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