The Red Kite (Milvus milvus) is perhaps one of the most easily recognized raptors, with its red-brown coloring, forked tail, and very angular wing stance. In 1990 they were saved from extinction in the U.K., when 13 adults were flown across via jet from Spain and reintroduced to Scotland and England. Since then, numbers have increased and it is estimated that there are over 4600 breeding pairs. Red Kites are listed under Schedule 1 of The Wildlife and Countryside Act.
MANKIND’S IMPACT ON THE RED KITE
Red Kites were hunted and killed for several centuries in the U.K. Add to this the impact that egg collectors had, and the result was that by 1990 only a few remained in Wales. Since then, the protection of the species and its reintroduction has been heralded as one of the most successful conservation successes in the UK, with approximately 10% of the entire world population now being resident on these shores.
The main threat to the Red Kite nowadays is illegal poisoning by bait left out for foxes and other mammals, and/or eating mammals that have themselves been poisoned.
RED KITE DIET
Red Kites are opportunistic feeders and will eat Carrion and worms. They will also hunt small small mammals.
Red Kites favor woodlands, mountains, pastoral, and urban environments.
Note that this map is for a rough illustration of animal distribution across the U.K. Whereby dark green indicates denser populations and lighter greens indicate progressively lower populations. For a more accurate illustration see JNCC data from references.
Diurnal in nature, they roost singly, in pairs, and sometimes in small groups. They prefer to hunt over open land, and can often be spotted in trees on the borders of open fields; where they will sit and wait for prey to appear. They also circle high in the sky over an area waiting for prey to appear. They can fly at speeds of up to 100 mph but are even more impressive when they spot prey on the ground. They perform death-defying dives reaching speeds of up to 113 mph, coming to a full stop just above the ground as they snatch their prey using their talons, and then rapidly climb back into the sky.
A male and female will pair for life. Both the male and female share the task of building a nest. Often selecting old nest sites of other birds and building on those for their own needs. The female will typically lay 2 eggs, but clutches of 4 eggs have been known. They only raise one clutch a year as fledging takes 60 days with both parents looking after the youngsters for a further 15-20 days.
They are instantly recognizable by their red-brown coloring, however, their feather color ranges from creamy brown, to grey, red, black, and white. They have yellow legs predominantly yellow beaks, and yellow legs and talons. Adults range in height between 60 and 66cm, weighing in at between 800 and 1300g. They have an impressive wingspan of up to around 195cm.
RED KITE NATURAL PREDATORS
Mature birds do not have any natural predators, however, their nests can be susceptible to predation by other birds.
WHERE & WHEN TO PHOTOGRAPH
If you are visiting the south of England during the winter, then you have a good chance of spotting Red Kites, as they tend to migrate south to overwinter. However, your best bet for closer encounters is to go to one of the Red Kite centers scattered across the U.K. Alternatively, one of the National or Private Parks to watch them behaving more naturally (less engineered for tourists). Here are a few of the many available to choose from:
- Tollie Red Kites, Dingwall, Highland (Center).
- Argaty Red Kites, Doune, Perthshire (Center).
- Galloway Red Kite Trail, near Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway (Park).
- Harewood House, Yorkshire (Park)
- Derwent Valley, Gateshead (Park)
- Top Lodge, Northamptonshire (Park)
- Bwlch Nant Yr Arian, Ceredigion (Center)
- Gigrin Farm, Powys (Center)
CAMERA & SETTINGS
Generally, as long a lens as you can cope with will better guarantee your chances of getting some action photos. I recommend a minimum focal length of 600mm if you are photographing in the wild, and a shutter speed of 1/4000s will better ensure you get nice sharp images, although you will still need to work on you panning skills to capture the action during dives. In captivity, you tend to be relatively close to the birds, so a 100-200mm focal and 1/500s shutter speed is adequate for portrait shots. For displays in captivity, you are going to need a larger focal length of up to 500mm, and you will need to up your shutter speed to 1/4000s.
If you enjoyed this article, and are maybe interested in some of the photography, please check out my Red Kite Gallery.