If you've ever seen a red kite (Milvus milvus) overhead, gliding silently in circles, you will likely have a lifetime fondness for this bird like me. You may also be wondering what the red kite was doing up there? It looks like they are gliding in circles as if they have forgotten their keys and are waiting for their partner to let them in the nest. Well, they are, of course, looking for food. Below, we're going to find out what food red kites like to eat, and it may surprise you!
Red kites mainly eat dead animals. They don't have powerful enough feet to tackle anything bigger than a small rabbit, really. So, while they sometimes catch small, live prey, mostly they eat roadkill and other dead animals.
Isn't it surprising that red kites aren't the killers they seem in the sky? Well, red kites are a very interesting bird species. As we'll learn below, their feeding habits get more and more interesting.
While a red kite's diet is largely made up of dead animals (carrion), they do eat other things. They are known to catch and kill small mammals like voles, rats, mice and even some small birds. They are also quite happy to eat chicks and don't shy away from worms and beetles either.
Red Kite in flight with a piece of meat in the beak
Red kites mainly eat dead animals. So their favourite food is just about any meat they can easily find and eat. As well as dead animals, red kites generally favor rabbits, pheasant, rats, mice and more. A lot of a red kite's diet is roadkill.
So, if you've hit a rabbit recently (RIP), chances are, you'll have put a smile on the beak of a red kite in your area.
During the winter, Red Kites will eat just about anything that they can get their beaks on. Sadly, lots of animals don't make it to spring if they haven't had a good food source throughout the winter. Bad news for that animal, but great for the kite.
They will happily take that home for Christmas dinner. If they can't find any roadkill or naturally dead animals in the colder months, they will survive on worms.
Red Kite foraging for food during the winter
As a big part of a red kite's lunch menu is dead animals; they don't really need to hunt. Especially as there are so many animals killed on the roads every day. Most red kites can get by without ever needing to hunt.
You may see kites creating big looping circles as they effortlessly glide through the sky, making no noise and keeping a watchful eye on the ground. They may be looking for small prey to grab with their feet. However, this is likely the bird scouting for any dead animals.
Red kites glide in looping circles perfectly silent high above the ground. As they do this, they are watching the ground for any movement but also keeping an eye out for any dead animals, as that is what they eat mostly.
Once they have located some food (dead or alive), they will swoop down and land in a tree. They are very cautious birds and only move in when they feel safe.
Adult red kite soaring high up in the sky, searching for food
The eating habits of red kites haven't been researched too much. While we know what these birds eat, how often they eat remains a bit of a mystery. It certainly depends on what food they have in their habitat.
Red kites have been known to eat from sheep carcasses. That is a very large meal; the red kite would certainly need a nap after that and wouldn't eat for a few days or even weeks.
If the meal is smaller, though, they may feed more than once a day. Red kites will often hover over farmer's fields during ploughing to grab any small mammals or insects it can find. So, it's very likely you'll see them eat more than once if you're watching that beautiful display.
Red Kite perched on a branch, eating some meat
Baby red kites will eat whatever the parents bring back to the nest. This could be a juicy rabbit killed on the road or a beak full of worms or beetles.
The truth is, red kites are not that fussy about their food, they will eat anything, and if it's dead, then that saves some time and energy. This is taught at a young age, so baby red kite will eat nearly anything. There is probably a fussy one that won't eat the dead rabbit, though!
A pair of juvenile Red Kites
Even though many of us think that red kites are fearsome predators, they are very shy and nervous birds. They will often wait for crows to start eating a dead animal before they approach it. This is to make sure the animal isn't a trap. So, red kites must feel comfortable in your garden if you want them to feed there.
But do you? There's been some reports around the UK of red kites acting like gulls and taking food right out of people's hands. In Buckinghamshire, a few red kites stole some people's sandwiches while they were having a picnic. So, it might be best to enjoy red kites from a distance, unless you don't mind your ice cream going missing!
Red kites may have a drink of water every now and then, likely from a puddle, river or stream, but that is about it. They get most of the water they need from the food they eat.
They also get all their veggies from the food they eat. After all, if your food is eating grass, seeds, berries and nuts, you don't need to, right?
A red kite stopping for a drink of water
Red kites don't have any natural predators in the UK. However, like most other bird species, we are a threat to them. The actions of humans kill more red kites than anything else.
Red kites eat a lot of roadkill, and we all know how roadkill is made! Sadly, red kites fall victim to cars just like their prey. Another big concern is poisoning from chemicals we use.
It isn't illegal to feed red kites, but there also isn't much need to either. There is loads of food for red kites around. If you have lots of red kites in your area, they are there because of the food, so there is no need to feed them.
It would be extremely rare for a red kite to hunt a cat, although not completely impossible and unheard of.
There have been reports throughout the UK, of an extremely bold red kite repeatedly trying to hunt a Pomeranian whilst their owner was right next to them!
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