The Greater Kestrel, also known as the Falco rupicoloides or White-eyed Kestrel , is a bird of prey that belongs to the Falconidae family. This family of falcons is a group of diurnal birds of prey that feed on small mammals. The Greater Kestrel’s closest relatives include the Brown Falcon, Laughing Falcon, Red-footed Falcon, Spot-winged Falconet, and Common Kestrel.
The Greater Kestrel is considered as one of the largest kestrels found in eastern and southern Africa. This bird species was first described in 1829 by Scottish surgeon, explorer, and zoologist Sir Andrew Smith, who was then dubbed as the father of zoology in South Africa due to his significant contributions in the field of zoology. One of his most notable contributions is the Illustration of the Zoology of South Africa.
Three subspecies of this bird are distinguished. It includes the following:
Falco rupicoloides rupicoloides – Found in Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.
Falco rupicoloides arthuri – Found in Northern Tanzania and Kenya.
Falco rupicoloides fieldi – Thriving in countries such as Somalia and northern Kenya.
The Greater Kestrel occurs in an extensive range and its large population trend appears to be stable. Hence, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List classified this bird species as Least Concern.
Species: F. rupicoloides
The physical characteristics of a Greater Kestrel
The Greater Kestrel has a pale rufous overall. Its upperparts, including the back and wing covers, are pale rufous with broad black bars. Its rump and tail are pale grey with dark grey bars. Its underparts, including the chest, throat, and upper belly, are rufous with fine black streaks, whereas its underwing covers and vent are plain pale rufous.
The biometrics of an adult Greater Kestrel are as follows:
Length: 34-38 cm
Wingspan: 84 cm
Weight: 178-334 g
Its head and neck are pale rufous with black streaks. The bill is black with a yellow cere and blue-grey base. Its whitish eyes have yellow eye-ring, while its bare legs and feet are yellow in color. Both male and female Greater Kestrels have similar physical characteristics, but females are usually larger than males.
The distribution and habitat of Greater Kestrels
The Greater Kestrel population is abundant in southern Africa, particularly in countries such as Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and South Africa. They are sedentary birds throughout its range, with local movements depending on rainfall conditions.
They frequent various habitats such as semi-arid steppes with scattered trees, open grasslands, and savannas. They are associated with habitats that have acacia trees. These birds can be sighted in altitudes up to 7,000 feet.
The behavior of a Greater Kestrel
The Greater Kestrel is usually found along or with a pair. This bird is usually silent, but it has a repeated, shrill call. It often flies, mainly in light breeze, gliding and flapping from perch to perch, or soaring the skies in search for prey on the ground.
Greater Kestrels build their nests in trees. More often than not, they use the abandoned nests of other birds liked Pied Crow and Cape Crow. However, sometimes, they build their own nests using sticks, spider webs, grasses, and other plant materials in trees, small trees hidden in thorny branches, or poles.
The breeding season in the south takes place from July to April, peaking in September to December. Meanwhile, it occurs all year round in Kenya and Tanzania, peaking between April and July. A female Greater Kestrel lays 3 to 7 eggs, which will be incubated for 22 to 23 days by the female only. The chicks will fledge after 30 to 34 days.
The diet and eating habits of a Greater Kestrel
This bird species hunts for prey from an exposed perch like a rock or tree. Like other kestrel species, it hovers and soars from time to time. Its diet mainly contains invertebrates such as termites, grasshoppers, solifugids, and beetles. It also feeds on lizards, small birds, small mammals, and snakes.
The Greater Kestrel catches the prey on the ground. It has also been observed that it is attracted to fire when it catches its prey. When food sources are abundant, it stacks up food underneath stones or vegetation.
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