limerick — a white-toothed shrew — it drops like a stone on the unsuspecting prey. It hovers quite a lot looking for prey so it is easy to see high up in the air. No other Irish bird of prey behaves like this.Read moreRead less
Modern road development has actually resulted in an increase in kestrels. This is because the roadside verges and roundabouts are habitat for the rodents and the shrews that it feeds on. These areas are not disturbed by humans, and are mowed infrequently and the kestrels of course are not at all disturbed by traffic. Thus, any journey along a motorway will yield at least one sighting of a kestrel.
They do not build a nest of their own but the female will lay three to five eggs on a cliff ledge, a high building or indeed an abandoned nest of a hooded crow. The nestlings are fed by both parents and fledge 30 days after hatching. Males and females are different in colour — males have a grey head and a grey tail, whereas females have a streaked brown head and dark stripes on a brown tail. Birds of prey gobble their food whole and later (usually at the roost site), cough up undigested bits in the form of a pellet. By collecting these pellets and analysing them, scientists can work out what food the bird has been eating.
Recent work on kestrel pellets in Co. Tipperary revealed that the birds had been eating white-toothed shrews — a species not known until then to occur in Ireland. The nearest record until then of these shrews had been Alderney in the Channel Islands. Kestrels were often kept near dovecotes in medieval times as it was known they kept away sparrowhawks but would not attack the doves themselves.
Things to do
1. A project on the Irish birds of prey — kestrel, sparrowhawk, merlin, peregrine falcon, buzzard, hen harrier and marsh harrier — and the re-introduced golden eagle, red kite and sea eagle. Their importance at the top of the food chain should be emphasised. If their prey is poisoned then the poisons spread right up the food chain, harming those at the top. So a healthy population of kestrels means that the whole biodiversity of its food chain is in place.