The windhover is an alternative name for the bird known as the common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus). This small bird of prey belongs to the falcon family, Falconidae, and is widespread across Europe, Asia, and Africa. The name “windhover” aptly describes the kestrel’s distinctive hunting technique, which involves hovering in the air against the wind to spot its prey on the ground.
The kestrel, with its pointed wings and long tail, is easily identifiable in its hovering flight, a behavior that often captivates birdwatchers and casual observers alike. While hovering, the kestrel remains almost stationary in the air, with rapid wingbeats and subtle tail adjustments allowing it to maintain its position against the wind. From this vantage point, it keenly scans the ground below for small mammals, insects, and other potential prey. Once it spots its target, the bird dives swiftly to catch it.
The windhover’s plumage is also of note. Males typically have a blue-gray head and tail, with a reddish-brown back and spotted underparts. Females, on the other hand, possess a more uniformly reddish-brown plumage with dark streaks. Both genders, however, showcase a distinctive black “moustache” running down from the eye.
The common kestrel’s association with the name “windhover” was immortalized in literature by the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in his poem titled “The Windhover.” In this piece, Hopkins beautifully captures the bird’s grace and power in flight, drawing a spiritual analogy between the bird’s mastery over the elements and the majesty of Christ. The poem’s vivid imagery and rhythmic language serve as a testament to the kestrel’s awe-inspiring presence in the natural world.
As urbanization progresses and habitats change, it’s crucial to recognize and appreciate the windhover’s role in ecosystems. Not only does this bird act as a natural pest controller, but its hovering dance also reminds us of the simple yet profound beauty found in nature.