The kestrel has always ranked high on my list of favorite birds and ties with the Eastern Screech owl for my favorite small raptor. The word “kestrel” is thought to originally derive from the French crécelle meaning something that makes a rapid, rattling noise. The kestrel’s call is a very rapid high-pitched klee-klee-klee or killy-killy-killy. A fairly common nickname for the kestrel is “windhover” which describes the bird’s ability to briefly hover in midair with rapidly beating wings while facing into the wind; another is “sparrowhawk”, referring to one of its typical prey.
The American kestrel is not the same bird seen in the UK. The American kestrel is Falco sparverius which is the second-smallest kestrel in the world; the tiny Seychelles kestrel, Falco araea, measures only 9” (23 cm) in adulthood.) Sometimes called the American Sparrowhawk, it is an entirely different bird from the Eurasian Sparrowhawk which is a true hawk (accipiter) rather than a falcon. The American kestrel grows to about 10”–11” (27 cm) as an adult, and has a wingspan of about 24” (61 cm). Its range is limited to North America although there are a number of South American subspecies.
The Eurasian kestrel found in Europe, Africa and Asia, is Falco tinnunculus. It is the only kestrel found in the UK and is larger than its American counterpart. Adults are about 15” (39 cm) and have a 32” (82 cm) wingspan.This photo clearly illustrates the relative difference in size between the American and Eurasian kestrels.
Kestrels hunt mice, sparrows, starlings, and large insects such as grasshoppers and dragonflies. Grasshoppers provide a large part of the kestrel’s diet during the summer months, and these birds will cache food during times of plenty. Most often they use the “still-hunting” technique, either perching on a wire or hovering in place to await the appearance of prey on the ground. With their swift flight they are able to catch prey on the wing but typically do so only in late summer and early fall. They do not build their own nests but instead utilize tree cavities and appropriate nest boxes if available.
Kestrels in Porcelain
I’ve found the kestrel depicted in porcelain by eight studios in the USA and abroad. They are shown in alphabetical order by studio name.
This Beswick kestrel was produced from 1970 to 1989 and was designed by Graham Tongue. It was available in either a matte or glazed finish as shown, and is slightly more than 6.5” (17 cm) high. A bit of artistic license was taken with this one, because although the bright blue head is that of the Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni, found in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and central Asia) it has the spotted wings of the European kestrel seen in the the UK.
The Edward Marshall Boehm studio in New Jersey produced two kestrel studies.
The first was the kestrel pair, introduced in 1968 as a limited edition of 500 and bearing the backstamp shown above. They are 16.5” (42 cm) and 14.5” (37 cm) high, respectively.
Boehm’s later and more dramatic study issued in 1990 shows a kestrel with its soon-to-be dinner of a small lizard. It is 19” (48.25 cm) high but the width is unknown. A limited edition of unknown size, one source cited it as being one of their “40th Anniversary” issues.
Connoisseur of Malvern’s kestrel was sculpted by their premier bird artist, Christopher Ashenden, during the 1980s. It is 20” (51 cm) tall and 14” (35.5 cm) wide and was a limited edition of only 25 in the USA although it may have been an issue of 50 in the UK.
Back to the American kestrel, this time by Cybis and definitely the product of their premier bird artist, Charles Oldham. A limited edition of 350 in 1977, only 175 were actually made before the edition closed in 1982. It is 18” (45.75 cm) high and 14” (35.5 cm) wide overall.
In 1988 the Franklin Mint issued this kestrel as part of their “Noble Birds of the World” series which commemorated the centennial of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.) It was designed by George McMonigle and is 7” (17.75 cm) high. Although the Franklin Mint was headquartered in Pennsylvania, they outsourced the production of their items; this porcelain kestrel bears no backstamp other than the designation ©FM 1988 and an oval paper sticker saying “Crafted in Taiwan.” Instead, these birds came with an accompanying leaflet/certificate.
This kestrel by Goebel of Germany was their model #CV-110 and is circa 1969. It is about 9.5” (24 cm) high. Details about its issue are unknown.
Like Boehm, Royal Doulton produced two different kestrel studies.
Design #DA-144 was a limited edition of 950, standing 11.75” (about 30 cm) tall. It is marked as having been sculpted by “J. G. Tongue” who may well be the same artist as the Graham Tongue who designed bird and animal studies for both Beswick and Royal Doulton; anybody know?
Design #DA-205 was a larger limited edition of 2500, issued in 1992. Both the backstamp and brass plaque affixed to the wood base read “KESTREL (Falco tinnunculus)”. It is 10” (25.5 cm) high overall.
And finally we have Royal Worcester who also did two kestrel studies.
This David Fryer design was a limited edition of 9800 in 1985 and was the sixth bird issued in their “Great American Birds of Prey” series. It is marked on the bottom with an attached medallion that reads Birds of Prey, 1985 Royal Worcester, American Kestrel, Made in England an edition of 9800. The base and branch are metal, and the bird is porcelain; the study is 8” (slightly more than 20 cm) high overall.
Royal Worcester did make an earlier kestrel, back in 1976; it is titled “Kek” and is about 6.5” (16.5 cm) high. James Alder held the position of ‘chief animalia sculptor’ at the studio for several years during that decade. More of his work will be shown in a future post within my Lost Porcelain Studios series.