Scotland's Wildlife: Red Kite

Red Kite (c) RSPB images

With a distinctive forked tail, angled wings and a reddish-brown body, the red kite is a striking and graceful bird of prey. Its body is small compared to its two metre wingspan and this makes it particularly agile with the ability to stay airborne for many hours with great ease.

The red kite was a valued scavenger in the middle ages, helping to keep medieval streets clean. As a result the birds were afforded protection by Royal Decree, the penalty for killing them being death. However, a series of Vermin Acts in the 16th Century saw their status reversed and they were persecuted to near extinction in the late 1700s, only managing to survive in small numbers in mid-Wales. The red kite was successfully re-introduced to Scotland in 1989 and while numbers continue to grow, it remains on the amber list of UK birds of conservation concern.

Red kites are neither particularly strong nor aggressive despite their size. Primarily scavengers and opportunists, they feed on sheep carrion but are not capable of opening up carcasses alone, waiting until more powerful birds have made the first inroads before attempting to feed. However, Red Kites are predators and take a wide variety of live prey, ranging from earthworms to small mammals.

Where to see them

The Scottish population is centred around the release sites in Dumfries and Galloway, Stirling-shire, west Perthshire, and the Black Isle in Ross-shire.

When to see them

All year round.

Page first published on Monday 7th April 2008
Page last updated on Friday 17th October 2008

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Latin Name: Milvus milvus
Gaelic Name: Clamhan-gobhlach or Croman-lochaidh
Meaning: Salmon-tailed kite or kite of the lochs
Body length: 61-66cm
Wingspan: 175-195cm
Weight: 0.7-1kg

Physical Description
Chestnut red with white patches under the wings and a pale grey head.
They have dark chestnut-brown backs and lighter brown under-parts. Their long red tails are deeply forked, and they have black beaks and yellow feet. Their tails are grey/white and tipped with black. They have white patches on the undersides of their wings, which are visible in flight.

Scottish Distribution
The Scottish population is centred around the release sites in Dumfries and Galloway, Stirling-shire and west Perthshire, and around Black Isle in Ross-shire.

Red kites prefer deciduous woodland and areas with scattered trees.

Red kites hunt small birds and mammals, and also feed on carrion and at rubbish sites.

Adult red kites are sedentary birds, and they occupy their breeding home range throughout the 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 above the ground. It is constructed of dead twigs and lined with grass and sheep’s wool.
A couple of days prior to egg laying, kites decorate the nest with rubbish and oddments they find near the nest. Paper, rags, crisp packets, carrier bags, even underwear and toys have been recorded.
New material is added to the nest throughout the breeding season, and a nest that has been in use for a number of seasons grows to a considerable size. If nesting is successful, the same nest is used the following year. At times they will use an old buzzard or raven nest.
The female lays a clutch of 1-3 (occasionally 4) eggs at 3-day intervals in April. She incubates mainly alone for 31-32 days per egg (38 days for a clutch of 3).

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