Monday, February 27, 2012

The Smallest Kestrel in the World

Occasionally, we see American Kestrels described as "the second smallest kestrel in the world." Well that's fine, but I say let's give credit where credit is due. If you want to see a kestrel that's truly tiny, you'll have to travel half-way around the globe (although I don't recommend doing it solely for that purpose).

As Maureen mentioned last week, we travelled to the Seychelles islands in the summer of 2009. This archipelago nation is relatively isolated in the Indian Ocean, meaning that a good deal of what we saw is unique. We'll be showing off some of the other endemics in the near future, but right now I'd like to introduce you to the Seychelles Kestrel.

The Seychelles Kestrel is the only resident falcon in Seychelles' granitic islands. There's no mistaking it for anything other than a kestrel, even if the only other one you've seen is its American cousin: its a compact falcon that uses the exact same color palate. But, whereas the male American Kestrel has blue-gray wings and a rufous tail, the Seychelles Kestrel is the exact opposite. The Seychelles Kestrel also has an unmarked breast, and a wing patterning that's more spotted than barred. And I have I mentioned that it's the smallest kestrel in the world? At 7-9 in in length, it's about 2-3 inches smaller than the American Kestrel.

Over the course of our two weeks' visit, I was fortunate enough to see this bird twice. Both times it was using the same telephone wires as a perch, where it stayed put for as long as we watched it. Even though it didn't perform any aerial acrobatics for us, how could we not stand in awe of this beautiful bird of prey?

If the locals don't experience the same feelings that we did, at least they're shedding some of their old fears. According an old superstitious belief, seeing one of these raptors outside your house meant imminent death. Both kestrels and their nests were destroyed, senselessly putting conservation pressure on a species already facing threats from several other directions. This particular brand of nonsense is all but dead today, but the kestrels' populations are still considered vulnerable. Hopefully, with luck and conservation effort, its numbers will begin to rebound, and you, too, will be able to see the smallest kestrel in the world.


  1. This is really the first I've seen of the world's smallest sparrow. I appreciate the background and context you've provided with this post, it was very interesting and educational. It's a beautiful little bird, must be a real terror for the Seychelles sparrows and mice. I shudder to think what a whole flock of them would do to a cow...

    1. Thanks, Laurence! I believe their diets mostly consist of skinks, lizards, and frogs, and they only occasionally terrorize the local passerines. Their local name translates to something like "chicken killers", but that seems to be based on a misunderstanding. Of course none of this is to suggest that the cows shouldn't sleep with one eye open...