The Red Kite (Milvus milvus) is a medium-large bird of prey in the family Accipitridae, which also includes many other diurnal raptors such as eagles, buzzards and harriers. The species is currently endemic to the Western Palearctic region in Europe and northwest Africa, though formerly also occurred just outside in northern Iran. It is a rare species which is resident in the milder parts of its range in western Europe and northwest Africa, but birds from northeastern and central Europe winter further south and west, reaching south to Turkey. Vagrants have reached north to Finland and south to Israel and Libya.
The Red Kites on the Cape Verde Islands are (or rather were) quite distinct in morphology, being somewhat intermediate with Black Kites. The question whether the Cape Verde Kite should be considered a distinct species (Milvus fasciicauda) or a Red Kite subspecies was never really settled. A recent mtDNA study on museum specimens suggests that Cape Verde birds did not form a monophyletic lineage among or next to Red Kites.
However, this interpretation is problematic: mtDNA analysis is very susceptible to hybridization events, the evolutionary history of the Cape Verde population is not known, and the genetic relationship of Red Kites in general is very confusing, with geographical proximity being no indicator of genetic relatedness and the overall genetic similarity high, perhaps indicating a relict species.
Given the morphological distinctness of the Cape Verde birds and the fact that the Cape Verde population was isolated from other populations of Red Kites, it cannot be conclusively resolved at this time whether the Cape Verde population was not a distinct subspecies (as M. migrans fasciicauda) or even species that frequently absorbed stragglers from the migrating European populations into its gene pool. More research seems warranted, but at any rate the Cape Verde population is effectively extinct since 2000, all surviving birds being hybrids with Black Kites (which merely raises further questions about their taxonomic status).
These differences hold throughout most of the first year of a bird's life.
Adult red kites are sedentary birds, and they occupy their breeding home range all year. Each nesting territory can contain up to five alternative nest sites. Both birds build the nest on a main fork or a limb high in a tree, 12-20m high. It is made of dead twigs and lined with grass and sheep’s wool
The Red Kite inhabits broadleaf woodlands, valleys and wetland edges, to 800 m. It is endemic to the western Palearctic, with the European population of 19,000-25,000 pairs encompassing 95% of its global breeding range. It breeds from Spain and Portugal east through central Europe to Ukraine, north to southern Sweden, Latvia and the UK, and south to southern Italy. There is also a population in northern Morocco. Northern birds move south in winter, mostly staying in the west of the breeding range, but also to eastern Turkey, northern Tunisia and Algeria. The three largest populations (in Germany, France and Spain, which together hold more than 75% of the global population) all declined during 1990-2000, and overall the species declined by almost 20% over the ten years. The main threats to this species are poisoning, through illegal direct poisoning and indirect poisoning due to pesticides, particularly in the wintering ranges in France and Spain, and changes in agricultural practices causing a reduction in food resources. Other threats include electrocution, hunting and trapping, deforestation, egg-collection (on a local scale) and possibly competition with the generally more successful Black Kite M. migrans.
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 2004, from 375 occupied territories identified at least 216 pairs were thought to have hatched eggs and 200 pairs reared at least 286 young. In 1989 six Swedish birds were released at a site in north Scotland and four Swedish and one Welsh bird in Buckinghamshire. Altogether, 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 of Dumfries and Galloway, and 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 villages of Stokenchurch, Stone and Haddenham and also the towns of Princes Risborough and as far east as Chesham, the Oxfordshire town of Wallingford and their surrounding areas. Sightings are common along the M40 between Oxford and Wycombe, all the way down to Reading and Newbury on the M4. In June 2006, the UK-based Northern Kites Project reported that kites have bred in the Derwent Valley in and around Rowlands Gill, Tyne and Wear for the first time since the re-introduction.
|1980||0||0||Bred occasionally in 19th century|
|2000s||1000||+||Increase from 400 pairs in 1993|
|2004||24||+||Extinct c.1920, then recolonised (from Sweden) 1970s|
|2008||122||+||Extinct 1886, reintroduced 1989–1992|
|Northern Ireland||2007||13||+||Reintroduction ongoing|
|2006||400–500||+||Declined to 2 pairs in 1930s, then recovery|
|2006||388+||+||Extinct 1870s, reintroduced 1989–1992|
|ca.1995||2250–4200||0/–||2300–2900 pairs 1980s|
|ca.1998||<5||+||Extinct 1852, recolonised 1976|
|ca.1995||50–60||+||Declined to 1–3 pairs early 1970s, then recovery|
|1999||9000–12000||–||15000–25000 pairs 1980s|
|ca.1998||650–700||+||400–450 pairs 1980s|
|1992||0–50||+||Extinct 1964, then recolonised|
|1988||1–2||+||Extinct, then recolonised 1981|
|1997||1||+/–||Extinct 1950s, recolonised 1985; 10 pairs 1990|
|1993–94||30–50||+||Extinct late 19th century, recolonised 1975|
|ca.1995||800–1000||+||Declined 19th century, later recovery; 235–300 pairs late 1980s|
|2000||0–2||–||Extinct 1950, recolonised 1970s; 10 pairs 1990|
|ca.1998||1+||–||30 pairs 1950s|
|0||?||May breed but no proof|
|0||?||2–5 pairs 1980s|
|ca.2002||300–400||0/+||70–150 pairs late 1980s|
|0||?||May have bred in past but no proof|
|0||?||Bred in 19th century, now extinct|
|0||?||Bred in 19th century, now extinct|
|1994||3328–4044||–||10000 pairs 1977|
|ca.1992||10–100||–||In danger of extinction|
|2000||1?||–||50–75 pairs late 1980s; effectively extinct|
More recently in the UK the Oxfordshire part of the Chilterns has many Red Kites. The best place to see them is on the Ridgeway, but they are advancing north-westwards over the flatter centre of Oxfordshire and have been seen in Cowley (East Oxford). For the driver their flocking forms an impressive sight over the M40 at Stokenchurch.
This awesomely graceful bird of prey is unmistakable with its reddish-brown body, angled wings and forked tail. The red kite was rescued from national extinction by one of the world's longest running protection programmes, and has now been successfully re-introduced to England and Scotland. It is an Amber List species because of its historical decline.
The red kite is now much more widespread and can be sometimes seen on the South Downs. These birds eat carrion, worms and small mammals.