Scientific name: Milvus milvus
Status: Resident breeding species
Breeding birds: 1,600 pairs
Conservation status: Green
Length: 61 – 66 cm
Wingspan: 175 – 195 cm
Weight: 750 – 1220 g
Red kites are colourful raptors that are very elegant both in flight and when perched.
Red kites have reddish-brown plumage with a dark, streaked whitish head and dark streaks on their breast and belly. The body is slim with narrow wings and a tail with a deep fork. The undertake is pale and when seen from below their is conspicuous white mark on the underwing.
The bill, legs, talons and eye rings are yellow while the eyes are amber.
Female red kites are slightly paler than males.Juvenile red kites are paler with a darker head.
Red kites breed between March and May. Mates pair for life and will use the same nesting site each year.
They build their nests in trees and will often use abandoned crows’ nests which they line with dry grasses and sheep’s wool.
Red kites lay 1-4 eggs, which are glossy white with reddish speckles. The eggs are incubated for around 30 days during which the female is fed by the male. Chicks will embark on their first flight at 50 days after hatching and although they reach sexual maturity at 2 years they will not usually breed till they are about 7 years old.
Red kits have a varied diet that includes small mammals such as mice, shrews, weasels, voles and young rabbits and hares, birds including magpies and pigeons as well as frogs, lizards and fish. In spring earthworms are an important part of their diet.
As scavengers, red kites are particularly susceptible to poisoning both from illegal direct poisoning and poisoning from pesticides.
Where to see them
In the UK, red kites used to be confined to Wales but a reintroduction programme has brought them back to many parts of England and Scotland.
They can be seen all year round in open forests, woodlands, and thickets.
Did you know?
In the Middle Ages red kites were used to keep the streets clean and they were protected by a royal decree which meant it was a capital offence to kill a red kite.