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Red kite

The red kite was once regarded as vermin and was exterminated in England, Scotland and most of Wales by the end of the 18th century. In rural Mid Wales, a few local landowners had the foresight to set up an unofficial protection programme. Over a period of around 100 years, committed generations of landowners, rural communities, dedicated individuals and organisations, such as the Welsh Kite Trust, made great efforts to maintain a fragile breeding population. Today, there are more than 300 breeding pairs in Wales and over 200 breeding pairs in England.
Much of the information published here was obtained from material and research produced or obtained by Peter Davis and the Welsh Red Kite Trust.


Red kite (Milvus milvus)



The red kite is a wide-ranging species with a wide habitat tolerance. The only requirement is for a fairly large tree, with open access to it, in which build a nest about 10 - 15 metres above ground. Sometimes, the red kite will take over an old crow or buzzard nest. The red kite is a large bird, but it is not strong or aggressive. It can be very protective of the nest area, but not of the whole breeding territory. Most Welsh kites nest within 20 km of where they were reared.


Red kite usually breed for the first time at 2 or 3 years of age. They generally pair for life, although they do not associate with one another outside the breeding season from March - April. Between 1 - 4 eggs have been recorded in Welsh kite clutches, with most nests having 2 or 3 eggs.


Eggs hatch after about 35 days of incubation by the female. Young kites remain in the nest for about 8 weeks and are dependent on the adults for a relatively short period after that. Up to 75% of all fledged kite chicks survive through their first year of life.


Red kite are primarily scavengers, but they are also predators especially when feeding young. They take a wide variety of live prey, ranging from earthworms to birds and small mammals such as rabbits, voles and field mice. The red kite uses a low, gliding flight to hunt live prey, searching for small movements on the ground. It then dives quickly and grasps the prey in its talons.


Goshawks are perhaps the only true natural predator of adult kites nesting in Wales. The main threat is from human activity. Red kite have been targeted by egg thieves and illegal use of poisoned baits, not set specifically for red kite, continues to be a major threat.


The red kite is a brownish chestnut colour, with a subtle mix of paler orange/buff and darker brown or black streaking. The main wing feathers are dark brown, which contrast with striking white patches under the wings. The pale grey head is streaked with black. The bright yellow legs and feet can often be seen when the bird is in flight. The hooked beak is very sharp and superbly designed for tearing meat. Its distinctive voice - an insistent, high pitched mewing - is not dissimilar to a shepherd's whistling and is quite distinctive once recognised.

How we manage our woods

The Forestry Commission is working with partners, including the Welsh Kite Trust and the RSPB, to create exclusion zones around occupied nests. Forestry Commission sites, such as at Nant-yr-Arian, provide opportunities for people to view red kite. 

Red kite close up

Vital statistics

Wingspan: about 2 metres
Weight: 1 - 1.5 kg
Lifespan: 18 - 24 years
Numbers in GB: over 500 breeding pairs

Useful sites

England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.