Casper hovering

What bird of prey hovers?

Famously once referred to as the ‘Roadside Raptor’, this incredible native bird of prey can often be spotted hovering perfectly stationary just a few meters above the roadside, in search of prey hidden amongst the grassy verges.
The truth is, many of our British birds of prey and owls hover – Buzzards have been known to clumisly wobble in the wind in search of worms, whilst Barn Owls will elegantly hold their position above grassy meadows for a few seconds before diving in for their prey. But out of our British Birds that hover, which one are you looking at?

There is no doubt that the European Kestrel is the most advanced, and far superior, when it comes to perfecting the still hover. These birds are usually spotted 15 – 30 metres above ground, using excellent vision to spot their favourite prey item – the Short Tailed Field Vole. These small brown mammals are vital for Kestrels, making up to 80% of their diet throughout the breeding season. Kestrels are capable of hovering in wind speeds upwards of 50mph and will use the stiff breeze to hold their head and body perfectly stationary, positioning moving their long thin wings in rotation and fanning out a long tail behind them. They actually flex their necks to perfect balance in stronger gusts, and have unusually stiff primary feathers to withstand longer periods in the higher air pressure.

Casper the Kestrel hovering

You may see them readjust their position multiple times, homing in on single prey items or moving on to new opportunities if their targeted vole spotted the danger above and made it into grassy cover. Once they are ready, they will settle and fold their wings before dropping from above, feet and legs extended in front of them to grab their prey out of the vegeation. If you are lucky you may just spot them take flight to a safe place to eat. But with only 1 in 10 kestrel hunts successful, it is more likely they come away empty handed… Or empty footed?

You can learn more about bird watching and the natural flight behaviour of our british raptors by visiting The Bird of Prey Project for a flying display – in fact you can even see our very own Kestrel Casper hovering in close quarters right in front of your eyes! Even better still, 100% of the proceeds from your entrance fee support our work conserving wild birds of prey, including Kestrels, in the local area. Kestrels are now amber listed for conservation concern, and through our cavity nesting species monitoring programme, we are working with local landowners to build a better future for the species.


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