kes·​trel ˈke-strəl How to pronounce kestrel (audio)
: any of various small chiefly Old World falcons (genus Falco) that usually hover in the air while searching for prey: such as
: a common Eurasian falcon (F. tinnunculus)
: an American falcon (F. sparverius) having a reddish-brown back and tail and bluish-gray wings

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There are several birds of prey that are called kestrels. Kestrels are noted for hovering while hunting their prey of large insects, birds, and small mammals. Kestrels are mainly Old World birds, but one species, the American kestrel, often called sparrow hawk in the US, is common throughout North and South America. It is about 12 in (30 cm) long, white or yellowish below, and reddish brown and slate-gray above, with colorful markings on the head. The common kestrel of the Old World is larger and less colorful.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web His interests turned to falconry and keeping birds of prey: a red-tailed hawk, a Cooper’s hawk, an American kestrel. Sam Whiting, San Francisco Chronicle, 4 Nov. 2021 In Plymouth, 10 gadwalls, an American kestrel, a common raven, and a marsh wren were seen at the Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary, and a yellow-headed blackbird was spotted in the vicinity of Hedges Pond., 10 Apr. 2021 At the museum gate, a friendly docent greeted us with a bird on his gloved fist that Millet immediately identified as a kestrel. Christine Smallwood, New York Times, 6 Oct. 2022 Overhead, a kestrel appeared, unsuccessfully pursuing the pigeon to ground. John Schandelmeier, Anchorage Daily News, 2 Oct. 2022 Notable birds this past week have been a great gray owl, an American kestrel and a lone common snipe. John Schandelmeier, Anchorage Daily News, 15 May 2021 Measurements of bones in a bird mummy suggest the animal was probably a Eurasian kestrel. Clara Moskowitz, Scientific American, 4 Dec. 2020 Johnston and his colleagues identify it as likely being a kestrel, a kind of falcon, the most commonly mummified raptor from ancient Egypt. Matt Simon, Wired, 20 Aug. 2020 Based on bone measurements, researchers concluded the bird was a Eurasian kestrel. Claire Bugos, Smithsonian Magazine, 22 Aug. 2020 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'kestrel.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Middle English castrel, from Middle French crecerelle, from crecelle rattle; from its cry

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of kestrel was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near kestrel

Cite this Entry

“Kestrel.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Mar. 2023.

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