The small Falcons known as Kestrels form a group of nearly twenty species and are found with limited exception over the entire globe. They have the tarsus decidedly longer than the middle toe, and the sexes very different in coloration. The European Kestrel, or Windhover (F. Tinnunculus), one of the commonest and best known of British birds, is from twelve and one half to fifteen inches long, the male lead-gray in color above, with the sides, under tail-coverts, and thighs light yellowish rufous, with narrow longitudinal streaks of black, while the female is light rufous or cinnamon above, spotted and barred with dark brown, the lower parts being similar to but paler than in the male. The bill is blue and the cere and feet yellow. The Kestrel gets its name of “Windhover” from its habit of stopping suddenly in its flight and remaining motionless suspended in mid-air on its rapidly beating wings, while it gazes intently at the ground. If it is correct in detecting its prey, it drops on it like a flash, but otherwise passes on, to repeat the process at frequent intervals.
It feeds largely on mice, occasionally on birds, and when opportunity presents on frogs, lizards, moles, and various insects. According to Seebohm, the Kestrel breeds in almost every part of the Palaearctic region, being common up to latitude 6o° north, but farther north it becomes rapidly rarer, and north of the Arctic Circle it is only occasionally met with, while its presence in North America is American Sparrow Hawk purely accidental. The nesting site is rather varied. It has perhaps a partiality for towers and lofty ruins, where it nests in company with Doves, Starlings, and Jackdaws, but it also nests in holes in rocks, hollow trees, and the abandoned nests of Crows or Magpies. The eggs are usually six in number, but range from four to seven. They have a reddish white ground on which is spread numerous blotches of a dull red. The Kestrel is an easy bird to tame, making a more affectionate and docile pet than most Hawks. Hudson in his “British Birds” gives an entertaining account of one owned by some friends. It was allowed full freedom and usually departed in early morning and returned in the evening, flying into the house and alighting on a statue or large picture frame. It was always present at dinner, sitting on the shoulder of one or the other of its owners, from whose hands it received bits of meat. It suddenly, however, developed extraordinary fits of ill temper, during which it would violently attack any one in the room, inflicting quite severe injuries.