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Fascinating Facts About the Dickinson’s Kestrel: From Plumage to Behavior

The Dickinson’s Kestrel, also known as Falco dickinsoni, is a small falcon species that can be found in Africa. These birds are known for their aerial acrobatics and hunting skills, and have captured the attention of bird watchers and nature enthusiasts alike.

In this article, we will delve into the identification, plumages, and molts of the Dickinson’s Kestrel, providing a comprehensive guide for anyone who wants to learn more about this fascinating bird.



Identification: When it comes to identifying the Dickinson’s Kestrel, there are several key features to look out for. These birds are small in size, measuring approximately 8-9 inches in length, and have a wingspan of around 20 inches.

They have a distinct brownish-grey coloration on their backs and wings, with a light grey belly and white throat. One of the most distinguishing features of the Dickinson’s Kestrel is its striking black facial markings, including a black moustache and patch around the eyes.

Similar Species: It is crucial to differentiate Dickinson’s Kestrel from other falcon species. The Eurasian Kestrel can be confused with Dickinson’s Kestrel, as they share a similar size, and habitat range.

However, the Eurasian Kestrel has a reddish-brown coloration, and lacks the distinct black facial markings of the Dickinson’s Kestrel.


The Dickinson’s Kestrel has two basic plumages: juvenile and adult. Juvenile plumage has brownish-black bars on their wings.

They also lack the black facial markings of the adult, with a lighter coloration overall. When they mature into adults, the light grey belly becomes lighter, while the dark grey-brownish upperparts become darker, and the black facial markings become more prominent.

They are also known for their bright orange legs, which are visible during flight and perching.


The Dickinson’s Kestrel undergoes two molts each year: the prebasic molt and the prealternate molt. The prebasic molt is when the bird sheds its feathers to grow new ones, which takes place during the non-breeding season.

The prebasic molt occurs from March to May, and the prealternate molt from September to February. During prebasic molt, all body feathers are replaced, but tail and flight feathers are not.

During the prealternate molt, tail and flight feathers are replaced.


The Dickinson’s Kestrel is a captivating bird that is identifiable by its black facial markings and brownish-grey plumage. Their juvenile plumage has distinct brownish-black bars on their wings, which are not present in adults.

They undergo two molts each year: the prebasic molt and the prealternate molt. Understanding the identification and molting process is critical to distinguishing between different species of falcons.

We hope this informative guide has helped you understand this remarkable bird species better. Happy birding!

Systematics History

The history of the Dickinson’s Kestrel, or Falco dickinsoni, has been a subject of debate among ornithologists. Different studies have provided varying classifications for this species.

Geographic Variation

Studies have found subtle regional differences in size and coloration within the species. For instance, the Dickinson’s Kestrel populations in West Africa tend to be smaller than those in the southern and eastern parts of the continent.

West African populations also have more reddish-brown coloring on their backs, while populations in the eastern and southern regions have a more grey-brown coloring.


Currently, there is only one recognized subspecies of Dickinson’s Kestrel, Falco dickinsoni dickinsoni. However, some sources have suggested that there may be two additional subspecies, Falco dickinsoni ruficeps and Falco dickinsoni suahelicus.

The proposed subspecies ruficeps, found in West Africa, is characterized by its darker back coloration, while suahelicus, found in East Africa, is said to be smaller in size.

Related Species

The Dickinson’s Kestrel is part of the falcon family and is closely related to other kestrel species. It is believed to have diverged from its closest relative, the Eurasian kestrel, around 1.5 million years ago.

The Dickinson’s Kestrel shares many similarities with the Eurasian Kestrel, including its reddish-brown coloring. Other closely related species include the African kestrel, pygmy falcon, and American kestrel.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Dickinson’s Kestrel is primarily found in Africa, with its range stretching from Senegal in the west to Tanzania in the east. It is believed to have originated in the eastern part of Africa, and its range gradually expanded westward over time.

Historically, the Dickinson’s Kestrel was predominantly a bird of the savannahs and dry grasslands. However, the species has adapted to different habitats and can now also be found in woodland, forest edges, and urban areas.

The distribution of the Dickinson’s Kestrel has historically been influenced by changes in climate and habitat. The last ice age, which occurred between 115,000-11,700 years ago, was a significant factor in shaping the species’ range.

During this period, the savannah regions of East Africa expanded, providing new habitat for the kestrel to colonize. Human activity has also played a role in altering the distribution of the Dickinson’s Kestrel.

Habitat loss due to deforestation and urbanization has reduced the availability of suitable living spaces for these birds. However, the kestrel has also adapted to urban environments, where it can be found perched on buildings and telephone poles.


Understanding the systematics history, geographic variation, subspecies, and distribution changes of the Dickinson’s Kestrel is critical to developing a holistic view of this bird species. With thorough studies, we can provide an accurate classification of the bird and highlight the factors affecting its survival and habitats.

Ornithologists continue to study this fascinating bird species, seeking more knowledge in order to provide the best possible conservation measures.


The Dickinson’s Kestrel is a small and agile bird that can be found throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa. They are adaptable and can be found in diverse habitats ranging from open grasslands, savannas, and woodlands to urbanized areas like cities and villages.

They typically inhabit areas with scattered trees, rocks, and patches of vegetation to use for perching and hunting. In urban areas, they can be found perched on buildings and telephone poles, where they build nests in crevices and gaps.

In natural habitats, they build nests on trees and buildings and are known for using abandoned holes dug by other animals like woodpeckers or becoming tenants in termite nests, where they can have multiple nest sites. The Dickinson’s Kestrel prefers areas with low to mid-level vegetation where they can easily hunt insects and small vertebrates, such as lizards, small birds, mice, and other rodents.

They are typically territorial and prefer areas with an open canopy to increase their chances of finding prey.

Movements and Migration

The Dickinson’s Kestrel is a non-migratory bird species. However, there have been observations of these birds moving to new areas in search of better food supplies or to avoid harsh weather conditions.

Younger Dickinson’s Kestrels are known to disperse from their natal range, sometimes traveling many kilometers. However, these movements are usually short-lived, as they return to their parental area to breed.

There is limited information about the full range of movement and migration of the Dickinson’s Kestrel, but research has identified some instances of movements. In East Africa, the species has been known to make seasonal movements to take advantage of the fluctuations in food resources.

During times of food shortages, Dickinson’s Kestrels have been observed traveling as far as 75km to find new feeding grounds. Overall, movements are typically local and restricted to specific areas, but they remain non-migratory, as the birds can remain throughout the year in the same regions they breed.

The Dickinson’s Kestrel’s breeding season occurs throughout the year but depends on the specific location. In the western parts of Africa, breeding can take place throughout the year depending on the rainfall patterns, whereas in other areas of Africa, they breed during specific periods, which can vary by region.

During the breeding season, males establish territories that are defended against other males, and courtship involves aerial displays and the delivery of food gifts to females. They mate for life, and the female typically lays three to five eggs in a nest made from plant material or in natural crevices.

The hatchlings of the Dickinson’s Kestrel remain in the nest for around 28 days after which they fledge and are no longer dependent on their parents. Young Dickinson’s Kestrels will remain close to the nest and the parental territory for some time after fledging.


The Dickinson’s Kestrel is an adaptable bird species that can be found in a range of habitats, from grasslands to urban environments. They are non-migratory, but they will move to other areas within their breeding range to find food, especially in times of shortages.

They are known to stay in their parental territories for some time after fledging and breeding, which might lead to distribution changes. Ornithologists continue to gather more information on Dickinson’s Kestrel in regard to feeding, habitat preferences, and movements, which will provide insights into the species’ biology and conservation measures that will benefit its survival.

Diet and Foraging

Feeding: The Dickinson’s Kestrel is an active and agile hunter that hunts small invertebrates and small vertebrates both on the ground and in the air. Like other kestrels, it hunts by hovering, scanning the area, and diving down to capture its prey.

Diet: Dickinson’s Kestrels typically feed on insects like beetles and grasshoppers, as well as small birds, rodents, and reptiles such as lizards. The diet of the kestrel is believed to vary with the availability of the prey within its habitat.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation: Due to its small size and active hunting, the Dickinson’s Kestrel has a high metabolism and requires regular intake of food to maintain its energy levels. They also have a high body temperature that helps them digest their food efficiently.

They do not rely on feathers to regulate their temperature like other bird species would. Instead, they use panting and shedding of body heat via their un-feathered leg areas to regulate their body temperature.

Sounds and Vocal


Vocalization: The Dickinson’s Kestrel is relatively quiet compared to other kestrel or falcon species, mainly communicating through harsh whistling calls but also produces a sharp whistle and flight call when alerting other birds of prey to danger or contacting their mate. Juveniles have higher-pitched calls that distinguish them from adults.

Males tend to sing more frequently, especially during courtship displays and territorial defense. Dickinson’s Kestrels have a well-developed syrinx, which allows them to produce a wide range of whistles and calls that are essential in their social communication and territorial behavior.

In territorial display, males perch on prominent areas and give ‘kleeee-yup’ or ‘tjob-tjob’ calls that resonate most during their courtship and pair-bonding. In contrast, females, as a sign of distress, let out a rapid whimpering call which is a manifestation of conflict resolution.

Dickinson’s Kestrels decode noises and sounds to establish fluency within their complex social behavior, in particular, mating strategies and conflict resolution.


The Dickinson’s Kestrel is a highly skilled predator, hunting a variety of small prey both on the ground and in the air. They are relatively quiet birds, communicating primarily through whistles and calls that are essential in social communication, territorial behavior, and courtship displays.

By understanding their vocalizations and feeding behavior, we gain insight into the kestrel’s social life and ecology, providing us with opportunities to enhance our knowledge of the species and create better conservation efforts and strategies to protect them.


Locomotion: The Dickinson’s Kestrel is a swift and agile bird, capable of flying at high speeds and changing direction quickly. They have broad wings and a tapered tail, which gives them excellent maneuverability and enables them to hover over prey.

Self Maintenance: As with all birds, the Dickinson’s Kestrel spends a significant amount of time grooming its feathers. Birds meticulously preen their feathers to keep them clean, unbroken, and well arranged for insulation, aerodynamics, and beauty.

They also engage in bathing, which serves to remove dirt and parasites from their bodies. Agonistic

Behavior: Dickinson’s Kestrels are territorial birds and will typically defend their nesting and breeding sites from other kestrels and predators.

Territorial displays typically involve the male kestrel hovering over its territory and calling out to potential intruders to deter them from entering the area. Sexual

Behavior: During the breeding season, Dickinson’s Kestrel males court females by performing aerial displays that involve circling and dropping to rise back up to the sky.

In courtship, both males and females may vocalize and exchange a series of visual courtship displays that culminates into copulation.


Dickinson’s Kestrels typically breed throughout the year in tropical regions but might time breed in relation to food resources and climatic conditions. The breeding unit is composed of monogamous pairs that typically mate for life.

The pair constructs a nest that is typically placed on trees, rock cliffs, or in buildings. In some cases, the birds may reuse an abandoned hole dug by another bird.

The female bird typically lays three to five eggs, and both parents participate in incubation. The incubation period lasts for around 28 days, after which, the hatchlings are born.

They are born blind, and covered in downy feathers, and are fed by both parents.

Demography and Populations

The status of the Dickinson’s Kestrel on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is “Least Concern.” However, populations of the bird species differ in different areas, with some populations appearing to be larger than others. As stated in previous sections, habitat degradation due to urbanization and deforestation has affected the kestrel’s population.

While they are adaptable to urbanization, a long-term void in suitable nesting sites could negatively impact the species. The usage of pesticides and poison in controlling insects and rodents has also been a dire situation for the species.

However, there have also been efforts to protect the Dickinson’s Kestrel, such as habitat conservation and restoration activities. This bird species does well in agricultural landscapes, as it feeds on insects considered pests to crops, hence promoting policies that favoring agroecology and sustainable farming can aid in their survival.

Studies of the species’ demography and the population status help in determining the present conservation status of the bird species, as well as future projections. Ornithological research is continually focusing on expanding research on demography and habitat restoration initiatives to protect the species.


The Dickinson’s Kestrel is a fascinating bird species with intricate behavior, including mating behaviors and agonistic actions. The breeding unit is composed of monogamous pairs that mate for life and construct their nests in trees, rock cliffs, or buildings.

Preservation measures such as habitat conservation and sustainable agricultural practices complemented by scientific research, are necessary in protecting the species from declining populations. In this article, we have explored various aspects of the Dickinson’s Kestrel, including its physical characteristics, habitat, diet, foraging, and breeding behaviors.

We have also looked at their vocalizations and sound communication, as well as their population and demography status. This bird species is a fascinating and adaptable predator that has established a place in Africa’s ecosystem.

While it may not be threatened, the factors impacting its habitat, food supply, and nesting sites represent an ongoing conservation concern, making the study of their demography and the human-wildlife interactions essential for proper wildlife management and survival. Ornithologists continue to utilize evidence-based conservation measures and research to aid in the protection and conservation of this enchanting and fascinating bird species.

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