Kestrel looking at camera

Kestrel population trends

Kestrels are relatively short-lived birds.

High mortality rate

Mortality among the young birds is high - only around 20 per cent survive two years to breeding age. Those that do, will on average live for a further two and a half years, while a very few can survive well into their teens. 

Starvation is the biggest cause of death, especially of juveniles during their first autumn and winter. Collisions and accidents, shooting, poisoning and disease are other important causes of mortality.

Kestrel numbers fluctuate, and are closely linked to vole numbers. The UK population was estimated at 52,000 breeding pairs for the 1988-91 Breeding Bird Atlas. 

kestrel perching on branch

A history of persecution

Like many other birds of prey, kestrels were persecuted heavily in the late 19th and early 20th century by gamekeepers, even though they rarely take game bird chicks. Reduced persecution during the Second World War allowed kestrel numbers to recover. They suffered a serious decline in late 1950s and in 1960s from effects of persistent organochlorine pesticides such as DDT and dieldrin, particularly in eastern England. 

Although kestrels recovered following the withdrawal of these pesticides, the numbers started to decline again in 1980s. Kestrel numbers in England have fluctuated since the mid-1980s with no evidence of any long-term decline. Kestrel numbers in Scotland have declined markedly since the mid 1990s, the cause of which is unknown.  

The kestrel is included on the Amber List of Birds of Conservation Concern due to the moderate decline of the UK breeding population and its adverse conservation status Europe-wide. The cause of the recent decline since 2005 has not been identified.

Kestrel Falco tinnunculus, female perched on carved stone next to gargoyle chimera, on Marburg castle walls, Marburg city, Hesse, Germany