The Lesser Kestrel of the Karoo

Each year thousands of Lesser Kestrels (Falco naumanni) migrate to Southern Africa, and the Karoo, during the summer months.  This article gives a brief overview of the description, behaviour and conservation status of these small falcons.  Lesser Kestrels come from the North (Russia, Siberia and Kazakhstan) and seek the warmth of Southern Africa when their breeding season is over.

Description and behaviour

The lesser kestrel can be described as small, with long pointed wings and a long tail marked with a black band at the end. They are inconspicuous raptors, not much larger than rock pigeons.   Males and females are distinguishable by colouring.  The females have buff, spotted markings, whilst their belly is pale.  The males have blue-grey feathers on the crown, rump, neck and tail and chestnut-coloured body feathers. Both males and females have white undersides to their wings, with black tips. The eye ring is bright yellow and the feet are yellow to orange.

Travelling in loose flocks of hundreds of birds, this sociable species will also roost together in trees, but migrate singly or in flocks of less than 50, at altitudes of around 2,000 metres. Once they arrive safely in South Africa, the kestrels moult all their feathers in symmetry, set by set. You’ll find them under the trees where they roost, worn to a nub after the long flight from the north.  These kestrels are quite apt at hunting and dives almost silently from a perch or from mid-air and pounces on prey with their claws, before swiftly killing its prey with a bite to the back of the head.

Conservation of the Lesser Kestrel

The decline of Lesser Kestrel was first brought to the attention of the raptor world in the early 1990s. Information available showed a decline of around 46% since the 1950s in their breeding grounds and of around 25% in their wintering areas.  The main cause of the decline of seemed to be habitat loss and degradation as a result of agricultural intensification, afforestation and urbanisation.  The breeding sites of the lesser kestrels are unfortunately not protected by law.  Research and management of the species and its habitat have been carried out in several countries.  Interventions mostly focussed on the construction of artificial nests, and research into factors limiting the kestrel’s survival and habitat management.



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