Red Kite

Milvus milvus

60-66cm

Appearance

This raptor is bigger than the Buzzard; its distinct forked tail and its long, bowed wings help to identify this bird when it's in the air. The female is larger than the male, but the sexes are otherwise similar. When perched, this bird appears reddish-brown with dark streaks, and a pale grey head; the tail is orange-red. When flying, there's a pale patch underneath the wing near to the end, a dark mark where the wing bends, and black, fingered wingtips. The tail appears silvery-grey, and the base of the bill and legs are yellow. The streaking on juvenile birds is more subtle, and they're pale brown beneath the tail with a narrow white line on the upper wing.

Habitat

Most popular breeding areas in the region are central Wales, central England, northern Scotland and Northern Ireland. Prefers to breed in mature, open woodland, and hunt on farmland, moorland and open country, and uses ditches and the like to scavenge from roads. Makes communal roosts in the woods during winter months.

Character

Changes direction or angle in the air using its forked tail, with minimal movement in the wings. Rare to see this bird on the ground, unless its seeking out earthworms; can perch in one place for significant amounts of times. Dives from the air to attack prey, or may swoop from a post or other perch. Usually seen in solitude or in pairs, though large groups do from at communal roosts outside the breeding season, and in places of great food supply.

Food

Diet consists mostly of carrion, such as dead sheep, and it scavenges from rubbish dumps. Also hunts a variety of animals, including invertebrates, mammals (rats, mice, voles and small rabbits), and small birds.

Breeding

Nesting begins in late March; birds often make a nest in the forks of deciduous trees and 'decorate' with refuse such as plastic bags. They may use the remains of an existing nest from another species, and the same nest may be used for several years. The female incubates 2 eggs for 31 days, and the male does so too for short stints. Young are cared for by both parents; they depart the nest after 45 days to dwell in nearby trees, but proper flight takes another 25 days or so.

Population

The breeding population is increasing after a fall in numbers; approximately 1600 pairs breed in Britain.

Observation Tips

There are some winter feeding stations near Tregaron and Rhayader in central Wales where sometimes 50 or more birds can be seen at once. The Chilterns are also a good place to look, particularly near the Christmas Common. In other parts of the region, birds can turn up by chance, as young birds tend to wander.

Voice

A shrill call is most often uttered during flight, likened to somebody whistling for their dog: 'peeee-ooow'.
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