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Lesser Kestrel
Falco naumanni

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Declining.

Other Names: Locust Hawk.

Falco naumanni
click to enlarge
Distribution: Afrotropical/Indomalayan/Palearctic. Breeds between 30º to 55ºN from the Iberian Peninsula and northern Africa through the Middle East and Central Asia to northern MONGOLIA, southwestern SIBERIA, and northeastern CHINA; winters mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, but also a small number of adults winter in the southern part of the breeding range from the Iberian Peninsula to TURKEY, AZERBAIJAN, INDIA, MYANMAR, and southern CHINA. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic. more....

Taxonomy: The Lesser Kestrel is a sister species of the Common Kestrel (F. tinnunculus), based on a mitochondrial cytochrome b analysis by (2000, 2004). In addition, Wink and Sauer-Gürth (op cit.) and Wink et al. (2004) found apparent differentiation in Lesser Ketrels, with distinct haplotypes from SW Europe differing from those in Asia. One bird from Italy and two from Israel clustered with Asian Lesser Kestrels, indicating some degree of haplotype mixing. Additional haplotypes were identified in kestrels wintering in South Africa, but their breeding range (most likely Asia Minor) is still unknown, although one bird studied in South Africa casme from the western Mediterranean breeding population. Wink et al. (op cit.) did not suggest that the level of the haplotype differences they found is sufficiently significant to merit the recognition of different subspecies. In another study, also based on the molecular sequences of the cytochrome b gene, Groombridge et al. (2002) found no within-species divergence in the Lesser Kestrel populations sampled.

Movements: Complete long distance, trans-equatorial migrant (Bildstein 2006), with most of the global population wintering in Madagascar and eastern and southern Africa, arriving in late October-early November and departing in April. Most birds breeding in western Europe winter in Africa south of the Sahara, excluding the Congo basin and Cameroon (Louette 1981), although some individuals remain in Spain (Negro et al. 1991), southern Turkey (Cade 1982), Israel (Shirihai 1996), and northern Africa in December-January. Some of these birds may be early migrants, depending on climatic conditions and food availability (Bergier 1987, Thévenot et al. 2003, Isenmann et al. 2005). There has been disagreement as to whether the East Asian breeding population winters in Africa (Cramp and Simmons 1980, Naoroji 2006), or on the Indian subcontinent (Inskipp and Inskipp 1991), but there are now more data to support the former idea. In fact, based on their confirmation of distinct haplotypes in the species, Wink et al. (2004) recently confirmed that birds sampled in South Africa came from Asian, but not Mediterranean breeding populations. It is most likely that birds from western European breeding areas winter in in West Africa. Heim de Balsac and Mayaud (1962) suspected that this species undergoes loop migration, using more western routes during the spring and eastern routes in autumn. more....

Habitat and Habits: Occurs in open areas in both the breeding and wintering ranges, including open semidesert and mountain steppe landscapes with ravines and cliffs up to 500 m. Forages over open ground near nesting cliffs or other nest sites. On its winter range, it occurs in semi-arid grasslands ("sweet grassveld" or "grassy karoo") of southern Africa, avoiding wooded areas, but may forage in agricultural fields, predominantly cereal crops (McCann 1997). Much more gregarious than the Common Kestrel, occurring in large flocks in migration and often when foraging. In winter, it occupies large, traditional roosts in tall trees (mostly eucalyptus or other alien species) in urban areas with Red-footed and Amur Falcons, and these flocks may include tens of thousands of birds (Siegfried and Skead 1971, Colahan 1993). Also perches swallow-like on telephone wires. more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Hunts in small flocks, preying mostly on insects (especially orthopterans and solifugids), but also takes a few small vertebrates, including birds, reptiles, rodents, and fish, and occasionally crabs and earthworms. Hunts from exposed man-made perches, including utility wires and telephone poles, on the wing 10-15 m high, and also hovers, although not as often as the Common Kestrel. In Africa, most prey is captured on the wing, while hovering is the principal method of finding and capturing prey in Europe (Pilard 2005). Birds in Africa also use cattle and sheep as "beaters" to flush crickets, follow grass fires, and are often attracted to insect swarms, including termites, locusts, grasshopper, crickets, mole crickets, and large beetles (McCann 1994). On the wintering range, these falcons may take insects attracted to city street lights. more....

Breeding: Breeds colonially, often in small colonies of 10-20 pairs in the crevices and holes in cliffs, rock quarries, in the walls of old churches, barns, or other buildings, in old corvid nests, or in nest boxes. Sometimes nests with Common Kestrels or Jackdaws in mixed-species colonies. Clutch size is usually 3-5 eggs, but ranges from 2-8 eggs (Biber 1994). The eggs are white with dense spots of yellowish-brown or brick red, resembling those of other kestrel species. The male and female share incubation and feeding the young, but the male obtains all the prey during the early nesting stages. The breeding season coincides with the maximum emergence of insect populations. The incubation period is about 28 days, and the nestling period is 26-28 days.more....

Conservation: This species has suffered dramatic declines in many parts of its Palearctic breeding range and has disappeared from several countries where it formerly bred. In western Europe, declines equivalent to ca. 46% in each decade since 1950 have occurred, although there are signs that the population has stabilized on the Iberian Peninsula, and on the wintering grounds in South Africa, there have been declines equivalent to 25% in each decade since 1971 (BirdLife International 2004). In the breeding range, problems include demoliton of older buildings where the birds nested, loss of habitat through afforestation, intensification of agriculture, and urbanization, pesticide poisoning, human persecution, and interspecific competition (Biber 1996). The principal threats in South Africa are the loss of grassland habitat to overgrazing and pesticide effects, particularly when the birds are attracted to outbreaks of locusts or crickets, which are sprayed by farmers (Pepler 2000). Downlisted from "Vulnerable" to species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International. more....

Population Estimates: The world population of Lesser Kestrels was estimated by Cade (1982) to be between 650,000 and 800,000, but Biber (1990) regarded this as an extreme overestimate, putting the western European population at only 15,000 pairs, or (later) from 10,000-17,000 pairs (Biber 1994). BirdLife International/European Bird Census Council (2000) gave an estimate of 12,000 to 18,000 for Europe, but this was soon revised upward to 25,000 to 42,000 breeding pairs (BirdLife International 2004). Taking into consideration the rest of the Palearctic range of the species, Fishpool (1997) estimated a global population of 120,000 birds. More recently, the world population was estimated at 50,000-60,000 individuals(Pilard 2005). more....

Important References: 
Biber, J.-P. (compiler). 1996. International Action Plan for the Lesser
  Kestrel (Falco naumanni). Pp. 191-203 in B. Heredia, L. Rose, and M. Painter
  (eds.), Globally threatened birds of Europe. Council of Europe, Strasbourg,
BirdLife International/European Bird Census Council. 2000. European bird
  populations: estimates and trends. BirdLife Conservation Series no. 10.
  BirdLife International,Cambridge, UK.
BirdLife International. 2000. Threatened birds of the world. Lynx
  Edicions, Barcelona, Spain, and BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
Brown, L.H., E.K. Urban, and K. Newman. 1982. The birds of Africa. Vol. 1.
  Academic Press, London.
Cade, T.J. 1982. Falcons of the world. Cornell University Press, Ithaca,
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Gonzalez,J.L., and M. Merino (eds.). 1990. [The Lesser Kestrel Falco
in the Iberian Peninsula: status, problems and biological
  aspects]. ICONA, Madrid, Spain. (In Spanish)
McCann, K. 1997. Lesser Kestrel. Pp. 268-269 in J.A. Harrison et al.
  (eds.), The atlas of South African birds. Volume 1: Non-passerines. BirdLife
  South Africa and Avian Demography Unit, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Negro, J.J. 1997. Falco naumanni Lesser Kestrel. BWP Update 1(1):49-56.
Orta, J. 1994. Lesser Kestrel. P. 259 in del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, and J.
  Sargatal (eds). Handbook of birds of the world. Vol. 2. New World vultures
  to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Pepler, D. 1996. Management of Lesser Kestrels Falco naumanni
  overwintering in Africa. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.
Pepler, D. 2000. Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni. Pp. 95-97 in K.N. Barnes
  (ed.), The Eskom Red Data Book of birds of South Africa, Lesotho and
  Swaziland. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.
Zollinger, R., and W. Hagemeijer. 1994. The Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni:
  review of the status of a globally threatened species. Pp. 219-228 in B.-U.
  Meyburg and R.D. Chancellor (eds.), Raptor conservation today. World Working
  Group on Birds of Prey, Berlin, Germany.

Current Research: The "Migrating Kestrel Project" (MKP) counted a total of 88,976 roosting Lesser Kestrels in South Africa during the 2006-07 season. Roost counts were, on average, 19% lower than the ones made in 2005-06, suggesting that either large numbers of kestrels roosted in other countries this season, or that the population is still struggling to recover from the drastic drop in numbers in the 1990s. The good news was that the count exceeded BirdLife International's estimate of 50,000-60,000 kestrels roosting in South Africa. With at least 40,000 birds roosting in West Africa, the global population may be well above the current BirdLife estimate of 100,000 and may be closer to 200,000. The MKP did not count 14 known roosts in 2006-07 which contained at least 20,000 individuals when counted in 2005-06, and there were many other smaller sites and undocumented rural roosts that were not included. For further information on this project, contact Anthony van Zyl at antman@iafrica.com.

Sites of Interest:
Lesser Kestrel references
A 15-page list of citations.
Lesser Kestrel Research Group
A listserver "for study and conservation of the internationally endangered Lesser Kestrel."
Red Data Book: Threatened Birds of Asia
Very comprehensive source of information about the status of the species in Asia to 2000.
Contains original information and nice photos.
Lesser Kestrel photos.
Lesser Kestrel in Greece
A species account by the Hellenic Ornithological Society.
Migrating Birds Know no Boundaries
Detailed information on this species in Israel.
BirdLife International
Details on status and conservation needs.
Species account, with an emphasis on European populations.

Caldarella, Matteo
Corso, Andrea
Dorogi, Sándor
Gombobaatar, Sundev
Gurung, Surya
Ma, Ming
Naoroji, Rishad K.
Rodríguez, Airam
Rondeau, Guy
Tapia, Luis
van Zyl, Anthony
Walter, Hartmut

Last modified: 5/10/2013

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 26 Oct. 2021

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