Red Kites – Did you know?
Red Kites– Things you might not know
These magnificent Birds of Prey have had a long troubled existence around Man, and have recently been pushed back into the news with horror stories from the Scottish Highlands of large numbers of the birds being poisoned, pushing them back to the brink, but just how much do you know about them?
The Red Kite is mentioned in the knight’s tale by Chaucer
It is also mentioned by Shakespeare in A Winter’s Tale.
In 1457 James II of Scotland decreed that the Kite should be killed whenever possible.
Old English names for the Kite range from Puttock to Gled and Glead, a number of place names such as Gleadthorpe in Northamptonshire and Gledhill in Yorkshire are reminders of these names.
They can often be seen to be carrying twigs, sometimes very large twigs! They may be taking them to build a nest but they also appear to play with them, dropping it then swooping down to retrieve it. They also practice passing it from bill to talons during flight several times.
Things you probably already know….
Red Kites do not migrate they are residents all year round.
The Red Kite is listed Schedule I of the wildlife and countryside act 1981 and has full legal protection.
The Red Kite is often described as the most beautiful bird of prey in Britain.
They are primarily scavengers
Where you see Red Kites you will almost always see the common buzzard.
The Black Kite is a close relative to the Red Kite.
The Red Kite requires open habitats for foraging and you can often see seen drifting over both arable crops and grassland looking for food.
The Wingtips of the Red Kite are strongly fingered and can be clearly made out when watching it soar high above the sky.
They have a very impressive wingspan and bright yellow eyes.
Kites usually live into their teens; however the oldest recorded kite in the wild was 26 years old. There has been one documented that lived to 38 years in captivity.
The Red Kite is the largest species of Kite.
The females are slightly larger and heavier than the males.
In the summer it’s easier to note the difference between adults and young kites when in flight as adults normally have large gaps between their wings and tail where their feathers have dropped. Whereas the young just out of the nests that year will look clean, fresh and new compared to the adults
Kites are surprisingly lightweight weighing around 900gm in the spring time.
They have a mixed plumage of black, chestnut, grey and reddish brown. Their under wings have an obvious white patch contrasting strongly with jet black wing-tips. In flight you will always notice their long deeply forked tail which they use like a rudder when in flight.
They have a very impressive wingspan of nearly two metres. It’s this that means the bird can stay in the air for many hours with hardly a beat of its wings.
It has tiny feet for its size, hence why it is mainly a scavenger.
There is a very special White Red Kite known and seen around a local kite feeding station in Wales. It suffers from a condition called Leucism which means that the pigmentation cells in an animal or bird fail to develop properly. This can result in unusual white patches appearing on the animal, or, more rarely completely white creatures. You can see pictures of this Kite online, it’s very beautiful and worth a look.
Image recorded by Suzie
Persecution meant that the Red Kite was exterminated in England, Scotland and most of Wales by the end of the last century.
The 16th century saw a series of vermin acts introduced, which included the Red Kite. These acts gave legal authority for the Red Kite to be killed throughout the parishes of Wales and England, as the Red Kite was perceived to be a threat to expanding agriculture.
This continued throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, and at the end of the 18th Century gamekeepers had begun employment on country estates, set up after the initiation of parliamentary estates, these men were responsible for the killing of even more red kites.
It was also the introduction of the breech-loading shotgun that really hurt the Kites and their numbers in England and it was this along with parishes paying high bounties for Kite Bills that led to higher numbers being killed.
By the late 18th century Red kites had bred for the last time in England and it was a very similar story in Scotland.
Due to the on -going protection of the red kite in Wales the native population has been making a steady increase year on year. This is amazing considering that in the early 1930’s only two breeding pairs were known to have survived and both were in central wales.
The re-introduction of the red kite to England and Scotland has been one of the biggest conservation success stories in the last 20 years. (The reintroduced chicks came from Spain)
In the UK, Red Kites can be found in the Chiltern, Mid-Wales, North Scotland, Central Scotland, East Midlands and Yorkshire. Excluding Wales all of these populations are the results of re-introductions.
Today the Welsh population is said to range between 750 and 900 breeding pairs.
The reintroductions of the kites had been successful due to their habitats being able to support a healthy population. This is because, the original cause of extermination came from persecution; it had nothing to do with loss of habitat.
The re introduced birds bred for the first time in both England and Scotland in 1992
It is now thought that Britain’s Kite population could reach around 50,000 pairs which are currently more than double the current words population, as our population is booming many our European countries are in a sharp decline.
The only known predators of the Red Kite are the Northern Goshawk and humans through persecution and most recently poisoning. The Eggs and nestlings are vulnerable to red foxes and are also targeted by egg thieves/ collectors even though they risk a heavy fine of over £1000.
The Red Kite is Red listed and protected at ALL times. It is illegal to disturb the birds while they are nesting or at any other time.
In the Chilterns the deer stalkers think a lot of the kites and leave the entrails from shot deer for them to eat.
Although we know that they are primarily scavengers Kites will also eat mice, shrews, voles, fish and worms. They have also been known to hunt through refuse dumps.
The kite will feed on large dead animals but even though it’s a large bird it’s not very strong therefore it needs a stronger bird to come along and pierce the carcass so as it can then feed.
The kite is also capable of feeding in the wing; they can transfer food from their talons to bill whilst flying. They will also perch high in a tree to feed on larger items its safe from ambush whilst it tears the food into little pieces.
Courtship & Breeding
Red Kites tend to be monogamous and usually pair for life. It is thought that this is not due to an attachment to each other but more to do with the mutual attachment to the same territory and nest sites
There are a few recorded cases of divorce where both members of the original pair were later found breeding with different partners.
They usually breed for the first time around two to three years old.
For established pairs their courtship and nest-building usually starts during March, about two to four weeks before the first egg is laid. First time pairs might not breed until April
Nests are built almost exclusively in trees- mostly hardwoods, such as oaks. They are usually built in the fork of a tree and often on the base of an old crow nest. They keep them at around four to thirty metres from the ground and they like to be in wooded areas often surrounded by open countryside.
Their nest is a messy arrangement of sticks roughly two feet in width. The nest is lined with sheep’s wool and then decorated with manmade materials such as plastic, pieces of paper and cloth.
The Red Kite also has a reputation for stealing garments that are left out to dry and they often use them to decorate the nest.
There is a clutch of one to four eggs laid in April; this is usually at three day intervals (two being the most usual number).
The females usually do most of the incubation usually being fed on the nest by the males, however the males will incubate for up to thirty minutes a day while the female gets a change to feed, hunt or preen.
Each egg will hatch between thirty one and thirty five days after incubation, this way the chicks hatch at two to three day intervals. Because of this, there is sibling aggression and the larger chick will peck vigorously at the youngest chicks if they attempt to get food before it had a chance to fill up.
After about seven weeks the young birds are ready to leave the nest, but they will be dependent on the adults for another three to four weeks.
Unlike their parents it’s not unusual for the young birds to fly a long distance away from their nest site and can end up almost anywhere, often well away from the nearest breeding site.
One of the 13 Original Red Kites poisoned in Ross-Shire March – April 2014
All the images on this page have been recorded in thewildoutside Wildlife Directory by our members unless otherwise stated.