The kestrel (2)

What birds of prey can be seen in Scotland, Part 2: the kestrel

Although Scotland is perhaps most famous - especially amongst falconers - for its peregrine falcon, it may surprise you to know that Scotland is home to more than 20 varieties of bird of prey. In this series of posts, we'll introduce you to some of the birds of prey that you can see across Scotland.

In part 1 of this series, we looked at the most common bird of prey: the buzzard. This time, we've chosen a falcon for you: the little kestrel. 

The Kestrel

The kestrel, whose Latin name is Falco Tinnunculus, is one of Scotland's smallest birds of prey. As with all raptors, the female is larger than the male, but kestrels are typically not much bigger than blackbirds and weigh only 150-250g/5-7.5oz. 

A russet-coloured bird with long, dark tail feathers, the kestrel is often seen along roadsides and motorway verges, where you can watch them fly in their characteristic hover pose. This is a classic 'waiting on' technique that kestrels use to 'read' the ground below them as they hunt for voles and mice.

Hunting technique

As well as the hover, and having the excellent eye sight typical of all falcons, kestrels also have another very special hunting technique: they can see near ultra-violet light. This means that in daylight they can see urine trails left by small mammals, following them even when the mice or voles are hidden in longer grasses. The kestrel can then pounce, swooping down from a height of about 15 metres, to ambush their prey.

Kestrel numbers

There are thought to be around 50,000 breeding pairs of kestrels in the UK but there is concern that numbers have been in decline in Scotland since the 1990s. This doesn't seem to be due to any one particular cause. It may be connected to increased traffic or changes in farming practices, or even to the success of the buzzard (a rival for its prey and also, on occasion, its predator), but more research into this is needed for us to be sure. 

When and where and how to see kestrels in Scotland:

  • Throughout the year but choose drier, calmer days to try to see them.
  • Dainty, buoyant and fascinating to watch, this is a bird of the open countryside, across Scotland. 
  • You're most likely to spot kestrels floating in the hover, seemingly stationary, close to roadsides.

Press play to hear more about the kestrel or 'wind-hover' from Radio 4's Tweet of the Day

Have you seen (or heard) kestrels in Scotland? Do you have a favourite bird of prey? Or a story to tell about a bird of prey? Please leave a comment below - we'd love to hear from you about this. 

Want to know more?

We've now covered just two of the 20+ birds of prey that can be found in Scotland.

In future posts, we'll look at more (including owls, eagles, kites and hawks), so please subscribe to The Scottish Countryman's blog if you want to follow this series.



  3. Martin, Brian P.: Birds of prey of the British Isles (1992) David & Charles
  4. Thompson, D., Riley, H., and Etheridge, B., Scotland's Birds of Prey (2010) Lomond Books


Kestrel images in this post were taken by Victoria Warren.

Links to other posts in this series

  1. Buzzard
  2. Kestrel
  3. Sparrowhawk
  4. Tawny Owl
  5. Red-tailed kite
  6. Merlin

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