On the brink of extinction in the UK at the turn of the twentieth century, and with the longest continuous conservation effort in the world, the Red Kite has a complex history and exciting future. We decided to get to know our red-feathered namesake a little better in a two-part blog.
Scientific name: Milvus Milvus
Length: Up to 66cm/26”
Wingspan: up to 165cm/65”
Appearance: Rusty red-brown and black with a grey head. On the underside of each black wing is a strip of grey feathers which get lighter towards the tip. In flight, the most defining feature of the Red Kite is its long tail, which is a large V-shape giving the bird a recognisable silhouette against other birds of prey. It tilts this large tail rather like a rudder, making it very swift and agile.
Habitat: Fresh-water marshland, farmland, woodland or mountains. They nest in tall trees so particularly like the mature trees in woodland areas.
Diet: Mostly carrion and small mammals such as voles, mice and rabbits. Red Kites are diurnal (day-time) ground-feeding raptors but their talons are not very strong and their beaks are not very sharp, so they rely mostly on scavenging. When hunting, they will dive from the air or from a high perch onto their prey. Some Kites learn to follow tractors to take advantage of any victims of the equipment.
Breeding: Red Kites have one brood per year, in April. Nest sites are built around 12-20m above the ground, sitting in the fork or limb of a tree. The male brings the female twigs and mud with which to construct the nest, and the inside is lined with grass and wool. Just before the eggs are laid, the nest is decorated with found objects like rags or plastic bags. Kites have two or three eggs, laying one every three days. Each chick hatches after 28-30 days and the male typically brings in the food until they develop feathers. After that, both parents feed them until they’re ready to fledge, around 50 days after hatching. It takes about a month for fledglings to become fully independent. Many juvenile Red Kites travel as far as Spain or Portugal in the autumn, but then settle the following spring in the area they were born. After that they stay mainly in one area. Adult Kites begin breading at two years old and pairs bond for life.
Quickfire Kite Facts:
- When chicks are young, their mother can signal them to play dead if there are predators nearby.
- William Shakespeare makes reference to Kites way back in 1611, in his play The Winter’s Tale.
- Red Kites weigh between 1.5 - 2.5 lbs. This is about the same as a pineapple.
- The collective name for a group of Red Kites is a ‘wake’, a ‘roost’, a ‘husk’, a ‘soar’ or a ‘kettle’!
Learn about the turbulent history and exciting future of the Red Kite in the second of our two-part blog.