Red kites were driven to extinction in England by human persecution by the end of the nineteenth century. A small population survived in Wales, but there was little chance of these birds repopulating their original areas.
Between 1989 and 1994, kites from Spain were imported and released into the Chilterns by the RSPB and English Nature (now Natural England). Red kites started breeding in the Chilterns in 1992 and now there could be over 1,000 breeding pairs in the area. The reintroduction has been so successful it is not possible to monitor all the nests, so the overall size of the population can only be estimated.
Since 1999, chicks have been taken from the Chilterns to reintroduction sites in other parts of the country.
The red kite reintroduction has proved to be one of the greatest conservation success stories of the 20th century.
In the United Kingdom, populations of red kites now occur in:
Latin name: Milvus milvus
Size: 60 - 65cm long (Males are slightly smaller than females)
Wingspan: 175 - 195cm
Weight: 0.9 - 1.3kg
Body - russet
Head - grey / white
Wings - red with white patches on underside
Tail - grey / white tipped with black (deeply forked)
(Juveniles are duller in colour than adults)
Voice: Mew-like “weoo-weoo-weoo”, rapidly repeated
In March, kites begin to spend more time in potential nesting areas. They will use nests abandoned by other birds, or will build their own in tall trees. The nests are made from large sticks and are normally lined with wool, which the birds collect along with other unusual items such as pieces of plastic, and sometimes even items of clothing.
By mid-April the female lays up to four white eggs, flecked with light brown, of which one to three usually hatch after 34 days. The young birds fledge in about six to seven weeks and will remain with their parents for a further week to ten days.
Red kites eat mainly dead animals that they are able to find (carrion), being too weak-footed to kill any prey much bigger than a small rabbit. They will also feed on chicks, small mammals and invertebrates such as beetles and earthworms. The kite hunts by flying low over open country, using the forked tail to steer, twisting it like a rudder. Live prey is usually caught by surprise rather than speed, although kites sometimes make fast, twisting chases.
Please DO NOT feed Red Kites – this can encourage birds to become dependent on scraps which will not give them all the nutrients they need. Large numbers, attracted to food can become a public nuisance and may encourage persecution. There is also an environmental health risk if scraps of cooked or uncooked meat are left lying around or dropped by birds. Further, it is likely that high numbers may discourage song birds and other wildlife.
In June each year, a number of young kites are fitted with coloured plastic wing tags, marked with an individual letter, number or symbol. A different colour is used each year, so the birds can be aged. This work is carried out by the Southern England Kite Group. A second colour on the tag indicates which part of the UK the bird is from (yellow for the Chilterns/southern England). There is a full list of all wing tag colours on the Southern England Kite Group's website.
www.redkites.net is dedicated to red kites in the Chilterns. See lots of photos and video clips of Chilterns kites, find out how to report dead or injured kites and leave comments on your own experiences of these magnificent birds.