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Once our most common bird of prey but now a cause for concern.


Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

Kestrel: the windhover

Post date: Wednesday, 13 January, 2016 - 00:00
I have led a number of walks in my time and the question I get asked most is than 'What was that?' and it is usually followed by 'How do you know?'. New people to nature watching often place their entire emphasis on plumage colouring and forget all the other factors. For example, we handed over our RSPB credit card with a picture of a kingfisher on it in a local shop recently and the shop assistant said 'My wife saw a kingfisher in our garden recently'. I asked him whether they lived by a river or the coast and the answer was 'No, near Wareham Forest.' I suggested it was a nuthatch rather than a kingfisher and the response was 'How do you know?'
This is obviously a picture of a kestrel, but how do you know? Chestnut brown colouring; mottled plumage underneath; black bars in the tail; but there is something far more obvious, what is it doing? It is hovering; it is hunting; therefore it is a bird of prey and, as the only one that hovers is a kestrel then you do not even need to lift your binoculars to see the plumage markings (by the way buzzards do hover of sorts too). 
It is not just about plumage it is about size, shape, posture, movement, activity, location, time of year, time of day, population numbers, instinct, experience, a whole bundle of things. This is not just true for birds but for every facet of wildlife, including flowers and other plants. 

Kestrel in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Post date: Tuesday, 12 February, 2019 - 18:06

There was a time, not so long ago, that the kestrel was probably our most common bird of prey. They could often be seen hovering over roadside verges and roundabouts, especially along the newly built motorways, in the 1960s and 1970s. Now they seem much more scarce and I rarely see one from the car like I used to. Whether this is due to a general decline in kestral numbers or a decline in small mammals found along roadsides I do not know; maybe this is another indication of the harm over tidiness along our roadsides can be or possibly the cumulative effects of pollution from car emissions?

In Dorset the kestrel is a resident species and reports are fairly evenly distributed throughout the year with, perhaps, a tendency for more records in the autumn so that may be evidence of some inward migration over the colder months or may be the dispersal of young birds raised in the county. 

Although widely distributed in Dorset the distribution map would seem to show a preference for coastal cliffs and heathland with occasional reports from the less observed chalk downs in the north of the county. Kestrels are also reported from along the cliffs in Bournemouth east to Hengistbury as well as from sites around Weymouth so they still seem to manage to survive in urban settings where they are known to nest on tall buildings.

Surely, the most reliable places to add kestrel to your Dorset list would be the cliffs at Durlston and along the Purbeck coast or the west cliff of Portland Bill.


The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Fact File Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: