60 - 70cm
1.7 - 1.8m
0.8 - 1.3kg
13 - 23 yrs
The red kite is a medium-large bird of prey in the family Accipitridae. Perhaps coincidentally, “milvus” roughly describes something that is a blight, which is fitting as it was once harshly persecuted for its scavenging behaviour. However, in 1999 the red kite was named 'Bird of the Century' by the British Trust for Ornithology, and its population is steadily recovering in the UK.
Its general appearance, from its body, tail and wings consists of a rusty-red colouration, although it has black wing-tips and white primary flight feathers. The breast is also lightly streaked with black. The youngsters tend to be similar but with a more washed-out colouration overall. Very rarely, a leucistic (white) mutation can occur.
What Does it Look Like?
What Does it Sound Like?
Its cry is very similar to – and often mistaken for – that of the common buzzard. Both are very reminiscent of a cat’s meow, often being described as a “peee-ay” sound. However, the red kite’s call is less mewing than the buzzard’s and instead is a thinner piping sound. The display call is a high-pitched "weee-ooo ee oo ee oo ee oo".
They prey on small mammals such as mice, voles and shrews but – as a scavenging species - will also feed on carrion such as sheep carcasses and game birds. However, in the spring earthworms form an important part of the diet and they may even enter gardens looking for scraps. Additionally, in urban areas they have been known to swipe food similarly to gulls.
What Does it Eat?
Where Does it Nest?
The nest is built in the fork of a large tree, although an old nest from a previous year may be used instead. It is then lined with grass or sheep’s wool before one to three eggs are laid in three-day intervals. Each egg is then incubated for one month, after which the chicks are brooded by the female whilst the male supplies food. The chicks fledge in about 50 days.
They are found largely across Europe, which encompasses 95% of its global breeding range. This range extends from Portugal east into central Europe and Ukraine, north to Sweden, Latvia and the UK, and south into Italy. They typically inhabit broadleaf woodlands, as well as valleys and the edges of wetlands.
Where Does it Live?
What is its Status?
The UK breeding population was once reduced to a few Welsh pairs, but it has now been successfully reintroduced in various protected locations. However, it is still threatened by illegal poisoning to protect game animals, particularly in France and Spain, although 40% of red kites were found to have suffered this fate in Scotland over a 17-year period.
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