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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 6:50 EDT

Red Kite

The Red Kite (Milvus milvus) is a medium to large bird of prey in the family Accipitridae. It is a European species found in the milder parts of its range, but birds from northern and central Europe winter further south and west.

During the Middle Ages, this bird was more widespread than it is now. Their scavenging habits made them the refuse collectors of the day. Their numbers have now decreased due to illegal persecution and poisoning. Rumors spread amongst the farming community that they were capable of killing sheep, as they were often found scavenging off animal carcasses. They will take small live prey as well as carrion, and will rob other birds.

In the United Kingdom, the breeding population eventually became restricted to a handful of pairs in Wales, but recently the Welsh population has been supplemented by re-introductions in England and Scotland. In 1989 six Swedish birds were released at a site in north Scotland and four Swedish and one Welsh bird in Buckinghamshire. A total of 93 birds of Swedish and Spanish origin were released at each of the sites. In the second stage of reintroduction in 1995 and 1996, further birds were brought over from Germany to populate the areas or Dumfries and Galloway, as well as the Derwent Valley.

The reintroductions in The Chilterns have been a particular success, with a now well-established strong population across Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. The Kites are a common sight above the houses of the Buckinghamshire village of Stokenchurch and its surrounding area.

One of the best places to see the Red Kite is Skåne in southern Sweden where it is very common and can be seen in large numbers. One of the best places to see them in the UK is Gigrin Farm near Rhayader, mid Wales, where hundreds are fed by the local farmer as a tourist attraction.

The Red Kite is 61-72 cm long and has a wingspan of 140-165 cm. This graceful bird soars with long wings held at a dihedral, and long forked tail twisting as it changes direction.

The body, upper tail and wing coverts are a strong yellowish pink to moderate orange-red. The white primary flight feathers contrast with the black wing tips and dark secondaries. Both males and females are similar, but juveniles have a buff breast and belly. The call is a thin piping, similar to but less mewling than Common Buzzard.

This species nests in trees, often close to other kites. In winter, many kites will roost together.

The Red Kite has been known to successfully breed with the Black Kite in captivity where both species were kept together, and in the wild on the Cape Verde Islands.

The Red Kites on the Cape Verde Islands were once considered by some to be a separate species, the Cape Verde Kite. However, recent DNA studies on museum specimens have shown that they are indistinguishable from other Red Kites. The Cape Verde birds are now effectively extinct, all surviving birds now having Black Kite genes in their DNA.

Red Kite