Where Do Kestrels Nest In the UK?

Kestrels are one of the most popular birds of prey in the UK. It is always a joy to see one of these brightly-coloured hunters swooping past on a nature walk or that unmistakable sight of them hovering in the air. The fact that they aren’t too hard to spot and their “cuter” look makes them a great starting point for teaching kids about UK raptors. You may also be lucky enough to see young birds establishing new territories on your local patch? But where did they come from? Where do Kestrels nest and is there any way of attracting them to nest in your garden?

Kestrels are found in different habitats in the UK countryside, from cliffs to more urban areas, and have adapted their nesting options accordingly. The Eurasian Kestrel doesn’t make their own nest but instead use abandoned sites where possible, including a cavity nest or one on a ledge or in a tree. Typically, you will find Kestrels nesting in the countryside in established territories.

But there are other fascinating facts about Kestrels in the UK which may surprise you, so continue reading to learn more about this beautiful bird and its nesting habits.

All birds need to find a suitable spot to lay their eggs and raise their young – whether that means a meticulously formed nest of gathered material or a basic depression on the ground. The same is true for our raptors and the Eurasian Kestrel has one of the most diverse ranges of nest types in this group of birds.

Kestrels are found in different habitats in the UK countryside, from cliffs to more urban areas, and have adapted their nesting options accordingly. This strategy, along with other behaviours in the breeding season, helps make this species so successful. As you will see below, many of these traits are also shared with their American cousin.

Kestrels Are Advantageous And Take Over A Range Of Old Nesting Sites

Eurasian Kestrels don’t make their own nest but instead use abandoned sites where possible. Nest building takes a lot of time and energy that could be better spent hunting for food. So, if there is an old nest somewhere in a new territory, it makes sense to claim it. This could be a cavity nest, one on a ledge, or a tree. For example, an old crow’s nest close to a good feeding area could be a prime location for a young Kestrel family. Established pairs can return to this nest site if it remains available and suitable for their needs.

Typically, you will find Kestrels nesting in the countryside in established territories. This could be in trees close to open land where there is a steady supply of small mammals. They can easily hunt mice and voles and take them back to a secure perch to eat.

However, many find they can hunt successfully on small mammals in coastal areas. You may get pairs of Peregrine Falcons and Kestrels living close by as they hunt different prey. Here, the Kestrel will utilise disused nests on ledges rather than in trees.

Kestrels are also the only UK raptor to use holes in trees. The use of holes makes a lot of sense for a small raptor. Large birds of prey like Goshawks and Golden Eagles don’t have as much to worry about when it comes to predations because of their size and defensive nature. But, a small Kestrel chick could become prey if unprotected. So an enclosed space with a small entrance – such as those old tree nests – are ideal.

Kestrels may also use holes in abandoned buildings. Farmland is an excellent place to see Kestrels as they can hover over the land and prey upon small mammals. Old farm buildings with holes in the walls or roofs could be a much more enticing nest site than an old nest in a tree. The birds may have more space and protection from foul weather or predators.

As long as the building remains functional, it could become a regular nesting site. Similar nesting sites may be found in old buildings in villages or the outskirts of towns. A church in a state of disrepair could be an excellent sanctuary for a pair of Kestrels.

How Do Kestrel Nesting Habits Compare With Other UK Birds Of Prey?

We are lucky enough to have a wide range of different species of raptors in the UK, all with their own niches and habits. However, our other species, such as other hawks, falcons, and harriers, don’t have the same habits. A lot of larger birds will make their own nests on ledges or in trees instead of taking over an old one. Some prefer to make their nests on the ground.

The Merlin does this, as do both the Hen and Marsh Harrier. The Hobby is the most similar in behaviour to the Kestrel, as it too will use old nests. But, they don’t tend to use holes. Instead, the use of holes is more familiar with owl species.

Other Important Facts About The Kestrel Breeding Season

The breeding season for Eurasian Kestrels is stated as being from April to May. However, the process is on their minds a lot earlier than that. In February, the birds will start to re-establish their territories and their pair bonds. The male and female birds will spend much of the winter apart and come back together for the spring to renew their partnership.

While monogamous and able to form strong relationships, the male still needs to put in enough effort to keep the female keen. There is a courtship ritual and time spent looking at possible nest sites. They like to use previously successful sites, where available, but will also look at other potential options.

The pair don’t tend to mate and lay their eggs until the end of April, when the weather is better and food is more abundant. Nesting attempts are dependent on food supplies, so a lousy spring could lead to failures. Some birds will wait until early May to try and combat this.

The female will then lay between 3 and 6 eggs in the nest, typically in two-day intervals, and remain on the nest during this time for incubation. She will stay on the nest for around six weeks – 4 weeks to incubate the eggs and two weeks while brooding the chicks – and will choose to remain with the chicks while they are still vulnerable. This means that the responsibility of finding food falls on the male. He needs to work hard to feed his young, his mate, and himself.

After around four weeks in the nest, the chicks will start the fledging process and move around from the nest. They will explore the area and learn from their parents while still being fed and roosting in the nest. After a month as fledglings, they will need to start fending for themselves and will soon leave to form new territories.

This could overlap with that of their parents and other siblings as there is little aggression in the family. The young aren’t as competitive as those of other raptors and may spend a lot of time together on leaving the nest.

Kestrel Territories Are Smaller Than You Might Expect

Often, birds of prey in the UK have large ranges where they search for food, pair up with a mate, and raise their young. Many will return to the same nest site to breed again. This can lead to some fierce-looking confrontations in the air as parents chase out juveniles. Those young birds then need to leave the area and find their own territory.

This isn’t so difficult for Eurasian Kestrels as they are more tolerant of other pairs in their area. Hunting territories can overlap, which is why it isn’t uncommon to see more than one pair in your area. Some home ranges are as small as 1km square, but they could be as big as 10 km square. The size depends on the availability of food nearby – the closer to home, the less energy exerted – and the number of other pairs in the area.

Do American Kestrels Act The Same Way As Eurasian Kestrels?

When we talk about Kestrels in this country, we mean the Eurasian species. However, there is another species over in America. The American Kestral is a similar bird in a lot of ways. It thrives in similar habitats, feeding on small mammals, and is around the same size. The main difference is that the male has much stronger markings. In addition, there is the same sexual dimorphism in the colouration, with the blue cap and redder tones on the male’s plumage and the female’s brown feathers. But, the black markings and the saturation of colour are a little more pronounced.

The nesting habits of rural American Kestrels are very similar to those in the UK. You don’t see as many coastal birds, given the vast landlocked regions of most states, but they will nest on ledges where possible. They will also take over available old nests but prefer to use cavities. Abandoned corvid or Red-Tailed Hawk nests are great if there is enough cover.

Otherwise, old woodpecker nests are perfect. The wide range of this bird from the South-western states to the Eastern Seaboard means that you see nests in some interesting places. For example, an old cavity nest in a prickly cactus provides some great additional protection.

This preference for cavities and holes over open nesting sites also helps birds living in more urban areas. There are populations of American Kestrels alongside other raptors in big cities like New York. While the Peregrine Falcons nest on ledges on high buildings and Red-Tailed Hawks use trees in city parks, American Kestrels can make use of holes in old buildings. This could be an apartment block or commercial unit in a state of disrepair or an abandoned building.

Can You Encourage Kestrels To Nest In Your Garden?

The range of potential nest sites and habitats for Eurasian Kestrels leads to one final interesting question. Is it possible to have Kestrels nesting in your garden? The answer is yes, but it isn’t a guarantee. The likelihood of Kestrels nesting will depend on the availability of suitable sites, the presence of food supplies nearby, and the number of pairs in the area. A young Kestrel could find your garden attractive if it is a suitable distance from established pairs, close to open fields, and has somewhere they can incubate their eggs in peace.

There are cases where Kestrels will move into gardens and take advantage of what is already on offer. For example, an old abandoned nest or cavity in a tree at the bottom of the garden could be perfect. There are even stories of Kestrels setting up nests within planters on balconies. This is because the planters are a nice surface for the birds to lay and incubate their eggs and the balconies are at an ideal elevation to keep the young safe.

Can You Get Kestrel Nest Boxes?

If you aren’t keen on the idea of sacrificing planters or don’t have any large trees in your garden, you could create an artificial cavity. The right nest box could prove to be an ideal home for young Kestrels as they provide the same enclosed space and small entrance hole they are looking for. However, you can’t use any old nest box because it needs enough space inside to move and grow.

There are ready-made products available with wide openings and cavities that you can fix to trees or buildings. Alternatively, you could find a plan online and try making your own. A DIY project like this is a great way of connecting with the birds and getting teenagers more involved with the wildlife in the area.

Kestrels Could Be Nesting Closer Than You Realise This Spring

We tend to focus on songbirds a lot when it comes to bird breeding seasons, mainly because of nesting sites and boxes in our gardens. But, the wide variety of Kestrel nesting sites in the UK means they could be closer than you think. If a regular pair is hunting on your local patch, they will attempt to raise young close by. You may never see the secluded cavity nest, but you may be lucky enough to see the juveniles fledging and heading off to find their own territory. Maybe one will choose your garden.

See Also



I'm Wayne. For many years, I have been a fan of feeding the birds in my back garden and often asked myself questions about what I was seeing. This prompted me to research things further and I have continued to do so ever since. This is the site where I share everything I have learned.

Recent Posts