Kestrels are birds of prey that are widely distributed throughout the world, found on every continent except Antarctica. They are small to medium-sized birds that are known for their acrobatic flight, distinctive markings, and hunting prowess. However, many people are confused about whether kestrels are hawks or falcons. In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences between hawks and falcons, and where kestrels fit into this classification.
Hawks and falcons are both members of the family Accipitridae, which includes all the diurnal birds of prey. They share many characteristics, including sharp talons, hooked beaks, and excellent eyesight. However, there are some key differences between these two groups of birds.
Hawks are generally larger and more robust than falcons. They have broad wings and long tails, which allow them to soar for extended periods of time. Hawks are ambush predators, relying on stealth and surprise to catch their prey. They are known for their powerful legs and talons, which enable them to take down large prey such as rabbits, squirrels, and even other birds.
Falcons, on the other hand, are smaller and more agile than hawks. They have long, pointed wings and short tails, which allow them to fly at high speeds and make sudden turns. Falcons are aerial predators, hunting their prey in flight. They are known for their ability to dive at incredible speeds, reaching up to 200 mph in some cases. Falcons typically hunt smaller prey such as birds, insects, and rodents.
So where do kestrels fit into this classification? Kestrels are actually a type of falcon, specifically a “true” falcon in the genus Falco. They are the smallest falcon found in North America and are known for their distinctive markings, which include a rust-colored back and a black band on their tails. Kestrels are found in a wide range of habitats, from open fields and grasslands to urban areas and deserts. They feed primarily on small rodents such as mice and voles, but they will also eat insects, birds, and other small animals.
One of the key characteristics that distinguishes kestrels from other falcons is their hunting style. While most falcons hunt in flight, kestrels are known for their ability to hover in mid-air, scanning the ground below for prey. This hovering behavior is facilitated by their long, narrow wings and light body weight, which allow them to stay in one place for extended periods of time. Once a kestrel spots its prey, it will swoop down in a rapid, horizontal flight to make the catch.
In conclusion, while hawks and falcons share many similarities, kestrels are specifically a type of falcon, and more specifically a true falcon. They are the smallest falcon found in North America and are known for their acrobatic flight, distinctive markings, and unique hunting style. Understanding the differences between these groups of birds can help bird enthusiasts appreciate the diversity and complexity of the natural world.