Red kites (Milvus milvus) are always an impressive sight. Watching them circling overhead as they search for food is a sight anyone who loves nature will hold close to their heart. But once these beautiful birds have caught some food and filled their bellies, where do they go? Well, here is a complete guide to red kite nesting.
Red kites nest in trees and will often build their nests on top of old squirrel dreys or crows' nests. Both coniferous and broadleaf trees are common, and usually inside forests and woodlands, but occasionally in clumps of trees.
Red kites usually nest in the main fork of a tree, as this offers a flat surface for them to build on. The nest is between 12-20 metres up in the tree.
As well as forks of trees, sometimes red kites will build their nests on the wide side branch of trees.
Red kites are very curious birds, and their nesting habits are no exception to this, as we'll see throughout this red kite nesting article.
The nest of a red kite, with chick inside
The nest of a Red Kite often appears quite messy and untidy. Unlike many other birds, Red Kites don't have cup-shaped nests and are, instead, essentially a pile of grass, wool, twigs and hair built on top of an existing nest.
However, unlike other birds' nests that are very neat and constructed in a cup shape, red kites don't follow these rules. Their nests are often very untidy. They will use old crow's nests and squirrel dreys for the base of their nest and then just pile twigs and grass on top.
A few days before the couple lay eggs, though, they will decorate the nest. They will find rubbish and 'ornaments' and get the nest ready for their young by giving it a quick makeover.
Red Kite gathering nesting material for nest construction
Red kites begin nesting in March and can nest right up until late July.
Their nesting habits greatly depend on the chicks. The female lays eggs in March, and it takes about 30 days for these to hatch.
The chicks fledge after about 50 days, but it can take up to 70 days for the chick to leave the nest. During this time, the adults will stay with the chicks in the nest and feed them.
Red kites nest for about three to four months of the year. They start nesting in March and will leave the nest for good once the chicks are strong enough to fend for themselves.
It can take around 70 days for the chicks to leave the nest after they hatch (and they have an incubation period of 30 days). So, red kites can nest for 100 days or more per year.
Incubation duties of the eggs are mainly down to the female, but in occasional circumstances, males will help out too. Whilst the female is incubating the eggs, males will bring the majority of the food to the nest for feeding the chicks, with the female then feeding the chicks.
Red kite perched on a stump, ready to launch an attack on prey
Both the male and female will construct the nest together, using a mixture of twigs, grass and wool on top of usually an old nest from a crow or a squirrel drey. The nests are built high up in forked trees, which ensures a secure and sturdy location to raise their chicks.
While some birds like to keep their nests nice and tidy, red kites don't. They tend to make a very messy nest and just sort of plonk twigs, grass and wool on an already existing nest.
They have learned to nest in forks in trees, which offer them a good, safe and stable place. Which is very good as their nests are not the strongest in the world.
Just before their babies arrive, they do decorate the nest, though. They will hunt for rubbish and treasure around them and adorn the nest with it.
Red Kite in flight
Baby red kites leave the nest up to 70 days after they have hatched. You may see them clamber out of the nest and explore the tree a bit after about 45 days, but they very rarely fledge before 50 days, and most take between 60 and 70 days to leave the nest.
Red kites only have one brood a year, laying 1-3 eggs at a time. They only have one brood a year because the chicks can take up to 4 months to leave the nest.
So once the chicks have fledged the nest in June-July, the parents need a well-earned rest!
Red Kite coming in to land
Red kites do try and use the same nest year after year and will usually add nesting material every time they return. If they do have an unsuccessful nesting period one year, though, they will move to a new nest.
It's not uncommon for a breeding pair of red kites to have two nests, which sometimes they'll alternate between each breeding season.
This is another reason why red kites nests get a bad reputation for being a bit untidy and messy, as similar to bald eagle nesting habits, the nests just get added to a bit year on year.
In fact, in 2012, there was a spell of wet weather that made many red kites unsuccessful in the Chiltern area of the UK, and they relocated to new nesting sites the year after.
Red kite in flight, with a branch in beak for the nest
The eggs of a red kite are a creamy colour with brown markings all over them. They are about 57mm by 45mm and weigh about 63 grams. Usually, red kites lay between 1-4 eggs in a clutch, but up to five eggs have been recorded. The average number of eggs is two.
Red kites lay their eggs in March. They lay between one and four eggs (average being two) two-three days apart.
After this, the female will keep the eggs warm for about 30 days before they hatch (sometimes up to 38 days). Once the red kite chicks have hatched, both the parents are on feeding duty for up to 70 days. This is when the chicks will leave the nest.
Red kite gliding through the sky
There is no evidence to suggest that red kites do use nesting boxes, and it would need to be a mighty big nesting box if they did. They like to nest in trees and will often nest high up in an exposed area of a tree.
This is likely to keep watch for food and to keep their young safe. So, because they like to nest high up in the open, it is probably unlikely that a red kite will use a nesting box.
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