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European Kestrel

Monday 9 July 2018

The European kestrel – or the common kestrel – is a sight to behold with its beautiful plumage and trademark hover, which makes it easily identifiable in the air. Belonging to the falcon family, it is a common resident of the British countryside, and can be found throughout Europe, Asia and Africa.

Although a definite bird of prey, the kestrel is on the small side, averaging 320-390mm (13-15in) from head to tail, with a wingspan of 650-820mm (26-32in). Its size makes it an ideal raptor for carvers, especially in terms of sourcing timber and technical application, and it's a bird of which I am particularly fond.

The male tends to be slightly smaller than the female, more reddish brown in colour, and features a blue-grey head and tail, as opposed to the female, which is mostly brown.

Step 1

Take your template and transfer onto your timber of choice. Cut out your blank – use a bandsaw if you can to save time

Step 2

Next, use a spokeshave to start rounding the back of the bird. Once you are happy with the general shape of the kestrel, take a pencil and draw on the outline of the wings

Step 3

It is now time to start shaping the breast area. I find using Holey Galahad discs on an angle grinder the most convenient and efficient way of doing this, but you could just as well use a large gouge to remove the waste area. Once this is done, use a V-tool to cut in the wing shape

Step 4

Use a gouge or a suitable cutter in a power carving unit to shape the main back and wing groups. Here I have used a tapered carbide Kutzall burr

Step 5

Next, shape the wings and tail area, and you should end up with something like this

Step 6

With the wings shaped, draw in the back feathers and facial features

Step 7

The feathers need cutting in. I used a Ruby Carver burr which is great for feather contouring and detail, or use suitable gouges

Step 8

The feathers should be cut in like so and once complete, they are ready for sanding

Step 9

You can hand sand down through the grits to smooth out the feathers, or like me, you can use power and drum sanders to achieve a smooth finish

Step 10

Next, let's focus on cutting in the primary feathers – this is best done using a suitable carving knife

Step 11

Carve the upper and lower mandibles, and soak in super glue. This might seem a little odd but it adds strength and gives them the feel of bone when sanded back

Step 12

Use a suitable gouge to hollow out the eye sockets, or use a carbide cutter in a power carver, ready to take glass eyes made for birds. I use black eyes to bring the kestrel to life

Step 13

You are now ready to turn your attention to carving in the soft breast feather groups. I have used a small carbide burr to do this, but you could use small gouges

Step 14

Cut in under the tail coverts and tail feathers with a small flame diamond bit. Finish by hand sanding

Step 15

Pop in the eyes and seal with plastic wood and leave to set, before drawing in all the head feathers

Step 16

The breast feathers are drawn in next, ready to be burnt in with a pyrography pen

Step 17

Here we can see how I have begun to burn in the feather shafts on the bird


Step 18

The kestrel has had all its feathers burnt in, and all that is left for the carving process is to refine the mandible and cut in the nostrils

Steps 19-20

Carving the kestrel is now complete – all that remains is to add a base for it to perch on…

Creating the fencepost base

Steps 21-23

A fence post makes an ideal base for your kestrel to perch on. I used a standard round fencing post, which you can pick up from your timber yard or garden centre. Begin by roughing up the surface with a carbide burr before burning with a blowtorch, and running over with a wire brush. For effect, I also used some barbed wire, which I carefully wound around the post to add to the feel of being in a field

Final considerations

For the feet, I use cast pewter which you can pick up online from various bird carving suppliers. They come in a range of styles and sizes to suit, and are flexible, so you can pose your bird as you wish. Simply work out the position you wish to place the feet according to the stance you want your kestrel to adopt, drill two small holes, and glue in place.

You could leave your kestrel as it is – with its brown finish, it could be taken for a female of the species – or you could go a step further and add some colour using acrylics, turning it into an attractive male. The decision is yours!