Medium-sized raptor. The red kite is a brownish chestnut color, with a subtle mix of paler orange/buff and darker brown or black streaking. The main wing feathers are dark brown, which contrast with striking white patches under the wings. The pale grey head is streaked with black. The bright yellow legs and feet can often be seen when the bird is in flight. The hooked beak is very sharp and superbly designed for tearing meat. Its distinctive voice – an insistent, high pitched mewing – is not dissimilar to a shepherd’s whistling and is quite distinctive once recognized.
The red kite is a wide-ranging species with a wide habitat tolerance. The only requirement is for a fairly large tree, with open access to it, in which build a nest about 10 – 15 meters above ground. Sometimes, the red kite will take over an old crow or buzzard nest. The red kite is a large bird, but it is not strong or aggressive. It can be very protective of the nest area, but not of the whole breeding territory. Most Welsh kites nest within 20 km of where they were reared.
This kite is essentially a European species, breeding from the Iberian Peninsula to the South of the Baltic Sea and from Wales to the Caucasus. It is also known from north-western Africa and the Cape Verde islands. It disappeared recently from the Canary islands. The birds of Wales and south-western Europe are largely sedentary or make only very small movements in winter. Those of the north-east move to the south-west. The population of the European Union amounts to 21000 breeding pairs for a global population of maximum 32000 pairs. Despite some fluctuations, it seems to be fairly stable
The kite family take a wider range of foods than most other families of raptors, and the Red Kite is no exception. Birds, mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians, invertebrates and carrion are taken in varying proportions, depending on local availability.
The British kites rely more on carrion than do their European counterparts, and this makes them vulnerable to poisoned meat (illegally) left out to catch foxes and the like.
The average daily food requirement of an adult Red Kite is 130g
Milvus milvus is endemic to the western Palearctic, with the European population of 19,000-25,000 pairs encompassing 95% of its global breeding range. It breeds from Spain and Portugal east through central Europe to Ukraine, north to southern Sweden, Latvia and the UK, and south to southern Italy. Populations also breed in northern Morocco. Populations winter within the western breeding range, as well as in isolated patches southeast to eastern Turkey and south to northern Tunisia and Algeria. The three largest populations (in Germany, France and Spain, which together hold more than 75% of the global population) all declined during 1990-2000, and overall the species declined by almost 20% over the ten years1. German populations declined by 25-30% between 1991 and 1997, but have remained stable since then with the populations of the northern foothills of the Harz Mountains (the most densely populated part of its range) suffering an estimated 50% decline from 1991-2001. In Spain the species showed an overall decline in breeding population of up to 43% for the period 1994 to 2001-02, and surveys of wintering birds in 2003-04 suggest a similarly large decline in core wintering areas6. The Balearic Islands population has declined from 41-47 breeding pairs in 1993 to just 10 in 2003. In France, breeding populations have decreased in the northeast, but seem to be stable in southwest and central France and Corsica. Detailed monitoring has not been carried out, but comparison between counts in 1980 and 2000 suggest a decrease of up to 80% in some areas, during which time the species’ range in France decreased by 15%. However, populations elsewhere are stable or undergoing increases. In Sweden the species has increased from 30-50 pairs in the 1970s to 1,200 breeding pairs in 2003. In Wales in 2004, from 375 occupied territories identified at least 216 pairs were thought to have hatched eggs and 200 pairs reared at least 286 young. In Switzerland, populations increased during the 1990s, and have now stabilized. The species inhabits broadleaf woodlands, valleys and wetland edges, to 800 m. The main threats to this species are poisoning, through illegal direct poisoning and indirect poisoning due to pesticides, particularly in the wintering ranges in France and Spain, and changes in agricultural practices causing a reduction in food resources. Other threats include electrocution, hunting and trapping, deforestation, egg-collection (on a local scale) and possibly competition with the generally more successful Black Kite M. migrans. [conservation status from birdlife.org]
The red kite is a monogamous breeder. In migrant populations the pair bond is probably seasonal, but is renewed every year with the same individuals largely due to individuals’ attachment to specific home range and eyrie. In resident populations the pair-bond is retained loosely throughout the winter, especially where the breeding home range is still occupied.
Each nesting territory contains 1-5 alternative nest sites. The nest is built by both birds on a main fork high in a tree, 12-20m above ground. It is constructed of dead twigs and lined with grass and other vegetation. A quantity of sheep wool is often added 2-3 days prior to egg laying. New material is added to the nest throughout the breeding season, and a nest that has been in use for a number of seasons grows to a considerable size. If nesting is successful, the same nest is used the following year. At times even old buzzard or raven nests are used.
The clutch of 1-3 (occasionally 4) white eggs with red-brown spots are laid at 3 day intervals in April. The incubation is by the female alone for 31-32 days per egg, i.e. 38 days for a clutch of 3. Incubation starts with the first egg, and as such hatching is spread over several days. The male provides the female food during incubation. She rarely leaves the eggs unattended for more than a few minutes at a time.
The female cares for the young with the male provisioning all food for his mate and young for the first two weeks after hatching. After this the female will share hunting, and the young are able to feed themselves from food placed in the nest. From one week of age aggression between siblings becomes apparent, but this is rarely the direct cause of the death of the younger ones. The fledging period is variable, depending on the size of the brood and food availability. The young may start to clamber about the nest tree by 45 days, but rarely fledge before 48-50 days, sometimes not until 60-70 days. Parents care for them in the vicinity of the nest for a further 15-20 days. The young birds will breed for the first time when they are two years old. Only one brood is raised in a year. The female will re-lay after a loss of eggs, but not after loss of young.
Mainly migratory in north and central Europe though increasing tendency to overwinter some areas; resident and dispersive further south.
Small isolated Welsh population largely resident, though some juveniles disperse eastwards into England in their first autumn, winter there, and return in spring. A few continental birds reach Britain during immaturity. Elsewhere in Europe, migratory populations winter mainly north Mediterranean basin. Long-established pattern of occasional winter records north and central Europe, such instances more frequent since late 1950s, and increasing degree of regular wintering in parts of south Sweden, south Germany, Switzerland, and north-east France. This behavioral change made possible by exploitation of improved food sources, and perhaps milder winters (on average) of recent decades. Movement southward from Europe on small scale, most evident Straits of Gibraltar.
Migratory movements begin August; most from central Europe pass through France in September, reaching Iberian winter quarters late September and October. Small onward movement across Straits of Gibraltar mainly October-November. Return movement through Europe begins late February; some reach northernmost breeding grounds late March though passage continues into April.
- spanwidth min.: 140 cm
- spanwidth max.: 165 cm
- size min.: 61 cm
- size max.: 72 cm
- incubation min.: 31 days
- incubation max.: 32 days
- fledging min.: 48 days
- fledging max.: 50 days
- broods 1
- eggs min.: 2
- eggs max.: 3
- Conservation Status
- Milvus milvus fasciicauda
- Cape Verde Is.
- Milvus milvus milvus
- Europe and nw Africa to the Middle East
- Milvus milvus
- EU Europe