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Common/Eurasian Kestrel? Incheon, South Korea 2015 (1 Viewer)

TwiddlingThumbs

Well-known member
Apologies for the poor photos. Hope my post processing of photo 1 has teased out enough details from a seriously backlit picture for an ID. Managed a shot of the bird while it was flying away (photo 2). Could this be a Common/Eurasian Kestrel?
Help much appreciated!
 

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PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
'Just curious and eager to learn:

I would say it's pretty clear that the bird is a kestrel. That said, why is it so clear to others that it's a European kestrel? I've been looking at pictures of various kestrels and to my untutored eye they look pretty similar. What is it that experienced bird watchers are looking for and seeing that tells them it's a European kestrel?
 

tconzemi

Tom
Supporter
Europe
'Just curious and eager to learn:

I would say it's pretty clear that the bird is a kestrel. That said, why is it so clear to others that it's a European kestrel? I've been looking at pictures of various kestrels and to my untutored eye they look pretty similar. What is it that experienced bird watchers are looking for and seeing that tells them it's a European kestrel?
As far as I can see there are only two Kestrel species in South Korea, Lesser and Eurasian (aka Common) and this adult male is clearly not a Lesser Kestrel (dark moustache and black markings on upperside)
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
I guess there would be F. t. interstinctus in Korea which are apparently a migratory race but not sure what the morphological differences are compared to the nominate. (What time of the year was this taken btw?)
 

PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
As far as I can see there are only two Kestrel species in South Korea, Lesser and Eurasian (aka Common) and this adult male is clearly not a Lesser Kestrel (dark moustache and black markings on upperside)

Thanks for that.

I've just been looking at two male kestrels side by side (lesser and European) and, yes, there are marked differences such as wing length in relation to tail when perched, head colouring, particularly around the cheeks, and a noticeable grey coloured part of the wings on a lesser kestrel.

I don't think the difference between the two birds is so clear with females though? Would that be a fair assessment? Although the bird in the photo is a male and that's what makes it obvious to the experienced eye it's a common kestrel?
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
Thanks for that.

I've just been looking at two male kestrels side by side (lesser and European) and, yes, there are marked differences such as wing length in relation to tail when perched, head colouring, particularly around the cheeks, and a noticeable grey coloured part of the wings on a lesser kestrel.

I don't think the difference between the two birds is so clear with females though? Would that be a fair assessment? Although the bird in the photo is a male and that's what makes it obvious to the experienced eye it's a common kestrel?
Female Eurasian and Lesser Kestrels are harder to separate but straight forward with practice - the wing formula (ie the shape of the wingtip formed by the respective length of primary fingers in relation to each other) is diagnostic, giving Lesser Kestrel the impression of a more rounded wing when hovering. Also, the tail (edit; I meant wings!) of Lesser Kestrels are proportionately longer (noticeable on a perched bird where they reach almost to the end of the tail) and mantle pattern and underwing pattern are different (the latter on Lesser Kestrel being less boldy marked). Female Lesser Kestrel often have a noticeable moustache as with European Kestrel which (in the case of males too) can be ‘artificially enhanced’ by light/shadow, although is never as long or distinct as in European Kestrel but both female and male Lesser Kestrel lack the diagnostic dark ‘eyeshadow’ that extends in a line from the rear of the eye. Overall proportions in flight are also different to a trained eye, Lesser Kestrels being more ‘dumpy” than European. In European populations, European Kestrel tend to be sedentary whereas Lesser Kestrel are migratory - the latter breeding in colonies and congregating in flocks before migrating - which can add weight to identification also, especially at certain times of the year.

edit. forgot to add, (because I haven’t had my second cup of coffee yet!), the claws of Lesser Kestrel are paler/horn coloured whereas on European Kestrel, the claws are very dark grey/black. It’s debatable how useful this in in the field imo as wet claws can reflect light and are often muddy or generally discoloured with dust etc. On very good views though, and on half decent photos, it’s usually diagnostic.
 
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PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
Female Eurasian and Lesser Kestrels are harder to separate but straight forward with practice - the wing formula (ie the shape of the wingtip formed by the respective length of primary fingers in relation to each other) is diagnostic, giving Lesser Kestrel the impression of a more rounded wing when hovering. Also, the tail of a Lesser Kestrels is proportionately longer (noticeable on a perched bird) and mantle pattern and underwing pattern are different (the latter on Lesser Kestrel being less boldy marked). Female Lesser Kestrel often have a noticeable moustache as with European Kestrel which (in the case of males too) can be ‘artificially enhanced’ by light/shadow) although is never as long or distinct as in European Kestrel but both female and male Lesser Kestrel lack the diagnostic dark ‘eyeshadow’ that extends in a line from the rear of the eye. Overall proportions in flight are also different to a trained eye, Lesser Kestrels being more ‘dumpy” than European. In European populations, European Kestrel tend to be sedentary whereas Lesser Kestrel are migratory - the latter breeding in colonies and congregating in flocks before migrating - which can add weight to identification also, especially at certain times of the year.

edit. forgot to add, (because I haven’t had my second cup of coffee yet!), the claws of Lesser Kestrel are paler/horn coloured whereas on European Kestrel, the claws are very dark grey/black. It’s debatable how useful this in in the field imo as wet claws can reflect light and are often muddy or generally discoloured with dust etc. On very good views though, and on half decent photos, it’s usually diagnostic.

Thanks for that, Deb.

Until I read this thread, I didn't realise that we have more than one kestrel, although from doing a bit of reading it seems lesser kestrels are extremely rare in this country. It's all useful information for those of us who are learning.

Just out of curiosity does your 'more dumpy' point apply to when perched too? I don't have the photography equipment yet, 'will be investing at the end of this year, but I was watching a kestrel yesterday and it looked like a pretty meaty bird to me. Poor quality photo below.

I'm not for minute suggesting the bird in the photo is anything other than a common kestrel, but I am curious as to how much more meaty a lesser kestrel could be when compared with a common kestrel.
 

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MJB

Well-known member
Thanks for that, Deb.

Until I read this thread, I didn't realise that we have more than one kestrel, although from doing a bit of reading it seems lesser kestrels are extremely rare in this country. It's all useful information for those of us who are learning.

Just out of curiosity does your 'more dumpy' point apply to when perched too? I don't have the photography equipment yet, 'will be investing at the end of this year, but I was watching a kestrel yesterday and it looked like a pretty meaty bird to me. Poor quality photo below.

I'm not for minute suggesting the bird in the photo is anything other than a common kestrel, but I am curious as to how much more meaty a lesser kestrel could be when compared with a common kestrel.
To add to DEB's fine exposition, Lesser Kestrel in my experience has a very different hover attitude** from Common Kestrel: its body is more hunched and the tail droops more. If you like, its hover attitude is halfway between that of Common Kestrel and Red-footed Falcon.
MJB
**In still air or steady light breeze...
PS I don't know if Amur Falcon hovers...
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
Paul, Lesser Kestrel in the UK would be a very rare vagrant. Until you are very familiar with Common Kestrel (including different plumages and ages) it is likely any Kestrel you think ‘could be’ a Lesser will in fact be a Common Kestrel. The best way to learn how to distinguish these two species is through field experience of comparing them which you wont get in the UK - I would recommend a relatively cheap week in Southern Spain or Portugal during the early summer when you will increase your ability to identify Kestrel species exponentially!

The ‘dumpy’ shape I referred to is that while also being slightly rounder in the body, Lesser Kestrel are shorter tailed and shorter winged than Common Kestrel but this is not a great field criteria unless the two species are flying together (even then, flight posture affects impression of shape - edit: See MJB’s description of flight posture for example which may not be noticeable in straight flight but is obvious in a hover*) or you already have an experienced eye for the comparative shape of either species.

* *Common Kestrel (and other raptors) can very often look hunched when perched, more often than not, because their feathers are positioned to keep them warm and/or to make them look bulkier as a defensive/territorial signal

Can I suggest, if you haven’t already, to get the Collins fieldguide. Also, watching videos of flying birds (of any species) can be really helpful I’ve found to absorb some of the ‘gizz’.

Ps and of course continue to make sketches and fieldnotes of everything you see (I know you are taking field notes already 👍) but also make contemporaneous fieldnotes of common birds that you already recognise as this trains the observation skills when it comes to recognising different feather tracks and plumage distinctions etc.
 
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PaulCountyDurham

Well-known member
United Kingdom
Paul, Lesser Kestrel in the UK would be a very rare vagrant. Until you are very familiar with Common Kestrel (including different plumages and ages) it is likely any Kestrel you think ‘could be’ a Lesser will in fact be a Common Kestrel. The best way to learn how to distinguish these two species is through field experience of comparing them which you wont get in the UK - I would recommend a relatively cheap week in Southern Spain or Portugal during the early summer when you will increase your ability to identify Kestrel species exponentially!

The ‘dumpy’ shape I referred to is that while also being slightly rounder in the body, Lesser Kestrel are shorter tailed and shorter winged than Common Kestrel but this is not a great field criteria unless the two species are flying together (even then, flight posture affects impression of shape - edit: See MJB’s description of flight posture for example which may not be noticeable in straight flight but is obvious in a hover*) or you already have an experienced eye for the comparative shape of either species.

* *Common Kestrel (and other raptors) can very often look hunched when perched, more often than not, because their feathers are positioned to keep them warm and/or to make them look bulkier as a defensive/territorial signal

Can I suggest, if you haven’t already, get the Collins fieldguide. Also, watching videos of flying birds (of any species) can be really helpful I’ve found to absorb some of the ‘gizz’.

Thanks for the info. 'Next time I'm fortunate enough to have a kestrel come and perch in a tree not too far away from me, I'll be minded to take note of the details discussed here!
 

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