The red kite is colourful raptor that is as elegant in flight as when perched. It soars in wide circles high in the sky with slow, regular wing beats, using its forked tail to steer. They were saved from extinction in the UK by a long-running protection programme, and have been successfully reintroduced in England and Scotland. Despite this they are still vulnerable particularly from poison baits set for foxes, rats. and crows.
Breeding birds: 1,600 pairs
Family: Buzzards, kites & allies
Red kites have reddish-brown upperparts with a darker scaled pattern on the back. The underparts are reddish-brown with black streaks on the belly and breast. The long, broad wings have a conspicuous white patch underneath when seen in flight, and black tips, and the reddish-brown tail is forked. The head and throat are pale grey with dark streaks.
Red kites have a hooked yellow bill with a dark tip, the eyes are pale yellow with a yellow eye-ring, and the legs and feet are yellow. Males and females are similar although the female is slightly paler.
Juvenile red kites are more washed out and have pale streaks on the breast. The tail is less forked and has a dark subterminal band, and the tips of the greater coverts are pale.
Red kites breed between March and May. Mates pair for life and will often use the same nesting site each year.
They build their nests in trees and will often use abandoned crows’ nests. Males bring twigs which are used by the female to build the nest, and then lined 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 kites 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.
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.
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.