By Richard Sale
Snowfinch Publishing, 2020
Hbk, 392pp; colour photographs, graphs and figures
ISBN 978-0-9571732-4-8; £49.99
Richard Sale will be well known to raptor afficionados, especially for his books on falcons. His latest subject, the Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus, was once the most common and familiar bird of prey in Britain, but it has struggled as a result of recent changes in the countryside.
As in his previous monographs, Sale incorporates information from his own studies into a review of what is known already. For older studies, and the structure of the book itself, he draws heavily on the excellent monograph by Andrew Village, published in 1990 in the Poyser series. Sale’s own work includes an impressive investigation of flight using an inertia measurement unit attached to captive birds, allied to high-speed cameras. This shows, among other things, just how little the head and eyes of a Kestrel move when the bird is hovering into the wind. There is also a stand-alone chapter about a four-year study of birds breeding in an outbuilding (see Brit. Birds 113: 217–226). This is long and detailed and I wondered if the key results could, instead, have been incorporated into the two earlier chapters on breeding.
The writing style is rather formal, and the author goes into considerable detail about the scientific methods employed, especially in the sections on flight dynamics and energetics. Complex formulae lurking within these pages had me turning quickly on to the safer ground ahead, though the more academically inclined may value the detail provided. Aspects relating to population changes and conservation are covered more briefly in the final chapter.
This is an attractive, well-organised book with plenty of high-quality colour photos, many of which show birds at well-studied nestboxes. I noticed a few typos, and a photograph of nestling Red Kites Milvus milvus sneaks in, under cover of a caption referring to young Northern Goshawks Accipiter gentilis.
Overall, this is a useful volume, describing a bird that we have perhaps taken too much for granted. It brings the Kestrel’s story up to date, and it provides valuable new information that adds to our understanding of this species.