Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
Collective noun: Flight, hover or soar
Family: Falconidae – Falcons
Size: Length 32-35cm, wingspan 71-80cm, weight 150-250g
Average lifespan: 4 years
Conservation status: Amber
Description: This medium-sized falcon is brown in colour with darker spots. The males are slightly smaller than the females and have a grey-blue head. Kestrels have pointed wings and a long tail which is fanned out when they are hovering. Their ability to hover, apparently ‘hanging’ in the air, is a distinguishing behaviour.
Habitat: Often seen hovering alongside woodlands or over roadside verges, kestrels can be seen in most places with open grassy areas and trees to perch high up in to watch for their prey.
Diet: Kestrels are carnivorous, feeding on small mammals such as voles, mice and shrews as well as birds and invertebrates.
Breeding: Kestrels often return to the same nests year after year and begin re-establishing their territories from February. They do not build their own nests, usually favouring holes in trees or nest boxes, but will also nest on rock ledges, in old buildings or abandoned crows’ nests.
If conditions are favourable i.e., there is sufficient food available, the female will lay four or five eggs which she incubates for approximately four weeks whilst the male provides food for her and subsequently the chicks. The female rarely leaves the chicks for food unless in extreme circumstances.
Interesting Fact: The name “kestrel” is derived from the French crécerelle which is diminutive for crécelle which in English is ratchet, this also referred to a bell used by lepers.
Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
Collective noun: clique or crown
Family: Alcedinidae – Kingfishers
Size: Length 15-17cm, wingspan 25cm, weight 35-45g
Average lifespan: 2 years
Conservation Status: Amber
Description: Stunning little bird with iridescent blue and orange plumage and a long, black bill (the female is distinguishable by the red lower part to her bill)
Habitat: Usually found by still or slow flowing water, riverside woodland, grasslands, marshes. Often seen perched on a low branch over the water watching for fish.
Diet: Small fish up to 7cm long and aquatic invertebrates
Breeding: After forming a pair in late winter the birds both work together to dig out a narrow burrow in a soft, vertical riverbank where the female will lay her eggs in the spring. They often have two broods during a breeding season with about 6 eggs in each brood. The male will bring fish to the female whilst she is incubating the eggs and then both parents will feed the young.
Interesting Fact: In order to survive a kingfisher must eat its own bodyweight in fish every day!
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)
Collective noun: Volery (aviary)
Family: Aegithalidae – Long-tailed tits
Size: Length 14cm, wingspan 18cm, weight 7-10g
Average lifespan: 2 years
Conservation status: Green
Description: Long-tailed tits are tiny, fluffy birds with dark wings and are a pale pink coloured breast. They have a stubby black beak and, of course, a very long, narrow, black tail which is longer than its body.
Habitat: Long-tailed tits can be found across most of the UK in a variety of habitats where there is adequate tree cover. They are very social birds, usually seen in small flocks and are known to huddle up together at night, especially in winter, to keep warm.
Diet: Long-tailed tits mainly eat insects but will occasionally eat seeds in winter when insects are scarce.
Breeding: Using moss and lichen woven together with spiderweb silk, the male and female work together to build their nest which can take up to three weeks. They usually nest in the fork of tree branches or in a bush and the is fully enclosed with a small opening and a thick lining of feathers.
The female lays 8-12 eggs, sometimes up to 15! The eggs are incubated for three weeks. The spiderweb silk enables to nest to stretch as the large brood begin to hatch and grow. These little birds are often described as altruistic due to their helpful behaviour in the case of a failed nest when the adults will go on to help feed the young of another pair.
Interesting Fact: John Clare wrote a poem in which Long-tailed tits were called “Bumbarrels”, a reference to their barrel-shaped nests:
‘And coy bumbarrels twenty in a drove
Flit down the hedgerow in the frozen plain
And hang on little twigs and start again’