Rock kestrel used to be considered a sub-species of the Common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), but on the basis of recent genetic findings it is now considered to be a separate species. As the classification of birds goes, this isn’t an uncommon occurrence and is likely to become more so as further genetic studies are completed, and the genetic relationship between species that look similar is clarified.
The Rock kestrel, the most common of the small falcons in southern Africa, is found throughout the region, although it is more common in the dry west and in the south. It seems able to adapt to a wide variety of vegetation types and habitats, but is most often seen in rocky areas. It is a conspicuous bird as it often perches on electricity poles along the roadside.
Males and females differ slightly in plumage colouration, and the females are a little larger than the males. The males have heads and faces that are blue-grey, the back is rich russet barred with black; rump is grey; the throat is whitish and the rest of the underparts are russet streaked with black. Females are similar but are browner overall and have more barring on the rump and tail.
They hunt mainly in open areas from elevated perches such as telephone poles, or may hover while in flight to inspect the ground below. Prey is caught on the ground and they feed mainly on small mammals, birds, insects and reptiles. The call is a metallic “kik’-kik’-kik’-kik” from one bird that provokes a “kree-kree” response from another.
Rock kestrels are monogamous, building a nest by creating a simple scrape on a cliff ledge. They also sometimes use the nests of crows and may nest on the ledge of a building. The female lays a clutch of one to six reddish-cream eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 30 days.
The scientific binomial for the Rock kestrel is Falco rupicolis; Falco from the Greek for a “falcon” and rupicolis from the Latin for a “rock dweller”. Thus a falcon that dwells amongst the rocks. Can’t say fairer than that.