Red Kites are magnificent raptors from the Accipitridae family. With a wingspan nearing 2m, these large birds are unmistakable when they graciously glide on calm winds, circling above fields, woodlands, and urban areas.
Here, we’ll answer the question: where do Red Kites live?
Red Kites inhabit broadleaf deciduous woodlands but are adapting to semi-urban environments. 95% of the Red Kite population lives in Europe, primarily in western and central Europe, with resident populations residing in the UK, France, Germany, Belgium, and parts of Spain and Italy.
They also inhabit parts of southern Scandinavia, northern Europe to Latvia, and eastern Europe to Ukraine.
This large raptor has become a hallmark bird of the Chiltern Hills and Home Counties, where you can spot them almost everywhere. However, this wasn’t the case until around the 1990s when Red Kite populations sharply increased as a result of conservation efforts.
Red Kites have become a flagship for bird conservation in the UK, where conservationists rescued the population from just a few breeding pairs in Wales to over 5,000 breeding pairs spread across much of the UK.
There is much more to learn about this gracious bird of prey - read on to find out!
Red Kite perched on a branch in its natural habitat
The range of Red Kites extends through central and western Europe, south to Spain, Italy, and Portugal, east to Ukraine and Latvia, and north to southern Sweden.
Some birds remain resident throughout the entire year, especially in central and western Europe. The UK Red Kite population is almost solely resident, for example. Migrating Red Kites head south to Turkey and North Africa. Vagrants have been found as far south as Gambia, Israel and Libya.
Red Kites prefer to breed in milder parts of western Europe, across France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and the UK. Birds further north and east are more likely to migrate.
The European population consists of around 95% of the global Red Kite population, with around half living in Germany.
Close up of a Red Kite in flight over a meadow
Red Kites prefer dense, broadleaf deciduous woodlands. Valleys, wetlands, and other wild environments feature the highest concentrations of birds, but this adaptable species now lives on the edges of urban areas.
For example, Red Kites are making their homes in London suburbs up the M40 corridor between London, Oxford, and Birmingham.
Red Kites build their nests in tall trees of 12 to 20m or higher. They keep to relatively low elevations of 800m or less. Red Kites are quite secretive unless they’re out foraging, in which case they’re easy to spot in the sky given their large profile and gentle gliding behaviour.
Red Kite with prey over a field
In central parts of England, Wales and Scotland, Red Kites are fairly common, and can be spotted all year round as they are residents. During the winter, Red Kites can be spotted around the eastern and southern coasts of England and western coasts of Wales.
Red Kites were once ubiquitous across Europe but faced heavy persecution for the best part of 300 to 400 years.
The European population of Red Kites plummeted by some 30% in the mid-19th-century. For example, the UK’s population was reduced to just a handful of breeding birds confined to Wales only. In addition to being killed as ‘vermin’ (as Red Kites are scavengers), egg collectors raided Red Kite nests for their large eggs.
So, if you rewind back to the 1950s or so, it certainly would have been rare to spot a Red Kite in the UK and some parts of Europe.
Fast forward back to the present day, and you probably wouldn’t think these birds were once extinct in England and Scotland. In parts of the Chiltern Hills, for example, Red Kites are active throughout the entire year and are hard not to see.
Close up portrait of a Red Kites head
The UK’s Red Kite population is concentrated in central England, but they’re becoming increasingly common in the Midlands and East Anglia. The Chiltern Hills is a key stronghold, stretching through the Home Counties of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, and Bedfordshire.
There were some 4,000 pairs in central England in 2017, which probably makes up the majority of the UK population.
Other populations are found in Wales and Scotland, especially Galloway, and parts of the east Irish and Northern Irish coast. Red Kites are limited in northern England, whereas populations in the east of England are boosted by migrants arriving from northern Europe during winter.
Red Kite in flight above the hills of Laurieston, Dumfrieshire, Scotland
Red Kites are most abundant in the Chilterns, central Scotland and Galloway, and central and southern Wales. Central England’s Home Counties and the Galloway Kite Trail are two key strongholds where it’s easy to spot Red Kites.
Red Kites are easy to spot across the Home Counties and have spread up the M40 corridor. You can spot Red Kites throughout most of the year in High Wycombe, Marlow and Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, Thame and Bradenham, Oxfordshire, Finchampstead Ridges, Berkshire, and The Chase, between Hampshire and Berkshire. They’re also abundant in the Brecon Beacons and much of southern and central Wales
In the UK, the Chiltern Hills in England and the Galloway Kite Trail in Scotland are home to many resident Red Kites.
Pinkneys Green, Maidenhead, Watlington Hill, Oxfordshire and Hughenden Park, High Wycombe, are three excellent spots to spot Red Kites near London.
But really, Red Kites are pretty easy to see across the entirety of central England, extending up the M40 corridor to the Midlands and west to the Welsh borders.
In Europe generally, over half the Red Kite population lives in Germany, where you can spot them across much of the country’s dense deciduous woodlands.
Red Kite coming in to land on the ground
Red Kites are residents across most of their central and western European range and don’t migrate for winter. The UK’s Red Kite population is non-migratory and remains close to their breeding range throughout the entire year.
The same can be said for the central European population, which spans France to Germany, Spain and parts of Italy. Red Kites in southern Sweden, Latvia, Ukraine and other parts of northern and eastern Europe tend to head south during winter.
Wintering birds head to other parts of central and eastern Europe and rarely parts of Turkey, Africa and the Middle East.
Red Kite flying amongst the snow, late winter in mid Wales
Red Kites reside in the breeding territories throughout summer. Red Kites breed in the traditional spring breeding season, which spans from around late March until June.
After breeding, Red Kite parents look after their young until they fledge, which takes a lengthy 60 to 70 days. Young Red Kites spend much of the winter close to their parents until they’re ready to become independent.
In the winter, Red Kites roost communally in large groups. Some communal roosts consist of over 100 birds. For example, in the Chiltern Hills, over 200 birds were spotted circling above a woodland roost in winter. Red Kites roost high up in the tree canopy.
Red kits are highly sociable, especially compared to other species of raptors that are more reclusive.
A pair of Red Kites in flight together
There are over 20,000 breeding pairs of Red Kites in Europe or over 70,000 individual mature birds.
In the UK, the RSPB estimates that there are around 4,700 breeding pairs of Red Kites in the UK or over 10,000 individuals. This figure continues to rise as Red Kites disperse from their strongholds in England, Scotland and Wales.
Red Kites are not currently globally threatened but were for much of the early and mid-19th-century. Persecution reduced the UK’s population to just a few birds in Wales. Populations in England and Scotland were extinct by about 1970 or so.
Reintroduction projects saw the Red Kite rise to prominence across UK and European skies once again.
Europe’s Red Kite population has increased dramatically over the last 40 years or so - the UK’s ever-increasing Red Kite population is viewed as a triumph of conservation. In 1999, the Red Kite was named 'Bird of the Century' by the British Trust for Ornithology.
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