fledgling and parental care
Kestrel Nesting FAQs
One of the smallest raptors, the kestrel is also one of the most widespread, often seen circling highways or perching on telephone lines in search of prey. In recent years, they have adapted well to urban environments as well as traditional swamp and farmland habitats.
Our guide to breeding and nesting habits of the British Kestrel takes an in-depth look at where kestrels choose to nest, when they lay their eggs and how many broods they raise in a typical year. Read on to find out the answers to these questions and more.
Where do kestrels nest?
Kestrels are found throughout the UK and no longer have a ‘typical’ habitat. They are well adapted to urban environments and can be seen hunting in towns and city centers, alongside busy highways, over farmland, and in rural areas with swamps and heaths. The only uncommon species is in densely forested areas.
The kestrel’s range tends to include a small area immediately adjacent to its nest and a wider hunting range 1 to 10 km further away. Nesting sites vary from the abandoned treetop nests of other birds to ledges, burrows, and sometimes man-made nest boxes.
A pair of kestrel chicks in their nest in a tree hollow
Do kestrels nest in the same place every year?
Once a suitable nest is found, a pair of kestrels will use it again and again over the next few years, some nests for a decade or more each breeding season. However, each year prior to breeding, an annual “site selection” process is carried out between pairs to ensure that the selected chicken location remains the best available.
Are kestrels nesting in the garden?
It is possible for a pair of kestrels to make a home in a back garden, but it is not common. For example, if you already have an existing nest in your garden that was previously used by crows or jays, this could be an attractive prospect for a pair of falcon kestrels.
Another factor is the presence of small mammals nearby, especially voles, as the kestrel’s hunting range is usually fairly small in the area around its nest.
It’s not unheard of for a kestrel to make a home in the roof space of an abandoned garage or shed, or even in a planter or hanging basket on a balcony, as long as it’s not in a place where kestrels are often disturbed by the presence of people or vehicles, and within easy reach. Where there are feeding opportunities.
Kestrel nesting in a nest box
Do Kestrels Use Nest Boxes?
Kestrels do often use well-placed nest boxes designed specifically for the species. Large open-fronted wooden boxes mounted high on walls, trees or poles provide ideal sheltered spaces in which kestrels can lay their eggs and raise their young.
What tree do kestrels nest in?
Nests originally built by corvids are often re-used by kestrels for their own offspring. These can be found in a range of trees, both conifers and deciduous. Choose nesting sites on the upper branches of the canopy, often using trees on the edges of wooded areas rather than those deeper in the forest.
Kestrels typically utilize cavities in tree trunks that have been used by other birds before them, and these cavities are found in a variety of different tree species and are not limited to one particular type.
Female Kestrel and her chicks in a nest in a tree
What does a kestrel’s nest look like?
Kestrels do not build their own nests, but use any suitable spot they happen to find. This could be a branch nest, a cavity in a tree trunk, a rock ledge, or a roof that a crow or rook has previously built and used.
How big is a kestrel’s nest?
Since kestrels do not build their own nests, there are no “typical” measurements of where they choose to lay their eggs or raise their young.
Kestrel chicks grow fairly quickly, so fairly large rod platform nests are required if this is their choice.
Nests that support corvids to raise their young are often reused by breeding kestrels because they provide enough room for kestrel chicks without the risk of overcrowding.
Young common kestrel inside the nest box
What time of year do kestrels nest?
Kestrels start to establish their breeding colonies early in the year, looking for suitable nesting sites as early as February.
Male and female pairs tend to spend the winter separately, but reunite each breeding season until spring, followed by a courtship period in which they revisit the nest to choose their preferred spot.
Once a nesting site has been chosen, mating occurs and eggs are usually laid between April and May.
How long do kestrels nest?
A clutch of 3 to 6 eggs is produced from late April to early May. The incubation period lasts about 4 weeks and the chicks are incubated by the female in the nest for another 2 weeks. During this time, the male is responsible for providing food to the female and later the chicks.
Once the chicks are sufficiently developed to regulate their own body temperature and no longer need the constant brooding warmth provided by their mothers, they remain in the nest for up to two weeks before they are ready to feather.
After eclosion, they continue to return to the nest to feed and spend the night, becoming fully independent after about a month.
What month do kestrels lay eggs?
Kestrels typically spawn between late April and early May. In years when cold weather extends further into spring, spawning is more likely to occur in May, as pairs delay nesting until the food supply is more abundant.
Kestrels nest in many places, including holes in cliffs
How do kestrels build their nests?
Kestrels are opportunistic nesters, never building their nests from scratch. They use nests previously built by other birds, especially crows, but later abandoned. Kestrels are also frequent visitors to hollow nests, using abandoned tree cavities originally dug by woodpeckers.
Common Kestrel chick inside the nest
What do kestrel eggs look like?
Kestrel eggs are pale yellow with mottled brown-black markings and a smooth shell. They are slightly round and about 4.5 cm (1.8 inches) long.
How many eggs do kestrels lay?
A typical kestrel brood contains 3 to 7 eggs, which are laid every two days until laying is complete. Four to five eggs is the most common clutch size.
Do male kestrels sit on eggs?
Egg incubation is the sole responsibility of the female kestrel. For about 27 to 29 days, the female does not leave her unhatched eggs and relies on a male mate to bring food to the nest.
The female kestrel continues to brood in the nest for 10 to 14 days after hatching, while the male provides food for the mother and chicks.
The actual feeding of the chicks is done by the female, who tears the prey brought to the nest by the male into manageable pieces for the chicks to digest.
Close up of three kestrel eggs in nest
fledgling and parental care
When does the little kestrel leave the nest?
About a month after hatching, the little kestrels are ready to start their independent journey. They feather between 27 and 35 days and spend time exploring the area around the nest, but will continue to return to the nest to feed and roost safely overnight.
After another month, they have more experience and confidence in their surroundings, and they start to become more independent and ready to establish their own territory.
These territories may overlap with those of their parents, but this will not cause conflict as the species is not overly territorial.
How many broods does a kestrel have?
It is normal for kestrel pairs to have only one brood per season. During seasons when food is scarce, kestrels may not attempt to nest at all. If initial attempts early in the season fail, more clutches may be placed.
Close up of perched kestrel chick
Kestrel Nesting FAQs
Do kestrels abandon their nests?
If a kestrel’s nest malfunctions during incubation, they will likely abandon the nest and not continue to nest that year. During seasons when food supplies are scarce, such as when there is a shortage of voles, pairs of voles may not breed at all, rather than try to reproduce, but fail to provide enough food for their offspring.
Do kestrels nest on the ground?
The nests used by kestrels are usually about 10-20 meters (35-65 feet) above the ground, which provides them with a perfect vantage point to spot nearby prey and reduce the chances of their eggs or chicks being predated. Nesting on the ground has not been observed in this species.
Where do kestrels nest at night?
On cold winter nights, kestrels have been observed spending the night in artificial nesting boxes mounted in trees or on the sides of buildings. Use habitats that provide shelter, including holes in abandoned buildings, the upper branches of trees and ledges, or roof cavities in barns or other farm buildings.
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I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.
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