Red kite FAQs
If your question is listed below, click to view to view the answer. If you have any other questions, please contact Cathy Rose.
- Why were red kites from the Welsh population not used for the re-introductions in England and Scotland?
- What effect has the re-introduction of red kites had on the other wildlife of the Chilterns?
- How long do red kites live?
- How do you tell males and females apart?
- Do red kites mate for life?
- What’s their courtship behaviour like?
- What is the biggest threat to red kites?
- Should we feed red kites?
Why were red kites from the Welsh population not used for the re-introductions in England and Scotland?
The Welsh population was derived from a very small number of individual females. They were therefore genetically very similar. Introduction of genetic variety from European populations was thought to be better for the species.
The population in Wales had not risen to a sufficient level to cope with the removal of significant numbers of chicks.
Red kites mainly scavenge on dead animals, so they have had little impact on the populations of the species they eat. They will occasionally take live prey, such as rats, mice, voles and fledgeling birds, but these make up a very small proportion of their diet. There is no evidence to suggest that the national decline in garden and farmland birds is linked to the presence of red kites.
There is circumstantial evidence that buzzard populations have risen in the Chilterns since the re-introduction of red kites, but there is no proof of a direct correlation between the two species.
In the wild, it’s common for kites to live well into their teens, and they can live for up to 25 – 30 years.
Coloration is identical in both sexes. Males are slightly smaller than females but there is wide overlap. Females have proportionately longer and broader wings. Males tend to have a more deeply notched tail, which they twist and flex more than the females.
It is difficult to tell the sexes apart unless you have two to compare directly.
Red kites usually take the same mate year after year, but ‘divorces’ aren’t unheard of! They will often also re-use the same nest year after year.
The association between the pairs is looser during the winter than in the breeding season. Their courtship displays in February and March re-establish their pair bond.
The pair perform high circling displays, particularly in the early part of the day. They will often fly one behind the other, with deep, exaggerated wing-beats, followed by a vigourous chase. They may pass close together, twisting apart at the last moment, and will sometimes pass food between them. They often perform these flights above the wood they are nesting in, calling to each other and finally dropping into the canopy. Talon locking (observed in other bird of prey species is) not commonly reported.
Red kites have no natural predators, so their biggest threats come from the actions of humans.
A major threat is still the risk of poisoning. Persecution of red kites is much reduced nowadays, but it does occasionally still happen. Red kites have perished as a result of eating illegally poisoned baits left out for other animals (e.g. foxes), they have also been known to die after picking up the corpses of legally poisoned rodents. A leaflet about rat poisons and the threats to birds of prey is available by calling Natural England's Enquiry Service on 0845 600 3078.
They are also very susceptible to disturbance when they are nesting so should be left along during the breeding season.
Red kites can survive well in the Chilterns without artificial feeding, so it is not necessary to supplement their diet. It is acknowledged that feeding has helped the local re-introduced kite population to increase more rapidly than it might otherwise have done and has kept the population at a level that chicks can be re-located to other parts of the country. However, it is feared that providing too much additional food can prevent the population from spreading naturally and cause the birds to cluster in large numbers where food is offered. The Chilterns Conservation Board urges the public not to feed red kites. We believe they should be left to feed naturally in the wider countryside, thus enabling them to find a naturally sustainable level.