Female Kestrels in flight: An essay of photos


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Female kestrel in flight

Kestrels are a fun, marvelous little bird to watch. They are the smallest raptor we have here in the United States (although not by much, a female kestrel can actually be larger than a male Merlin or male Sharp-shinned Hawk). They are a falcon, and so are in the same class of birds as Peregrines, Prairie Falcons, and Merlins (the four most common falcons in the States). Falcons are know for being fast birds and for hunting and catching prey on the wing.

This female kestrel is flapping her wings in such a way that she is "hovering"

The kestrel is one of the slowest falcons we have here in the states, and will often hunt with a very different style from others in the family. They are able to hover- stay in one spot in the air by flapping their wings in a certain pattern, without moving from that spot (an act that is sometimes known as “kiting”) so that they can search an area for prey without having to circle. The other falcons hunt while zipping along. Kestrels are also more likely to hunt from a perch than other falcons.

One thing falcons are known for is the pointy shape their wings can have in flight

The female and male kestrel are very distinct in appearance, one from the other. Tomorrow I will post images of a male kestrel for comparison, but today we will focus on the female. The female is less colorful than the male. She is a combination of cream colors, a reddish brown and black. From the underside she is mostly the creams and blacks, with a small grey patch on the very top of her head. The tail is alternating black stripes. An adult female will have a very wide black stripe at the end of the tail. A juvenile or hatch year bird will have a skinnier band for that last stripe.

Notice the black and red barring going across the back and wings


From the top or back side, the female is a combination of a reddish hue and black. The pattern is more of a horizontal barring, although somewhat mottled. Both the male and female have mustachials (the side burn and mustache looking stripes coming down their face). This is a feature common in most falcons to one degree or another. Usually, as with kestrels, it is more distinct in the male.

The female at full spread during her hovering stroke

Well, that was a pretty quick and dirty lesson in ID’ing a female kestrel. Hope it helped some of you out.


About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website- www.galenleeds.net
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9 Responses to Female Kestrels in flight: An essay of photos

  1. Enjoyed these photos very much! Loved seeing the various perspectives and reading about Kestrels.

  2. janechese says:

    Yes I love the detail and the light coming through the wings. Great action shot.

  3. firasz says:

    Spectacular flight shots! I wonder about how do you know the birds and their names!


    • Thank you. I initially learned many of the birds from taking photographs of them and then comparing them to field guides on birds. (I looked up online some of the books on birds of the Indian subcontinent, and I found a comprehensive list that reviews many of the bird guides over there. You can see it here- Kolkatabirds Review of India’s Bird Books. Each continent and geographic area has its books that help novices learn the birds around them, the trick is just learning which book is best for you. I have a small one that I can take out photographing with me for quick reference, and a more detailed, larger one for more in depth reference when I get home.

      When I started photographing birds, I could identify two or three without help from books. Now I can tell several hundred by sight without the help of my books. When ever I see a bird I don’t know, I take photos of it so that I can learn it. I then watch it and study it so that I can identify it more easily in my own mind.

    • And here is a more in depth review of three of those books- Books about Indian Birds

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