Nankeen Kestrel

Falco cenchroides

Nankeen Kestrel. Photo: John Spiers

Nankeen Kestrels are the best known small raptor in Australia. Masters of the wind they are often observed hovering over open fields, or along cliff or dune edges particularly near the coast.

Nankeen Kestrels live mainly on arthropods such as insects, centipedes and spiders but also take small mammals, reptiles and birds.

Kestrels are masters of hovering. Photo: John Spiers

Breeding is concentrated in the spring months of August to December. Nests may be found in a variety of sites all inaccessible to ground predators – mine shafts, tree hollows, old nests of other birds, and on cliffs and ledges including ledges on buildings. The nests are a simple depression or scrape with clutches usually consisting of 3-5 eggs. Incubation is apparently solely by the female.






The Nankeen Kestrel is the smallest Australian raptor. Males and females are similar in appearance but females are about 15% larger than males. This difference varies with the season. Another common name, Australian Kestrel, refers to the red-brown colour of the nape, back and upper primary coverts (Nankeen is a cloth formerly imported from Nanking in China). Females have a rufous head and rump, whereas males usually have a grey head and rump. In both sexes the upperparts have black streaks and spots, the underparts and underwings are pale off-white with fine darker streaks, and the cere, eye-ring and feet are yellow. The black sub-terminal band of the undertail distinguishes the kestrel from other hovering birds of prey. The eyes are brown. Juveniles are like females, but the upperparts are more streaked, the tail has more and narrower bars, and the cere and eye-ring are pale grey.

Where to find it

Australian Falcons are to be found throughout Australia. They favour lightly wooded and open areas including beaches where their mode of foraging by quartering, hovering on dropping onto their prey, frequently in stages, is possible. They tend to be resident, or only partially migratory.

Only the nominate race is found in South Australia (F. c. cenchroides).