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Causes of kestrel population decline

Male kestrel 'hovering'

Kestrel hovering

The kestrel population has declined significantly in the UK in the last decades. There are a number of hypotheses why this decline has taken place, but so far none of them have been tested formally. In this project, we test whether the decline is caused by any of the following factors: 

1. Habitat change

2. Lack of prey (small birds and voles)

3. Increased nest site competition from jackdaws and barn owls

4. Increased predation from buzzards, ravens and goshawks

5. Increased use of rodenticides ("rat poison")

6. Negative impacts of a wetter climate (climate change)

The project uses UK-wide data collected by thousands of volunteers who have helped monitor UK birds since 1994.

Project objectives

  • Understand which factors that have contributed to the population decline of the kestrel
  • Understand if there are regional differences, i.e. whether certain factors are more important in some regions than others
  • Identify practical measures that could be put in place by farmers, landowners and land managers to improve the situation for the kestrel in the UK

Progress so far

  • Analyses on the effects of changes in agricultural practices and increased use of rodenticides are ongoing
  • Preliminary results have been presented at various conferences across the UK in order to increase the awareness of the plight of the kestrel

Work planned or underway

We will investigate the effects of predation on kestrels by larger raptors (e.g. goshawk and buzzard) in the spring 2014.

Additionally, the cumulative effects of climate change (wetter springs, less snow cover) and reduction in food abundance (songbirds and voles) will be investigated with the University of Aberdeen.


Preliminary results suggest that both changes in agricultural practices and increased use of rodenticides are associated with the decline of the UK's kestrel population. More analyses are underway.

Who to contact

Staffan Roos
Senior Conservation Scientist


British Trust for Ornithology

Scottish Raptor Study Group

Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA)

Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

University of Aberdeen


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