The UKCEH headquarters building in Wallingford, Oxfordshire has a nest box used annually by kestrels (Falco tinnunculus). Since 2015 we have followed progress via live webcams, offering a glimpse into the breeding behaviour of these birds of prey.
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The first egg was laid on 17 April, the earliest laying date (by four days) since we started monitoring the kestrel box. The second egg followed on 19 April.
Why monitor kestrels?
Kestrel numbers have declined in the UK since the 1970s and the species is included on the Amber List of species of conservation concern. UKCEH runs a long-term national monitoring programme, the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme, that is investigating contaminant levels across a range of predatory bird species, including Kestrels, across Britain. We are using top predators as a sentinel for wider environmental contamination. Currently, we are looking at pollutants including lead (assessing an industry stewardship scheme related to a UNEP proposal to ban lead shot), atmospheric mercury, and rodenticides.
We also hope you will enjoy seeing the behaviour of kestrels in a nest environment. While these birds are a familiar sight hovering beside hedgerows and roads, our camera offers a glimpse into their breeding behaviour.
We were unable to run the cameras during 2020 due to site access restrictions during COVID-19 lockdown.
The first egg arrived on 21 April, the second on 23 April, the third on 25 April and the fourth on either 27 or 28 April. The fifth egg was laid on 29 April. The first eggs hatched on 25 May, and the fifth had followed by 27 May.
On 17 June, our expert ornithologist and trained bird-ringer Dr Richard Broughton ringed all the chicks.
The Kestrel chicks have been ringed successfully (many thanks to @woodlandbirder) .All chicks looked well, and staff at @CEHScienceNews loved the chance to see them up close pic.twitter.com/9iwAmhyBQJ— CEH Kestrels (@CEHBirdCam) June 17, 2019
Avid viewers will have spotted a new female kestrel this year. The bad weather from the 'Beast from the East' also undoubtedly had an impact on the timing of breeding. The first egg was laid on 12 May; the second on 14 May; the third on 17 May and the fourth on either 19 or 20 May*. The first two chicks hatched on 12 June and the third hatched on 14 June. The fourth egg failed to hatch. The three remaining chicks successfully fledged by mid-July, in the midst of a heatwave!
One of the last views of our @CEHBirdCam Kestrels, now all 3 fledged & branching/roosting in nest tree. Successful year but dominated by extreme weather: nesting delayed 2 weeks by Beast From The East, then born into a heatwave: these 32-day-old birds have never seen rain @_BTO pic.twitter.com/bVOefBNexL— Richard Broughton (@woodlandbirder) July 14, 2018
Our nest box was again used by a pair of breeding kestrels in 2017. The first egg was laid on 22 April and the fifth on 2 May. The first two kestrel chicks hatched on 25 and 26 May 2017. All five chicks had hatched by 29 May. The five chicks had begun venturing from the box by 25 June 2017 and all had more or less fledged by 27 June.
The first egg was laid on the night of 2 May; the second egg on the night of 4 May; the third on the morning of 7 May; the fourth on the morning of 9 May; the fifth on the morning of 11 May. The first three chicks hatched on 5 June and all five had hatched by 7 June. The smallest and weakest of the five chicks sadly died during the night of 14/15 June.
On 28 June, the surviving four chicks were ringed by trained and licensed members of staff. No harm came to the birds during the process. Bird-ringing is important as this allows us to monitor the population across the country –about 2000 Kestrel chicks are ringed in Britain each year – and this gives us scientific information about their survival and movements which helps us understand how their populations ‘work’, and what may be causing their decline.
On 5 July, the kestrel chicks began making their first forays outside the box and made increasingly fewer visits to the box over the next few days. By 11 July they were no longer even returning to sleep at night.
9 July 2016 - learning to hunt: kestrel chick investigates the nest box
27 June 2016 - four chicks in action
6 June 2016 - feeding four chicks
2 May 2016 - 1st egg
28 April 2016 - together
18 April 2016 - feeding
11 April 2016 - stretching
30 March 2016 - other visitors
23 March 2016 - settling in
Kestrel visiting the nest box soon after it was re-installed at our site in Wallingford in March 2016.
Laying occurred in late April to early May (five eggs in total), hatching began on 27 May and all chicks hatched by 29 May. Unfortunately all chicks died before fledging. See below for a playlist of videos from the nest cam:
Why are we interested?
Kestrel numbers have declined since the 1970s and the species is included on the Amber List. UKCEH researchers run a long-term national monitoring programme that is investigating contaminant levels across a range of predatory bird species (including Kestrels) across Britain. Find out more about the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme.