The Red Kite Feeding and
Gigrin Farm, Rhayader,
Powys, LD6 5BL
Tel. (01597) 810243
The Welsh Kite Trust
Tel. (01597) 825981
Red Kites are distinctive because of their forked tail and striking colour - predominantly chestnut red with white patches under the wings and a pale grey head.
They have a wingspan of nearly two metres (about five-and-a-half-feet), but a relatively small body weight of 2 - 3 Ibs.
This means the bird is incredibly agile, and can stay in the air for many hours with hardly a beat of its wings.
Red Kites are neither particularly strong nor aggressive despite being large birds.
Primarily a scavenger and an opportunist; it profits from sheep carrion but is not capable of opening up sheep or lamb carcasses by itself and has to wait until more powerful birds such as ravens or buzzards have made the first inroads before it will attempt to feed.
Red Kites are however predators and take a wide variety of live prey, ranging from earthworms to small mammals, amphibians and birds.
Red Kites usually breed for the first time at 2 or 3 years old. They usually pair for life, although this is thought to be more because of a mutual attachment to the same territory and nest sites rather than any great attachment to each other.
There are a few recorded cases of 'divorces' where both members of the original pair were later found breeding with different partners.
Nests are built almost exclusively in trees - mostly in hardwoods, such as oaks, and are usually built at a height of between 4 and 30 metres above the ground. They are usually fairly flat, untidy structures of sticks about 2 feet in width.
For established pairs, courtship and nest-building usually start in earnest during March, about 2 - 4 weeks before the first egg is laid, but first-time breeders may not start until April.
Eggs are normally laid at three-day intervals. Between one and four are usually laid, two being by far the most usual number. Incubation is carried out by the female, who is fed at the nest by the male. Males will incubate for very short periods (usually less than 30 minutes) while the female goes off to feed, hunt or preen. Each egg will hatch between 31 and 35 days after incubation, resulting in chicks hatching at two or three day intervals.
Because of this, sibling aggression is common and the larger chick will peck vigorously at its younger nest-mates if they attempt to get food before it has had its fill. In nests where food is in short supply the size difference between the chicks will increase with the smaller one(s) ultimately dying of starvation or being killed by the larger chick(s).
Returning from the edge of extinction
Persecution meant that the bird was exterminated in England, Scotland and most of Wales by the end of the last century. The 16th Century saw a series of Vermin Acts, requiring 'vermin' including the Red Kite to be killed throughout the parishes of Wales and England -the bird was perceived as a threat to expanding agriculture.
Such persecution continued throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries, and at the end of the 18th Century another devastating blow happened when increasing numbers of gamekeepers were employed on country estates, set up after the initiation of the parliamentary enclosures. These men were responsible for killing far more Red Kites.
By the late 18th Century, Red Kites had bred for the last time in England; the story in Scotland was similar.
Only in rural Mid Wales did Red Kites hang on, their numbers down to just a few pairs. At that point a few local landowners had the foresight to set up an unofficial protection programme to try to safeguard this beautiful bird. Over a period of around 100 years, efforts to maintain a fragile breeding population were made by committed generations of landowners, rural communities, dedicated individuals and organisations.
Thanks to the dedication of individuals and organisatons, and despite severe threats from egg collectors, poisoning and some modern farming practices, Red Kite numbers are now gradually increasing.
How close did the Red Kite get to extinction? It's hard to give exact figures, but from scientific research at Nottingham University we do know that the entire population of kites in 1977 emanated from just one female bird.
Today Red Kites have a limited geographical range, which, with the exception of small and isolated populations in NW Africa and West Transcaucasia, is entirely confined to Europe. Total world population estimated at around 20,000 - 23,000 breeding pairs with main centres of population in Germany, Spain and France.In recent years young red kites have been taken from nests on the continent and introduced into England and Scotland. Wales now has well over 600 breeding pairs, (data courtesy of The Welsh Kite Trust).
Red Kites have been targeted by egg thieves - collectors will risk very heavy fines (over £ 1,000) to obtain them. This selfish activity is part of the reason why it took so long for the population to re-establish itself and start expanding again in Wales.
Illegal use of poisoned baits, not set specifically for Red Kites, has been and continues to be another major threat to the bird.
These pages will expand to hold as much information as I can accumulate relevant of those of you doing thesis or other research on Red Kites. Far more information will appear here in the near future, along with more photographs of these beautiful birds. For now, up to date information on the current populations of Red Kites in the UK along with other red kite related news can be found at the following ... Red Kites in the United Kingdom 1989-2007.