Red Kite, Milvus milvus

Red Kite

Red Kite, Germany, © Jochen Fünfstück

Names

English: Red Kite
Scientific: Milvus milvus
German: Rotmilan
Spanish: Milano Real
French: Milan royal

Taxonomy and Subspecies

The Red Kite is one of three members of the Genus Milvus. The others are the Black Kite Milvus migrans and the Yellow-billed Kite Milvus parasitus (an African species formerly considered a subspecies of the Black Kite [GRIN 2009]). The genus Milvus is most closely related to the genus Haliaeetus (Sea Eagles). That means that the White-tailed Eagle is the closest relative of the Red and Black Kite in Europe.

The closest European relative of the Red Kite is the Black Kite. In many European countries, both species occur. Sometimes the species hybridise with reported hybrid pairs from Italy, Sweden and Germany [Carter 2007]. The "Cape Verde Kite" Milvus milvus fasciicauda was considered to be a separate species or a sub species. Recent research showed that it the classification os a subspecies or even a full species is not justified. [Carter 2007]. The Cape Verde Kite seems to be extinct now in the Cape Verde islands.

Size

Length: 60-66cm
Wingspan: 154 - 180cm
Weight: 750-1,300 g

Maximum Age

38 years in captivity. Almost 30 in the wild. [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]

Habitat

The Red Kite needs open country for hunting. Nests are normally built in large trees close to the forest edge. Red Kites prefer areas with small hills or mountains so that they can use rising air currents close to the mountain slopes (from deflected air at the slopes) [Carter 2007].

Distribution

Except for a very small population in Marocco, the Red Kite has an exclusively European distribution. It occurs from Spain and Portugal over France and Germany eastwards to Poland and the Ukraine. In the north the Red Kites occurs up to the southern part of Sweden and in the South down to Sicily (Italy). It also breeds in Great Britain, also thanks to recent and very successful reintroduction programs in England and Scotland.

Migration

Birds from Central Europe are mostly migratory and spend the winter in southern France and the Iberian Peninsula. But especially during warm winters, more Red Kites spend the winter in Central Europe. Birds from Southern Europa and the UK normally stay year-round in their breeding territory.

Breeding and Reproduction

Food and hunting

The Red Kit is very flexible when it comes to food. It eats almost everything from large insects to carrion. The Red Kite is not a very strong raptor but still a skillful hunter. It catches mostly small mammals like hamster or voles. It is too weak to kill large prey like European Hares. Young hares found in nests are often road kills or killed by harvesting machines [Aebischer 2009]. In Spain, Rabbits are regularly taken but adult Rabbits are too heavy for the Red Kite to carry them away [Aebischer 2009].
Birds are also regularly killed, up to the size of crows but mostly smaller birds are taken. Red Kites also regularly take the nestlings of songbirds and other birds during the breeding season.
During rainy weather, earthworms are an important food source.
Other food include amphibians, reptiles and fish, but birds and mammals are the most important.
Beside live prey, the Red Kite regularly takes carrion. In Spain, the kites can often be seen with vultures at the carcasses of large mammals (incl. livestock like cows). They regularly visit the feeding places established for vultures in Spain.
Red Kites also regularly visit roads to take away animals killed by cars.
Red Kites mostly hunt from flight over open areas [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. Small prey is taken without landing on the ground.
Red Kites also steal food from other birds like crows, herons and other raptors like other Red Kites, Common Buzzards, Ospreys, Hobbies, Sparrowhawks and even White-tailed Eagles [Carter 2007].

Population

Threats

Conservation

Status IUCN/BirdLife

Near Threatened (NT)

Status Global Raptor Information Network

Near Threatened

Interviews about the Red Kite

Interview with Ian Carter about the Red Kite in the UK

Interview with Guido Ceccolini about Red Kite reintroduction, Lanner Falcons and other raptors in Tuscany (Italy)

References

[Aebischer 2009] Aebischer, Adria (2009). Der Rotmilan - Ein faszinierender Greifvogel. Haupt Verlag

[GRIN 2009] Global Raptor Information Network. 2009. Species account: Red Kite Milvus milvus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 30 Aug. 2009

[Carter 2007] Carter, Ian (2007). The Red Kite, 2nd edition. Arlequin Press

[Mebs & Schmidt 2006] Mebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel (2006). Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.

Books

Aebischer, Adria (2009). Der Rotmilan - Ein faszinierender Greifvogel. Haupt Verlag

Carter, Ian (2007). The Red Kite, 2nd edition. Arlequin Press

Forsman, Dick (1999). The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East A Handbook of Field Identification. Poyser

Mebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel (2006). Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.

Websites

BirdLife Species Factsheet for the Red Kite

GRIN species account for the Red Kite

Welsh Kite Trust

redkites.net

Red Kite reintroduction project in Ireland

Red Kite Feeding Station at Gigrin Farm

Red Kites in Yorkshire

Northern Kites - Red Kites in North-East of England

Milan Royal - Red Kite Information by the LPO (BirdLife France)

Red Kite Information by NABU (BirdLife Germany)

Protection of habitats and birds of prey on Monte Labbro and the Upper Valley of the Albegna