It is a small bird of prey, 27?33 cm in length with a 63?72 cm wingspan. It looks very much like the larger common kestrel but has proportionally shorter wings and tail. It shares a brown back and barred grey underparts with the larger species. The male has a grey head and tail like male common kestrels, but lacks the dark spotting on the back, the black malar stripe, and has grey patches in the wings. The female and young birds are slightly paler than their relative, but are so similar that call and structure are better guides than plumage. Neither sex has dark talons as is usual in falcons; those of this species are a peculiar whitish-horn color. This, however, is only conspicuous when birds are seen at very close range, e.g. in captivity.
Habitat and Distribution
This species breeds from the Mediterranean across southern central Asia to China and Mongolia. It is a summer migrant, wintering in Africa and Pakistan and sometimes even to India and Iraq. It is rare north of its breeding range, and declining in its European range.
The lesser kestrel eats insects, but also small birds, reptiles and rodents (especially mice), which are often taken on the ground. On their wintering grounds in West Africa, lesser kestrels favor a `latitude belt` through Senegal where locusts and grasshoppers are plentiful.
It nests colonially on buildings, cliffs, or in tree holes, laying up to 3-6 eggs. No nest structure is built, which is typical for falcons.
Calls and Songs
The call is a diagnostic harsh chay-chay-chay, unlike the common kestrel's kee-kee-kee.