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Kestrel Central and a frosty Monday morning

Date posted: Wednesday 20th November 2019

Kestrel Central and a frosty Monday morning

Dave took a video and this splendid shot of a kestrel perched on the compost toilet pipe. There have been several sightings of what appears to be a juvenile kestrel around the site over the past few months, often apparently unperturbed by our proximity. Flora called me over to her plot a couple of weeks ago to watch one eating what looked like a small rat, quite unfazed by us being only 4 metres or so away. This Monday I was cycling back from an early morning site visit to take photos of the heavy frost when I saw two of them in a tree in the middle of the site! We think they must be a juvenile pair and a plot holder has already suggested that we might be able to put up a kestrel nest box (as well as a house sparrow ‘terrace’). It’s exciting to think that these wonderful predators may take up permanent residence with us:

“Although kestrels mature when they are a year old, many do not manage to secure a mate and a breeding territory until their second year. Kestrels defend only a small territory immediately around the nest. The larger home range where the birds find most of their food is often partly shared with neighbouring pairs. The home range is at least 1 km square, but can be as large as 10 km square. Food availability and number of other kestrels in the area determine the size.
Kestrels are adaptable in their use of nest sites, but do not build their own nests. Old or disused nests of crows and other stick nesters are often used, as are ledges on cliffs and buildings. They are also regular hole-nesters and readily accept nestboxes. The same nest site is often used in successive years with some sites used for decades. The timing of egg laying is dependent on the weather, but the female normally lays her clutch of 3-6 eggs in late April or early May. She is only able to produce eggs if she can get enough food. In years when vole numbers are low, many kestrels fail to nest at all.
The chicks fledge gradually when they are around four weeks old. They explore increasing distances from the nest, but return to it to roost for another couple of weeks. Adults continue to feed the young for a month after fledging, during which time they will learn to catch their own food. Unusually for birds of prey, there is no aggression between the chicks, which tend to fly, perch and roost together even for some time after fledging.
In the autumn, kestrels readjust their territories to make best use of winter food supply. In good vole habitat kestrels tend to stay within their home ranges throughout the autumn and winter, while elsewhere many move to areas with a better winter food supply. The size of the winter territory is dependent on food supply and the number of other kestrels, but is at least 1 km square. Although it is defended, neighbouring territories sometimes overlap.”

Another exciting hearing and sighting occurred last Thursday on my plot – a loud and raucous calling issuing from the large tree on the other side of the park wall. Training my bins I was thrilled to see a little owl bouncing along the branch into the ivy covering the tree trunk! As it had rained most of the night before it was probably hunting during the day. It may be that it also now nests in this tree.

The heavy frost on Monday turned the site white. A glimpse of a large fox turning tail into the wildlife area in the SW corner and the sighting of the two kestrels in a tree made a very cold early morning visit very rewarding. Frozen fingers but it all looked so lovely!