Soaring gracefully above the UK countryside, the Red Kite is a bird of prey that has returned from the brink of extinction.
Red Kites are frequently seen in flight when their deeply forked tail is a defining feature. When seen from below, the body and upper wings are red-brown, while the head, tail and ends of the wings are a paler grey shade. Each wing tip ends in large black finger-like primary feathers.
Perched birds show mottled brown plumage over most of their body, although their head is a silvery shade. The upper side of the tail is reddish. Their hooked bill is yellow with a black tip, their legs are yellow, and they have pale grey to yellow eyes.
Female Red Kites are larger than males but otherwise identical. They are best identified by behavioural differences.
Juveniles are generally paler and have a less silvery head than adults. They also have a dark band across their tail and light streaking on their chest and belly.
Close up of a Red Kite perched on the ground
Red Kites are large birds of prey with a similar weight but greater wingspan than the Buzzard. Read this in-depth guide for more information on distinguishing between Buzzards and Red Kites.
Most adult Red Kites have a body length of 60 to 72 centimetres.
Females are significantly heavier than males, generally weighing between 0.9 and 1.6 kilograms. Males usually weigh 0.7 to 1.2 kilograms.
Red Kites have an impressive wingspan of up to 1.95 meters.
For more information on the size of Red Kites, check out this article on Red Kite size.
Red Kite in flight, from below
Red Kites are not particularly vocal, although adults may produce a high-pitched buzzard-like cry at the nest. They also have a distinctive rising and falling whistling call that is made in flight.
Red Kites usually call when courting a partner or communicating with other members of their own species. They may also call if alarmed, excited, or distressed.
Red Kite call
Simon Elliott, XC591286. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/591286.
Despite their large size, Red Kites rarely tackle large live prey. Continue reading to learn more about what these birds eat in the UK.
Red Kites are primarily scavengers, although they will hunt live prey. They feed on the carcasses of larger mammals and livestock, as well as smaller animals killed on roads. They also hunt small birds, rodents, insects and other invertebrates.
Check out our full guide on what Red Kites eat, along with behaviour and other FAQs.
Red Kite chicks have the same diet as their parents. Both parents feed the chicks, although the male brings all the food for the first two weeks while the female is brooding.
Portrait of a Red Kite
The Red Kite is generally a lowland species of open habitat. However, they require well-wooded areas in the vicinity to nest and sleep at night. Look out for them in the following habitats:
The Red Kite has a patchy distribution in the UK. They are most widespread in Wales and Southern England, although populations occur in isolated parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Elsewhere they occur in isolated areas across Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa.
Red Kites spend much of their day wheeling and gliding through the air. They rarely descend to the ground for long periods, preferring to eat in the air or from a perch. They generally perch and roost high above the ground in trees.
For more information, check out our comprehensive guide on the habitat and distribution of Red Kites.
Red Kite landing on a rock
Red Kites were nearly eradicated from the United Kingdom, but they have made a triumphant return, and today they are locally common in many areas. An estimated 6000 pairs of these elegant raptors live in the UK today.
Central England and Wales are prime areas to look for Red Kites in the United Kingdom. Look out for them in the skies above their favoured habitats or visit Red Kite feeding stations for a close-up sighting.
The red kite often flies with its wings flexed and its tail constantly twisting to angle against thermals which it rides with a leisurely grace. To take advantage of thermals, the bird will rise late after waiting for the sun to warm the land.
Outside of the breeding season the birds are gregarious and can even be witnessed in flocks of up to 100 strong.
Close up of a Red Kite in flight
Man is the greatest threat to the Red Kite, although conservation and protection have seen their numbers rise.
Wild Red Kites can live at least 26 years, and captive specimens have survived for an impressive 38 years. Nevertheless, their average lifespan is just four years or so.
Red Kites in the United Kingdom are protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.
Red Kites have a green conservation status in the United Kingdom and are classified globally as a ‘Least Concern’ species.
Red Kites very nearly went extinct from the current-day United Kingdom and were indeed extinct in England and Scotland. Their numbers dwindled to just fifty-odd pairs by the 1980s, and the decision was made to reintroduce birds from Sweden and Spain to bolster their population. Since then, they have increased dramatically, highlighting the change possible through conservation.
Red Kite perched on the ground, in the sun
Red Kites begin nesting in the spring and produce a single brood each year. Their eggs take just over a month to hatch, and their chicks require about three months of care to reach independence.
Red Kites build their nests in forks and branches of large deciduous or coniferous trees. They may construct multiple nests in their territory and use just one or alternate each year. The nest is a twig platform but includes plastic, rags, wool, and other materials for comfort and insulation.
For more information on Red Kite nesting habits, be sure to check out our guide.
Red Kite eggs are cream-white and spotted in brown, each measuring about 57 millimetres long and 45 millimetres wide. Most clutches consist of just two eggs, although they may lay up to four.
Red Kites form strong monogamous pair bonds when they are about two years old. Pairs generally mate for life and use the same nesting territory year after year.
A pair of juvenile Red Kites
Red Kites are not aggressive birds, although there have been some unfortunate incidents where habituated birds have snatched food from people, causing great alarm and even minor injuries.
Red Kites sleep perched high up in the safety of trees. Many kites may congregate to roost communally in the same tree, especially outside the breeding season.
Red Kites prefer to hunt their prey from above. Although they will land in fields to forage for earthworms, collect food at feeding stations, or feed on carrion.
Red Kite perched, photo taken from behind
Red Kites do not migrate in the United Kingdom. However, populations that breed in Continental Europe and Western Asia may be partially or fully migratory.
Red Kites are a native species in the United Kingdom, although many of the current-day population descend from birds introduced from elsewhere in Europe. Some of those original birds may even survive today.
Red Kite calling loudly
Red Kites are graceful in flight, preferring to soar than actively flap. They climb high into the sky with ease using rising air currents known as thermals and can reach impressive heights of 1600 meters above the ground.
Carrion Crows and other corvids regularly chase Red Kites in a behaviour known as mobbing. The smaller crows are fearless and determined in chasing off kites, particularly in the breeding season when their chicks and even fledgelings are vulnerable to these birds of prey.
The collective nouns for a group of red kites are as follows:
Family:Kites, hawks and eagles
60cm to 72cm
143cm to 195cm
750g to 1.6kg
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