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Common Buzzard or Red Kite - how to tell the difference?

Common Buzzard or Red Kite - how to tell the difference?

In the UK, Common Buzzards are often mistaken for Red Kites (and vice versa). These birds of prey share similarities, such as their habit to glide and soar high in the sky, similar mewing calls and fingered tips to their wings.

We've put together this guide to highlight some of the key differences between the two to help you identify whether it's a Buzzard or a Red Kite you're looking at.

Common buzzard flying

Common Buzzard in flight

Red kite

Red Kite in flight (Credit: @bennicholson_photography Instagram)

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Which is more common?

In the UK, you're much more likely to see a Buzzard rather than a Red Kite, as currently, the Buzzard is a more common and widespread bird of prey.

What are the main differences?

The most obvious differences between the Red Kite and Common Buzzard is their tails. The Common Buzzard has a fanned tail, whilst the Red Kite has a forked one. The Red Kite is usually the larger of the two birds.

Buzzards appear to be much more compact with short necks, broad wings and can sometimes appear to be buffed-cream in colour all over. Although generally brown in colour, they have a distinctive pattern on their wings which can be seen below. To make things a bit more confusing, a Buzzard's plumage can vary significantly from being pale all the way through to dark in colour.

Buzzards tend to flap their wings more in flight, looking steady and direct, whilst Red Kites glide and only flap their wings occasionally.

Both birds soar high in the sky in large circles, and trying to identify them whilst flying, based on their behaviour alone, can be extremely difficult. Common Buzzards usually soar with raised wings on a shallow 'V' shape, whereas the Red Kite soars with bowed wings.

Buzzards can often be seen perching on fence posts and dead branches for long periods of time, particularly in areas near to woodland where they can nest.

The Red Kite has a grey head, obvious patterns and a very large wingspan. Their wings are slightly angled in flight, giving them the appearance of being relaxed and elegant. The Red Kite has a long tail, light from below and forked with sharp corners and comparable to a triangular shape - when closed. This is much more apparent in adults when spread. Their bodies are reddish in colour on the back and chest.

Although Red Kites are less common, there are concentrated populations in England and Scotland where they have been successfully re-introduced. On the whole, the population seems to be spreading across the whole of the UK.

Compare Buzzard and Red Kite



Buteo buteo

Other names: Common Buzzard


51cm to 57cm


113cm to 128cm


550g to 1.3kg

Learn about the Buzzard
Red Kite

Red Kite

Milvus milvus



60cm to 72cm


143cm to 195cm


750g to 1.6kg

Learn about the Red Kite

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