Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni)

Lesser Kestrel

[order] FALCONIFORMES | [family] Falconidae | [latin] Falco naumanni | [authority] Fleischer, 1818 | [UK] Lesser Kestrel | [FR] Faucon crecerellette | [DE] Rotelfalke | [ES] Cernicalo Primilla | [NL] Kleine Torenvalk


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Falco naumanni EU sw, c, e


Members of the genus falco are mostly medium-sized falcons, but vary from the large peregrine falcon to the small American kestrel. The wings are long and pointed and used almost continuously during flight. The bill is short, powerful, and with a distinct ‘tooth’ on each side. Most falcons of this group have a black teardrop-shaped ‘mustache’ mark on each side of the head. Falcons are fastflying birds of open country and are famous for attaining high speeds as they dive from high altitudes to knock birds out of the air.

Physical charateristics

Small falcon. Male has grey head, uniform rusty upperparts, buff underparts with black spots. Grey band from carpal to tertials and black flight feathers. Grey tail with black subterminal band. Female and immature rusty with black barring and streaking and paler underparts. Similar spp. Common Kestrel F. tinnunculus is larger. Male lacks grey band on wing and has black spotting on upperparts and moustachial stripe. Voice Kye-kye but weaker and hoarser than F. tinnunculus.

Listen to the sound of Lesser Kestrel

[audio:http://www.planetofbirds.com/MASTER/FALCONIFORMES/Falconidae/sounds/Lesser Kestrel.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 63 cm wingspan max.: 72 cm
size min.: 27 cm size max.: 33 cm
incubation min.: 28 days incubation max.: 29 days
fledging min.: 27 days fledging max.: 29 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 6  


Eurasia : Southwest, Central, East. This species breeds from the Mediterranean across southern central Asia to China and Mongolia. It is a summer migrant, wintering in Africa and Pakistan and sometimes even to India and Iraq. It is rare north of its breeding range, and declining in its European range.


Throughout its range, the Lesser Kestrel occurs in open areas, avoiding closed forest, wetlands and farmland with tall crops. In the western Palearctic it is found in continental and forest steppes and semi-deserts at up to 500 m, primarily within the Mediterranean zone. In these areas it forages in meadows, pastures, steppe-like habitats, non-intensively cultivated land and occasionally in scrub and open woodland. It prefers warm or hot areas with short vegetation and patches of bare ground where it can easily find its prey. In southern Spain the Lesser Kestrel forages in areas of non-intensive herbaceous dry cultures, avoiding areas with scrub and trees. In its North African breeding areas and in its winter quarters it forages in savanna, steppe, thornbush vegetation, and on open grassland or farmland (sorghum, peanut, wheat and bean crops). It is usually a colonial breeder, often in the vicinity of human settlements.


The Lesser Kestrel normally breeds in colonies in walls or roofs of old houses, stables, barns, castles or churches; also in tree holes, earth cliffs and in rocks, quarries or heaps of stones. Breeding occurs within and outside cities, but often in the vicinity of human settlements. With the decline of the species, small colonies of fewer than 10 pairs, and single pairs, have become more and more common. There are also mixed colonies, with Jackdaws Corvus monedula, and less frequently with Kestrels F. tinnunculus. Lesser Kestrels are monogamous, and male and female take an equal share in incubation and feeding the young. Clutch size is 2-8, usually 3-5. Some breeding sites are abandoned by late July, and most by mid-August. Lesser Kestrels are gregarious all year; they migrate and winter in flocks and roost communally in single trees or groups of trees.

Feeding habits

The main food consists of invertebrates, chiefly large Orthoptera: field-crickets, grasshoppers, bush-crickets , mole-crickets and beetles. At some locations small lizards may form an important part of the diet, though small mammals and birds are only rarely taken. In winter the Lesser Kestrel relies largely on swarms of locusts, mainly the large gregarious Shistocerca and Locusta species where available, and flying termites. During breeding, as well as in winter, the Lesser Kestrel requires high densities of available prey concentrated in small areas.

Video Lesser Kestrel


copyright: youtube


This species has undergone rapid declines in western Europe, equivalent to c.46% in each decade since 1950, on its wintering grounds in South Africa, equivalent to c.25% in each decade since 1971, and possibly in parts of its Asian range. If these declines are representative of populations in all regions, the total population is likely to have declined rapidly, which qualifies the species as Vulnerable. It is predicted that these declines will continue.
Falco naumanni breeds in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Portugal, Spain, Gibraltar (to UK), France, Italy, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, FYRO Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Palestinian Authority Territories, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Moldova, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia. Birds winter in southern Spain, southern Turkey, Malta and across much of Africa, particularly South Africa.
The world breeding population of the Lesser Kestrel is estimated the world breeding population of the Lesser Kestrel to be 650,000-800,000 pairs. The European population is now estimated at only 15,000-20,000 pairs, and all west Palearctic breeding populations for which data are available have declined during the last thirty years, some dramatically. Population data for Turkey and the former USSR are very sparse.
Since the 1960s populations of Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni throughout the western Palearctic have declined dramatically. This decline may be attributed to a number of factors including restoration and demolition of older buildings (reducing nest-site availability), the urbanisation of formerly open areas (destroying important feeding areas) and intensification of agricultural practices (loss of feeding sites and a reduction in prey availability). Other threats to the Lesser Kestrel include poisoning by pesticides, human persecution and interspecific competition.
Lesser Kestrel status Vulnerable


Mainly migratory. Small numbers resident in south Spain, north-west Africa and southern Turkey; but major winter quarters in Africa south of Sahara. Present then through most of sub-Saharan Africa, avoiding humid areas, south to Cape Province.
Migrates in both autumn and spring on broad fronts, extending from Atlantic into Asia, with numbers at narrow sea-crossings small. Surprisingly, not often seen in autumn, and in Palearctic always in rather low numbers then, but occurs abundantly on leisurely spring passage when conspicuous in large, loose flocks. In autumn probably crosses Mediterranean-Sahara and Middle East in rapid non-stop flights of at least 2400 km and at high altitudes between breeding grounds and northern tropics of Africa. In spring, large diurnal migrations at low altitudes, formerly involving thousands of birds, noted over such widely separated regions as Senegal, Egypt, Iraq, and Kuwait.
Some European and north-west African breeding sites abandoned late July and most by mid-August. Main autumn passage from Europe late August to late September. Spring return begins late January in Kenya, and major northward movement Senegal in third week February. Passage at peak through Mediterranean basin from mid-March to early April, with some continuing into early May; main arrivals in breeding areas mid-February in Morocco, March in Spain and Greece, April in central Europe and much of Russia.
The bulk of the western Palearctic population winters in Africa south of the Sahara, excluding the Congo basin and Cameroon (Louette 1981). However, a proportion of adults winters in southern Spain, southern Turkey and north-west Africa. The number of birds wintering in Spain appears to depend upon the availability of food, which is in turn dependent upon climatic factors. Information on wintering numbers in West Africa is limited, but it is possible that this region holds lower densities than other African winter quarters. In eastern Africa, Lesser Kestrels winter from Ethiopia and possibly Somalia, south to South Africa, with large numbers occurring in the highlands of western and central Kenya and in the less arid parts of eastern Kenya and northern Tanzania. The main wintering areas lie from Zimbabwe south to Botswana and, especially, South Africa.

Distribution map

Lesser Kestrel distribution range map


Author(s): Costantini V., Guaricci et al
Abstract: The Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) is a small col..[more]..
Source: S.I.R.A., 2007

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