Learn about native animals

Australian Kestrel

Can I see invisible things?

I sure can! Well, I can see things that are invisible to humans that is. I have specially adapted eyes which enable me to see ultraviolet light. This helps me to find my prey by allowing me to see scent and urine trails, invisible to the human eye.

Who am I?

They call me the Australian kestrel and I’m also known as the nankeen kestrel (Falco cenchroides). Although I am called a kestrel, I am in the Falco Genus so rightly part of the falcon family. I am closely related to the common and spotted kestrel of Java.

I’m Australia’s smallest raptor, but don’t let my cute and fluffy appearance fool you, I’m a fierce and clever hunter.

I don’t need to use speed to catch my prey. I’m well known for my amazing hovering skills and I have mastered a distinctive technique, where I face the wind and keep my head perfectly still in mid-air. This allows me to keep my prey in sight while I wait for my time to dive. Watch me hovering in this video.

Photo: Craig Greer

What do I look like?

I have a beautiful mix of pale and warm coloured feathers and a distinctive small and slim build. My appearance is not always the same and I can look quite scruffy.

My feathers are a reddish-brown with some dark streaks on my back then an off-white, creamy colour with black streaks on my breast and tummy. I have dark greyish-brown tips on my wings and tail and a mix of colourful markings on my head.

I have yellow rings around my brown eyes and yellow surrounding my beak and covering my feet.

Females usually have more defined markings and have more reddish-brown feathers than the males who tend to have a more grayish crown and tail. Females are also larger than males.

I grow to be around 40-55 centimeters in length with a wingspan of 66 to 78 centimeters. I’m the smallest falcon in Australia, around the same size as a pigeon.

Photo: Craig Greer

What do I like to eat?

Mice are one of my favourite foods, as are other small mammals, birds, lizards and insects. I can eat small snacks while flying but will take larger prey back to my perch.

I spot my prey either from a perch or while hovering over grassland or crops. I capture my prey by diving headfirst and then veering up at the last second to grasp it with my feet.

What do I sound like?

I communicate using my loud shrill call, which sounds a bit like ‘kee, kee, kee’. Listen to my call.

What are my breeding habits?

My breeding season is around spring from August to December. I don’t need a fancy nest, just a high place away from land predators.

My nesting sites are varied and can be anything from tree hollows, abandoned nests of other birds, cliffs and ledges of buildings.

I stick together with my mate and will return to the same nest site or area year after year. Some of us will move north during cooler months or roam in search of food but we don’t generally migrate.

I lay anywhere from 3 to 7 eggs (average is about 4) and the female incubates the eggs which take 26 to 28 days to hatch, while the male provides the food.

Nesting usually occurs only once a year. When the young are close to fledging, the female also leaves the nest to hunt for food. Watch the Lot Fourteen mum Beryl bringing food to her young.

What can you do to help?

Raptors such as us are vital to Adelaide because we are a sign of a healthy ecosystem, and we feed on pests like starlings and rats.

My conservation status in South Australia and the rest of Australia is secure.

As I feed on a wide range of small prey including insects like grasshoppers, please be mindful of pesticide use that may affect my food supplies.

Please be aware that the use of rat poison can kill birds like me. If you choose to use poison to control rats and mice, please look into bird-friendly rodent control to ensure you are not poisoning me along with your unwanted pests.