The Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) is a migratory falcon that visits the subcontinent in winter; though the bird is resident in the Himalayas and to a smaller extent in the Western Ghats.
My first sighting was of a female, beyond the hills of Ooty, as she hovered along the slopes trying to locate her prey. Since then, every year I have had at least one close encounter with this fascinating falcon, the closest being in March 2009 when a female allowed me to stay within a few metres for about half an hour.
|The female, identified by the overall barring and black moustachial stripes. As in the case of many raptors, females are larger than males|
Identifying the Common Kestrel is simple as the bird has unique features. Compared with the similar-looking Lesser Kestrel, this bird has two moustachial drop stripes running down from the eyes and, as the name suggests, it is larger. The male has a blue-grey head and is less heavily barred than the female. The yellow ring around the large eyes make the bird appear quite handsome.
|The handsome male is distinguishable by the grey head and tail feathers and dark chestnut upperparts speckled with black|
While hunting the kestrel spreads the tail like a Black Kite and flaps its wings, hovering continuously in one spot, appearing to be almost stationary as it tries to locate its prey in grasslands and scrublands. Having zoned in on a quarry, this little raptor then swoops down upon it.
|A kestrel hovers as it scans the ground for prey|
The kestrel’s prey includes rodents, insects, reptiles, amphibians and smaller birds. Though it is classified as LC (Least Concern) on the IUCN Red List, its range may be threatened due to extensive habitat loss as grasslands and scrublands are converted to residential areas and for agriculture.