Milvus milvus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Family: Accipitriformes > Accipitridae
The Red Kite was persecuted to the point of extinction in Britain, just about hanging on in Wales, but a late 20th century reintroduction programme has transformed the fortunes of this species.
With centres of high population in the Chilterns, Wales, Yorkshire and eastern Scotland, Red Kites can be seen circling and drifting above major roads, farmland and woodland, even adjacent to major cities such as Gateshead.
Strikingly coloured, the rich reddish-brown tones of the bird’s plumage shine in good light, contrasting with white and dark brown in the wings, and the long forked tail is very evident. In some areas, such as mid-Wales, farms put out food for this carrion-eating raptor and large concentrations have become a wildlife tourist attraction
Select a topic for more facts and statistics about the Red Kite
Red Kite identification is usually straightforward.
Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Red Kite, provided by xeno-canto contributors.
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Status and Trends
Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.
This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.
Red Kite was historically widespread across Britain but, following widespread persecution, fewer than ten breeding pairs remained by the 1930s and 1940s, concentrated into a small area of mid Wales. Through careful husbandry organised by a 'Kite Committee' of local conservationists and landowners, including RSPB bounties paid to farmers for successful nests during 1922-90, the Welsh population rose to 100 pairs by 1993. Most birds were descended from a single female that had continued to breed successfully during the population bottleneck (Carter 2001). As a step towards restoring the original breeding range, birds were introduced in 1989 into the Chilterns (Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire) and into the Black Isle in Easter Ross (Evans & Pienkowski 1991). Successful breeding populations quickly established in both areas. Further releases were begun in Northamptonshire in 1995, central Scotland in 1996, Yorkshire in 1999, Dumfries & Galloway in 2001, northeast England in 2004, Aberdeen in 2007 and County Down in 2008. Each of these centres has given rise to a productive breeding group, in some cases benefiting from large-scale provision of food (e.g. Orros & Fellowes 2014, 2015) or the development of a well-established communal roost. Introduced birds and their offspring wander widely across Britain and Ireland but, as yet, pairs have been slow to set up breeding sites distant from the release areas (Balmer et al. 2013). BBS sightings have shown a steep rise since 1995. Results from a transect survey specifically targeting Buzzards and Red Kites in central southern England, between 2011 and 2016, showed a doubling of population in the area over that period, broadly in line with the BBS trend (Stevens, M et al. 2020).
Illegal killing is continuing and in northern Scotland the use of poisoned baits deliberately to kill raptors has severely limited the growth of the Red Kite population (Smart et al. 2010, Sansom et al. 2016). Poisoning also still occurs in England and may have slowed the rate of expansion in some areas (Molenaar et al. 2017). Nevertheless, the species was moved to the green list in the UK in 2015 (Eaton et al. 2015).
|UK breeding population||+1935% increase (1995–2020)|
The breeding distribution maps shown here show the results of extensive reintroduction of Red Kites throughout the UK. Kites have continued to spread and filled many gaps in these maps.
Occupied 10-km squares in UK
|No. occupied in breeding season||723|
|% occupied in breeding season||24|
|No. occupied in winter||998|
|% occupied in winter||33|
European Distribution Map
Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK
|% change in range in breeding season (1968–72 to 2008–11)||+2000%|
|% change in range in winter (1981–84 to 2007–11)||+1225%|
Red Kites are present year-round and now detected on up to 8% of complete lists.
Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.
An overview of year-round movements for the whole of Europe can be seen on the EuroBirdPortal viewer.
Lifecycle and body size information about Red Kite, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.
|Number of Broods||1|
|Egg Size||57×45 mm Weight = 63 g (of which 8% is shell)|
View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report
|Maximum Age from Ringing||25 years 8 months 28 days (set in 2018)|
|Typical Lifespan||4 years with breeding typically at 2 year|
|Juvenile Survival||0.5 (in first year)|
|Ring size||G (pulli G or H)*|
|Field Codes||2-letter: KT | 5-letter code: REDKI | Euring: 2390|
For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name
Interpretation and scientific publications about Red Kite from BTO scientists.
Causes of change
There is little good evidence available regarding the drivers of the breeding population increase in this species in the UK. However, the initial rapid increases following re-introduction to England and Scotland may have been aided by lack of intraspecific competition and the ability of this species to exploit a previously unoccupied habitat.
Further information on causes of change
There is no evidence yet that density-dependent effects have begun to slow the rate of increase.
Information about conservation actions
The Red Kite is currently increasing across many parts of the UK following the successful reintroduction programme and therefore no specific conservation actions are currently required in many areas. However, illegal persecution still occurs in some areas where it is believed to have slowed the recovery of this species, and hence measures to reduce this in these areas may be required to ensure the success of the reintroduction programme continues (Smart et al. 2010).
Artificial feeding of Red Kites in gardens is one measure which can also help support Red Kite populations, although there may be a risk that such food provision may artificially inflate populations to such an extent that they could potentially cause problems if feeding is halted (Orros & Fellowes 2014).
Anticoagulant rodenticides (rat poisons) have been found in some Red Kite carcasses in concentrations sufficient to be considered a contributory cause of death; there is no evidence so far to suggest that this might be affecting the population growth rate but precautions such as prompt removal and safe disposal of poisoned rates, as well as continued monitoring, would be prudent (Walker et al. 2019).
Wind farm turbines have been shown to be a particular threat to raptors including Red Kite in Switzerland (Schaub 2012); hence placement of new wind farms may be important. However, it is unclear whether wind farms are likely to have any significant effect on UK populations as there is currently limited overlap between the distribution of Red Kites and wind farms.
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