lizbrownlee – poet

Poems, animal info, extraordinary women, my books!

K is for Kestrel

This beautiful (captive) European kestrel image was taken by Marcus Peaston on Flikr:

Day 198 - Kestrel

Kestrels are one of the most common birds of prey in the UK, and although they have adapted well to man-made environments, often seen hunting alongside roads, their numbers have declined a lot since the 70s.

This was thought to be mainly due to loss of hunting habitat and therefore prey, but new surveys are also pointing to changes in agricultural practice and use of rodenticides.

They have been included on the amber list of conservation importance.

Kestrels are not very large, only about 32 cm in length, and although they are not celebrated for their beauty, I think their feathers are wonderful, rich, soft brown, speckled with black markings. Their amber eyes, and beaks, are rimmed with yellow.

Kestrels hunt by using their extraordinarily keen eyes from a vantage point – either a high perch or by hovering into the wind.

Their eyes distinguish UV light and the urine of their prey shows clearly in UV – mice and voles leave a trail of urine wherever they go, and the kestrel knows that at the end of the trail of urine will be a small, unsuspecting mammal.

As soon as the trail stops, the kestrel falls with pinpoint accuracy towards the earth, snatching its prey in its strong talons.

On the photo above you can clearly see the notch in the kestrel’s upper beak, known as the tomial tooth, a sort of killing tooth – which it uses to quickly despatch its prey.

Here are two images by Borderslass on Flikr of a kestrel – the first of it diving:


And the second, of it having lifting its killed vole to take to a post to eat:


I have been lucky enough to have seen a kestrel in our garden, and even luckier to have seen the rarer merlin, sitting in our apple tree. It was even smaller than the kestrel, I thought it was a thrush at first.

One of the most wonderful poems about a kestrel is The Windhover (To Christ our Lord) by Gerard Manley-Hopkins. ‘Windhover’ is an archaic term for the kestrel. The poem is full of the wonderful rhythms of the wind-buffeted bird and exquisite imagery. Manley-Hopkins believed that all creatures were the embodiment of God.

I do not believe that, and neither does naturalist, nature photographer, TV presenter and author Chris Packham, but he shares my love of this poem, that epitomises the beauty of the bird, and also the bird itself, and was kind enough to do a reading of the poem for me.

Thank you to Chris Packham. If you have any land, please leave hedgerows in place for small creatures to hide in and get from field to field, try to leave parts of every field unploughed and planted.

Also, if you have a roadside property, leave your boundaries uncut, plant wildflowers instead of having mown lawn!

Use rat and mouse poison carefully and sparingly – if you have a rodent problem, a kestrel or other bird of prey will help you with that, without you having to use chemicals.

Here is my more modest Kestrel poem:




Though the vole

hides its swift,

small breaths

under the

grasses hollow,


the windhover

has it spied;

its killing tooth

is undivined

by the vole

that left its

tell-tale signs

to follow,


and now

right through

it’s pinned;

taken quick

as the shadow



its warm and

scarlet soul

lifted in

the wind.


Kestrel Poem © Liz Brownlee

The Windhover by Gerard Manley-Hopkins

Information from RSPB, Birds of Britain.

If you would like to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click here.

If you’d like to read about or buy my book, Animal Magic, full of animal poems and fascinating facts, click here.


  1. Thanks for visiting my blog, and I’m delighted to see yours. I like how you the animals you write about in with poetry and environmentalism.


  2. quoe2

    Nice, Liz! Thanks for visiting me at News From Nowhere !


  3. That was lovely. Sharing with a friend.


  4. Lovely information regarding this wonderful bird .. and a sweet poem..

    All the Best to you for rest of the challenge


  5. Lovely as always Liz


  6. Is it blasphemy to say I prefer your poem? We see kestrels here – they hunt the little lizards and you have to be quick to catch one of those!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ann

    We used to have lots of kestrels along our country lane but have seen fewer in past few years. I love the name windhover as it is so evocative of the bird’s distinctive flight. Lovely poem, too, Liz.


  8. I always learn something new from your posts. I didn’t know about the UV thing, or the killing tooth – how cool!

    I must say, though, that I agree with Manley-Hopkins. 715-218-1373

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  9. Thanks for the facts. I’m not sure if what we have here are merlins or American kestrals. Whichever, they are back for spring. They are fierce and they are loud. What a pleasure it was to read your poem!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Karyn! American Kestrels are slightly brighter than ours, and have a stripe on their faces. Otherwise look very similar.


  10. Great facts and I think great ideas to keep the birds going-they need mice and voles. I had no idea their urine could be seen under UV light and that the kestrel can see this. They are one of my favourite birds of prey because they are tiny and so pretty.


  11. lundygirl

    We enjoy spotting these amazing birds when we drive to my mum’s house.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s incredible that they can keep their heads so still to keep their eyes on the ground, and yet also be flying into the wind!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. You find some phenomenal pics to work with! Love the A to Z animal theme. “Windhover” and “the killing tooth” and “scarlet soul”–mmmm. Glad my good friend (and A to Z buddy) Antonia Malvino pointed you out to me and suggested I take a look here. 🙂


    • Hello, so pleased to meet you, will visit you soon! Might have to do it on my other computer as I think you are Blogger and Blogger doesn’t like me on this computer.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Aha, you are WordPress. Great.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. That was such an interesting read. I’ve often wondered how birds of prey can see their prey and drop out of the sky to scoop them up. Wow.


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