Red Kite (Milvus milvus)

Red Kite

[order] ACCIPITRIFORMES | [family] Accipitridae | [latin] Milvus milvus | [authority] Linnaeus, 1758 | [UK] Red Kite | [FR] Milan royal | [DE] Rotmilan | [ES] Milano real | [NL] Rode Wouw


Monotypic species


Milvus is a genus of medium-sized birds of prey. It is an Old World group consisting of three kites which form part of the subfamily Milvinae. Its systematics are under revision; it contains 3 or 4 species.

Physical charateristics

Medium-sized raptor. The red kite is a brownish chestnut color, 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 recognized.

Listen to the sound of Red Kite

[audio: Kite.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 140 cm wingspan max.: 165 cm
size min.: 61 cm size max.: 72 cm
incubation min.: 31 days incubation max.: 32 days
fledging min.: 48 days fledging max.: 32 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 3  


Eurasia : Europe


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 meters 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.


The red kite is a monogamous breeder. In migrant populations the pair bond is probably seasonal, but is renewed every year with the same individuals largely due to individuals’ attachment to specific home range and eyrie. In resident populations the pair-bond is retained loosely throughout the winter, especially where the breeding home range is still occupied.

Each nesting territory contains 1-5 alternative nest sites. The nest is built by both birds on a main fork high in a tree, 12-20m above ground. It is constructed of dead twigs and lined with grass and other vegetation. A quantity of sheep wool is often added 2-3 days prior to egg laying. New material is added to the nest throughout the breeding season, and a nest that has been in use for a number of seasons grows to a considerable size. If nesting is successful, the same nest is used the following year. At times even old buzzard or raven nests are used.

The clutch of 1-3 (occasionally 4) white eggs with red-brown spots are laid at 3 day intervals in April. The incubation is by the female alone for 31-32 days per egg, i.e. 38 days for a clutch of 3. Incubation starts with the first egg, and as such hatching is spread over several days. The male provides the female food during incubation. She rarely leaves the eggs unattended for more than a few minutes at a time.

The female cares for the young with the male provisioning all food for his mate and young for the first two weeks after hatching. After this the female will share hunting, and the young are able to feed themselves from food placed in the nest. From one week of age aggression between siblings becomes apparent, but this is rarely the direct cause of the death of the younger ones. The fledging period is variable, depending on the size of the brood and food availability. The young may start to clamber about the nest tree by 45 days, but rarely fledge before 48-50 days, sometimes not until 60-70 days. Parents care for them in the vicinity of the nest for a further 15-20 days. The young birds will breed for the first time when they are two years old. Only one brood is raised in a year. The female will re-lay after a loss of eggs, but not after loss of young.

Feeding habits

The kite family take a wider range of foods than most other families of raptors, and the Red Kite is no exception. Birds, mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians, invertebrates and carrion are taken in varying proportions, depending on local availability.
The British kites rely more on carrion than do their European counterparts, and this makes them vulnerable to poisoned meat (illegally) left out to catch foxes and the like.
The average daily food requirement of an adult Red Kite is 130g

Video Red Kite


copyright: youtube


This species is listed as Near Threatened because it is experiencing a moderately rapid population decline, owing mostly to poisoning from pesticides and persecution, and changes in land-use amongst other threats. Despite the current rapid declines in southern Europe, if population increases in northern range states are sustained the species may qualify for downlisting in the future.
This kite is essentially a European species, breeding from the Iberian Peninsula to the South of the Baltic Sea and from Wales to the Caucasus. It is also known from north-western Africa and the Cape Verde islands. It disappeared recently from the Canary islands. The birds of Wales and south-western Europe are largely sedentary or make only very small movements in winter. Those of the north-east move to the south-west. The population of the European Union amounts to 21000 breeding pairs for a global population of maximum 32000 pairs. Despite some fluctuations, it seems to be fairly stable
Red Kite status Near Threatened


Mainly migratory in north and central Europe though increasing tendency to overwinter some areas; resident and dispersive further south.
Small isolated Welsh population largely resident, though some juveniles disperse eastwards into England in their first autumn, winter there, and return in spring. A few continental birds reach Britain during immaturity. Elsewhere in Europe, migratory populations winter mainly north Mediterranean basin. Long-established pattern of occasional winter records north and central Europe, such instances more frequent since late 1950s, and increasing degree of regular wintering in parts of south Sweden, south Germany, Switzerland, and north-east France. This behavioral change made possible by exploitation of improved food sources, and perhaps milder winters (on average) of recent decades. Movement southward from Europe on small scale, most evident Straits of Gibraltar.
Migratory movements begin August; most from central Europe pass through France in September, reaching Iberian winter quarters late September and October. Small onward movement across Straits of Gibraltar mainly October-November. Return movement through Europe begins late February; some reach northernmost breeding grounds late March though passage continues into April.

Distribution map

Red Kite distribution range map

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