How to tell the difference between a kestrel and a sparrowhawk

by Victor

Bird watching is a wonderful hobby that allows us to appreciate the beauty and diversity of nature. Two birds that can be confusing for birders to distinguish are the kestrel and sparrowhawk. These birds of prey are similar in size and have some similar markings, but there are distinct differences that can help you tell them apart. In this article, we will explore how to tell the difference between a kestrel and a sparrowhawk.

Physical Characteristics

The first step to distinguishing between these two birds is to familiarize yourself with their physical characteristics. Kestrels are small to medium-sized birds of prey, measuring between 9 and 13 inches in length and weighing between 4 and 8 ounces. They have a wingspan of around 22 inches. Kestrels have a distinctive brown and white plumage, with a rusty brown back and tail, white underparts with black spots, and a black vertical stripe on their faces. They also have a hooked beak and sharp talons.

Sparrowhawks, on the other hand, are slightly larger, measuring between 11 and 14 inches in length and weighing between 7 and 12 ounces. They have a wingspan of around 24 inches. Sparrowhawks have a blue-grey back and wings, with a white underbelly and distinctive orange barring on their chests. Their faces are also blue-grey, with a yellow eye ring and a hooked beak.

Habitat and Behavior

Another way to tell the difference between kestrels and sparrowhawks is to observe their habitat and behavior. Kestrels are more commonly seen in open country, such as fields, meadows, and moorland. They can often be seen hovering in the air, searching for prey such as small rodents, insects, and birds. They are also known for their ability to hover in one place, using their wings and tail to maintain their position.

Sparrowhawks, on the other hand, are woodland birds and are rarely seen in open country. They prefer to hunt in wooded areas, where they can use their speed and agility to catch small birds, such as finches, tits, and sparrows. Sparrowhawks are known for their fast flight and can often be seen darting through the trees in pursuit of their prey.

Voice

Finally, the calls of kestrels and sparrowhawks can also help you distinguish between these two birds. Kestrels have a distinctive, high-pitched call, which is often described as a “killy killy” sound. Sparrowhawks, on the other hand, have a sharp, high-pitched call, which is often compared to a “kik-kik-kik” or a “kee-kee-kee” sound.

In conclusion, while kestrels and sparrowhawks can be similar in appearance, there are several key differences that can help you tell them apart. By familiarizing yourself with their physical characteristics, habitat and behavior, and calls, you can become more confident in identifying these two fascinating birds of prey. With a little practice, you’ll be able to distinguish between kestrels and sparrowhawks with ease and enjoy the beauty of both birds in their natural habitats.

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